The Quest for the Perfect Margarita

The Quest for the Perfect Margarita

November 2, 2010

Some companies bond over sports, some over pictures of their kids.  At Exito, we like to talk drinks.

Consequently, the question of the perfect margarita has been hotly debated around Exito.  Should the tequila be silver, reposado, or añejo?  Cointreau, triple sec, or Grand Marnier?   Should a sweetener be added?  Blended or on the rocks?

In the end, the correct answer is – it depends.  It all depends on what kind of final product you are aiming for, and what you  personally prefer.

Everyone here at Exito agrees on a few key points.  1)  Use good quality tequila, 2) use fresh-squeezed lime juice, and 3) margarita mixes are an affront to humanity and should never, ever be used.  After that, opinions differ.

The traditional recipe is 2:1:1, that is:

2 parts tequila,1 part orange liqueur, and 1 part lime juice.

Shake, pour over ice in salt-rimmed glasses, and serve.

Now, I am a traditionalist.  The classic 2:1:1 is the recipe I first learned (on a beach in Baja, I might add), and it’s still the one I use.  I like the taste of tequila, and prefer a robust tequila taste in a margarita.  Consequently,  I always use an añejo (aged) tequila in margaritas – it’s a strong, dark, full flavor.

I don’t believe that you have to use absolute top-of-the-line tequila in a mixed drink  (would you make a rob roy with 21-year-old Scotch?), but it does need to be decent quality.   My preference for margaritas has always been Sauza Conmemorativo.  It’s reasonably priced so you can afford it for a crowd, and has a full, yet smooth, flavor. I also always use either Cointreau or Controy (the Mexican equivalent).  If I don’t have either one of these, then Grand Marnier.   Definitely never use triple sec.  Triple sec is has a less pronounced orange flavor, and often is cloyingly sweet.  Using triple sec yields an overly-sweet margarita that lacks that wonderful lime-and-orange balance.

Now there are those here who prefer a fruitier tasting margarita.  They swear by a silver tequila such as Patron, for a ligher, more citrus-y taste.  They also advocate using a sweetener, such as simple syrup or agave nectar.  The ratio then becomes 6:4:2:1:

6 parts tequila,4 parts orange liqueur, 2 parts lime juice, 1 part agave nectar

Again, it needs to be good quality tequila.  This camp also favors Cointreau over triple sec, although perhaps not as emphatically as I do for the traditional recipe.

The next big question is, frozen or on the rocks?  In general, we are an on-the-rocks kind of company.  When we mix up a batch of margaritas after work, there’s no blender involved.  Frozen seems like a way of diluting a perfectly good drink, before you even had a chance to sample it.

The exception is when we are on a beach somewhere.  There’s something about sand, waves, and hot weather than make a frozen margarita quite appealing (maybe the need to rehydrate?).   Take either of the two basic recipes, throw in ice, blend, and pour.  Vacation in a glass!

There are numerous variations on the margarita theme.  Some are delicious, some are bad, and some are just plain weird.

If you are in the mood for frozen margaritas, fresh fruits such as strawberries can be a festive variation.  (Definitely use a silver tequila for this one – the heavier tequila don’t complement the fresh fruit as well).  Other fruits that work well include watermelon and mango.

Depending on what fruit you are using, you might consider substituting other liqueurs for the Cointreau.  But think about the combination – does it really make sense?  Do the flavors go with tequila?  I once had a banana margarita where they used Amaretto instead of Cointreau.  It was undrinkable.  Amaretto and tequila are not, shall we say, complimentary flavors.  (Banana actually goes well in a traditional margarita.  Just toss a banana into the classic recipe, add some ice, and blend – it’s surprisingly delicious.)

Finally, if you want to truly horrify people, you could use blue Curacao instead of Cointreau.  If you can get past the revolting color (close your eyes?) it’s drinkable.   To be extra obnoxious, use a contrasting colored salt on the rim of the glasses – pink salt, anyone?  Your guests may never return, but they will certainly remember you.

In the end, the best way to create the perfect margarita is the same way to get to Carnegie Hall – practice, practice, practice!  Try different types of tequilas until you find the one that suits your taste buds.  Invite your friends over to help experiment.  And keep trying different options as they come out – today’s agave syrup may be replaced next year by something new.  It’s all a great excuse to whip up a batch of delicious margaritas.

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