This last Sunday (2/22) was National Margarita Day. It may seem like a strange time of year to schedule this, but my hunch is that it is because limes are in season right now, and the best margaritas use fresh squeezed lime juice. Whatever you may say about commercial margaritas, we can thank this drink for bringing tequila to America. As recently as the 1950’s, tequila was seen as a tough man’s drink and wasn’t very popular at all. Let’s shake one up.
- 1 3/4 oz Tequila
- 1 oz orange liqueur (Cointreau/Citronge)
- 3/4 oz fresh squeezed lime juice
Shake with cracked ice until frosty and strain into a chilled, salt rimmed (optional) glass.
A margarita is really a simple drink, basically a New Orleans
Tequila Sour and a predecessor to the Cosmo, with its roots traced back to the Daisy. In fact, ‘margarita’ means ‘daisy’ in Spanish.
With so few ingredients, you really need to pay attention to each one. Make sure to get a ‘puro‘ (100% agave) tequila and look for ‘Hecho en Mexico‘ on the label. Otherwise it is likely to be low quality stuff shipped over the border in a tanker and USA bottled. Some prefer a blanco here, claiming the oaky notes of a reposado or añejo are unwelcome, but I disagree. Obviously the base tequila makes a huge difference, but my experience had been that this is a classic example of the kind of mixology that gives you a way to use more inexpensive bottlings. My house mixing tequila was the Margaritaville blanco (a cheap mixto), but I recently picked up some Lunazul reposado. It’s 100% agave and available at a very reasonable price point. Next, do yourself a favor and trade up that old Triple Sec for something better. Jay over at Oh Gosh! has a great write-up of bottlings. Continuing on with the ingredients, you absolutely must use fresh limes, and if necessary adjust sweetness with the liqueur to balance out any extra tart limes.
How much variation before it is no longer a margarita? Margaritas are quite bastardized these days, but the recipe is surprisingly flexible. I currently favor the 3-2-1 recipe I first tried after reading Regan’s Joy of Mixology, mostly because it is easy to remember. Before that I used a recipe of approximately 4-3-2. There are schools of thought that use some lemon, maybe some simple syrup and a fair number of the current crop of gourmet recipes includes some zest from the citrus. Gran Marnier is a common component of a ‘Cadillac Margarita’, but this is starting to stray a little far for my taste. Blood orange juice, pomegranate, mango and even passion fruit (lillikoi) have made their way into ‘margaritas’ I’ve seen in restaurants.
Going simpler, there are those that substitute agave nectar for the orange liqueur, to better taste the tequila, but I have trouble calling that a margarita.
Anyway, don’t forget about the venerable margarita when you are looking for a drink to make. I don’t make a heck of a lot of margaritas around the house (at least not in the winter) but it is a classic for a reason. And next time you find yourself sipping on a top-shelf tequila or mezcal, think about the humble margarita and its role in bringing that spirit to the American market.