The Margarita is one of the crown jewels in the cocktail world. As it is such a well known and simple cocktail, it should be easy to get a decent Margarita. Right? Wrong. The problem is in the quality of the ingredients used, and in the various judicious recipe modifications. Once a well-balanced cocktail, the Margarita is often a giant, fluorescent green, sugar-laced, culinary disaster.
First, forget about using the various margarita mixes from the supermarket. The basic Margarita recipe is very simple: tequila, orange liqueur, fresh lime juice plus ice and salt. You can be absolutely certain that they do not use fresh lime juice and a good orange liqueur in a store-bought margarita mix.
Second, the classic margarita is served on-the-rocks, not frozen in a slush of ice like in a drive-through daiquiri shop.
Third, do yourself and your guests a favor and use top-quality ingredients. Otherwise, it is garbage-in, garbage-out. This starts with the choice of tequila. "Blanco", "Reposado" and "Aejo" represent grades of aging, and do not necessarily mean OK, better and best. Selecting a good tequila means finding one that is made from 100% blue agave. The best tequilas are made specifically from the species Agave Weber Tequilana grown primarily in the Mexican state of Jalisco. Cheap tequilas i.e. Cuervo Gold are young and adulterated tequilas: ultra-nasty combinations of cheap sugar-cane alcohol and low quality agave distillate. By Mexican law, adulterated tequilas are at least 51% blue agave, and the other 49% is generally comprised of the absolute cheapest, nastiest, sugar-cane liquor. Adulterated tequila would not have any color. To give it color and take a bit of edge off, Cuervo and others add caramel. Adulterated tequilas nevertheless sell well to many unsuspecting Gringos, who assume this is what tequila is supposed to taste like. An adulterated tequila is to tequila what Bud Light is to beer.
Good tequila does not taste harsh and offensive, but smooth like cognac. Many high-quality, 100% agave tequilas are usually drunk from a snifter glass and slowly savored, instead of a shot glass. Shooting such a tequila with salt and lime is obviously a waste. Nevertheless, in Germany for instance, tequila oro is often consumed with cinnamon before and slices of orange after, while tequila blanco (silver) is consumed with salt and lime like in Texas or Mexico.
The other two Margarita ingredients are just as important as the tequila. Obviously, avoid using cheap triple sec booze that costs 5 bucks a bottle. Cointreau is the first choice. It is the original triple sec liqueur, made in Saint-Barthlemy-d'Anjou in western France from bitter oranges mainly from Spain, Brazil and Haiti. Cointreau turns opaque on ice, which gives the cocktail the right amount of murkiness. Other options include Bauchant (made by Maison Roullet-Fransac in Chermignac), Grand Marnier (from Neauphle-le-Chateau SW of Paris) or Mathilde Orange X.O. (made by Gabriel & Andreu in the Cognac region of western France). These are great-tasting orange liqueurs, but contain cognac and that will give the margarita a brownish color. That is somewhat disconcerting to the purists, so sticking with Cointreau is recommended.
The lime juice should be freshly squeezed from the fruit, not store-bought. That way it will be fresh and without flavor "enhancing" chemicals.
The ratio of tequila/orange liqueur/lime juice is 3:2:1, which is easy to remember. This kind of classic Margarita can be a bit tart; therefore, a little additional sweetness helps to balance the drink.
Combine all ingredients with ice in a cocktail shaker and shake vigorously. Strain into a salt-rimmed stemware glass.
Last updated: October 12, 2010