What is the quintessential beverage to serve when you are in the southwestern United States, particularly if you are enjoying Mexican food? I’ll give you a hint. It is not Diet Pepsi. Despite the legions of fans who would argue in favor of Mexican beer such as Corona, Tecate, or Dos Equis, I think no drink personifies the American southwest more than a margarita does. The uninitiated might wonder, “Aren’t margaritas made with that icky Mexican alcohol with the worm in the bottle?” Not quite.
Difference between mezcal and tequila: The worm-in-the-bottle thing is mezcal, and the worm is actually a moth larva, not that this alleviates the ickiness. Many people swear by mezcal. Mezcal is made from the fermented agave plant, and tequila is a subset of mezcal made only from the blue agave plant. Mezcal and tequila are from different regions of Mexico and are processed in different ways, which makes for a different taste. Unlike tequila, which is frequently mixed in cocktails like margaritas, mezcal is drunk straight and garnished with orange slices that are dusted with, I kid you not, a mixture of salt, powdered chile peppers, and fried powdered moth larva. Yum!
100-percent agave tequila: Margaritas are made from tequila, but you must start with tequila marked “100-percent agave,” or you will end up with an atrocious blend of 50-percent agave and 50-percent something gross like corn syrup, and the combination will give you a killer hangover the next day. Also, you might want to buy the quality tequila that has been aged in oak barrels longer for a mellow taste.
Aged tequila tastes better, but costs more: Tequila marked “blanco” (or white or silver) has not been aged. Tequila labeled reposado (or gold) is aged between three and twelve months. Anejo tequila is aged between one and three years and is getting pricey, and ulta-anejo can be aged up to five years and is the most expensive of all.
Probably no other cocktail except a martini invites so much experimentation with ingredients and creative variety as a margarita. Margaritas can be made with blueberries, strawberries, peaches, melon, and raspberries. The weirdest margarita I’ve ever had was a cucumber one, but it was great. You can drink your margarita frozen (blended with crushed ice), but this will water down your tequila and probably give you an “ice-cream” headache. Best to have it on the rocks (that is, poured over ice cubes) or straight (no water or ice added).
BASIC MARGARITA RECIPE: (for one drink)
1.5 ounces of 100% agave, reposado tequila
0.5 ounce triple sec (an orange liqueur such as Cointreau)
1 ounce fresh lime juice
Fill your cocktail shaker with your ingredients and ice cubes and shake vigorously for about ten to twenty seconds. You’ll know you’re done when frost begins to form on the outside of your cocktail shaker. Salt the rim of your chilled margarita glass by running a cut wedge of lime around the rim and then dipping the rim in a saucer of coarse margarita salt. (Don’t use table salt; it’s much finer than margarita salt and will dissolve and slide into your drink.) Pour your margarita with ice cubes from your cocktail shaker to your glass and garnish with a slice of lime.
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