Saturday, March 2, 2013

Margarita, Hill Country Style with a Twist

I think spending five days in Tucson last week has me obsessing about tequila and margaritas.  Not a bad thing really. So the first time I actually drank tequila was at Landry's restaurant in Chicago having dinner with friends. That is, if you call 'licking salt from your hand and then immediately devouring the shot' drinking tequila.  After my first exposure to tequila, I couldn't help but wonder how this way of drinking of tequila wasn't very different from the consumption of bad tasting medicine.  For some reason that first experience didn't exactly send me running to the store to buy tequila. It wasn't until I was in San Antonio and someone brought me one of those frozen margaritas they serve during the cocktail hour that I had my second experience drinking tequila. Being presented with a frozen margarita was a really kind and thoughtful welcoming gesture, but after looking at the concoction served in a plastic glass, I thought 'pretty sure what is in here is not really good tequila'.  Then I looked at what the person who brought me the frozen margarita was drinking.  The beer in his hand was all I needed to confirm my suspicions.

I began to think I was destined to not acquire an appreciation of good tequila or a good margarita until one night having dinner at restaurant, Bien Trucha, in Geneva, Illinois, with friends.  From the margarita to the flight of sipping tequilas, I learned what a great margarita and great tequila tasted like. The third time, as they say, was definitely the charm.

While I am not an expert in tequilas by any means, I seriously do think in a blind taste test I could tell the difference between the first tequila shot I drank, the tequila in my first frozen margarita and the tequila I had at Bien Trucha.  (As an aside, for those you who live within 100 miles of this restaurant, you need to go there for the food and the drinks.  It is an amazing little, and I mean little, gem of a restaurant. Lines form for lunch and dinner at this place, it is that kind of good. And if your tequila drinking experiences were like my first two, well this place could be a turning point for you too!)

Often when I want to learn more about something I either look to read a book about it or just try to seek out information through an internet search.  Seems there are quite a few internet sites rating, describing, discussing and debating the merits of the wide variety of tequilas on the market. Yes, I know the internet is filled with all sorts of misinformation, but I actually found a most interesting site: The Tequila Connection.  The writers of this site claim they evaluate tequila 'on the aroma, initial taste, body, flavor and smoothness...trying not to focus on price or presentation as you don't taste the bottle and prices vary considerably'.  They also have a disclaimer of sorts which leads you to believe they do not seem to take themselves too seriously.  And in spite of their rating information they pretty much say you need to decide for yourself what your taste preferences are.  Whoever the people behind this site are, I think I like them.

As much as I enjoy tequila all on its own, not everyone does. So the margarita may be the most fun way to serve and enjoy tequila.  There are so many margarita recipes written in books devoted to only margarita recipes, there doesn't seem to be enough time to make them all.  Well, maybe there is. In doing some research, it seems the classic margarita has at least three ingredients:  tequila, freshly squeezed lime juice and some type of orange liquor.  One of the least expensive orange liquors is Triple Sec while the more popular and most pricey of the orange liquors are Cointreau and Grand Marnier. Some say these two orange liquors are interchangeable in a margarita, that the one you choose is all a matter of taste.  Others claim the Cointreau doesn't detract from the flavor of the tequila and should be the orange liquor used when making margaritas. Again, like the 'guys behind The Tequila Connection website, ratings are only ratings, what matters is how it tastes to you. My personal preference is using Cointreau in margaritas.  Not sure why, it just is.

Rebecca Rather's original Hill Country margarita recipe called the use of guanabana nectar.  Even though I had made this recipe with agave nectar, I thought I would try to find some guanabana nectar while I was in Tucson last week.  But amazingly, no one in Tucson had ever heard of guanabana nectar. I was actually proud of myself for managing not to drag my friend to every grocery store in Tucson on my quest to acquire some guanabana nectar. I can get a little obsessed at times with wanting to experience a recipe as written, but seriously, the agave nectar is absolutely perfect in this margarita.  If guanabana nectar never passes my lips, I don't think I will be deprived.

Fresh limes and lemons make a difference in a margarita.  The combination of these two citruses are incredible. You might be lulled into buying a bottle of margarita mix, but if you never use fresh fruits you might never know what you are missing.

Seems the choices of drinking margaritas are 'with or without salt' and 'on the rocks or straight up'. I am a 'with salt and on the rocks' margarita girl.  Wetting the rim of a glass with a lime or water will enable the salt to stick perfectly to the glass.  Remember you need a coarse salt for margaritas.  The margarita salt from Williams-Sonoma is one of my favorites, but Jose Cuervo sells margarita salt too.

These margaritas are great all on their own but they go perfectly with the guacamole recipe shared with you a few weeks ago.  I don't know about you, but when drinking tequila I seem to need the balance of having a little bit of food in my stomach.  It's all about trying to maintain balance (literally and figuratively) as well as some sanity when drinking tequila.  I don't know about you, but I want to remember what I did and said after consuming a couple of margaritas.  Chips and guacamole or chips and salsa or chips, guacamole and salsa all go perfectly with margaritas.

Margarita, Hill Country Style with a Twist (slightly adapted version of Rebecca Rather's Hill Country Guanabana Margaritas)

Yield:  Makes 2 servings.

1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
3/4 cups Silver Tequila
3 Tablespoons of Cointreau
1 Tablespoon confectionary sugar
1/4 cup agave nectar
1 cup crushed ice
Coarse salt, for coating the rid of the glasses
Lime wedges
More ice

1. Mix lime juice, lemon juice, tequila, Cointreau, confectionary sugar, and agave nectar in a large cocktail shaker.
2. Add one cup of crushed ice and shake until cold.
3. Pour coarse sugar on a plate, rub glasses with lime edge and then dip glass in sugar.
4. Fill glasses with ice.
5. Using a cocktail strainer, pour drinks into glasses.

I have been known to be a little gullible, okay maybe more than a little.  But anyone who tries to convince me a bottled margarita mix is better than mixing fresh ingredients will not even sway the oh-so gullible me.  Maybe it is because the bottled mixes remind me of the not so pleasant frozen margarita drinking experience I had in San Antonio years back.

Okay here I go again, making some of you ask yourself 'Who in the heck is this blogger?, Didn't she say more than once here taste is all a matter of preference?, Why I am reading this blog anyway?'  The answers are:  just a simple girl who likes nice things; yes I did say that; and well, I can't answer that last one.  So unless you are completely taken aback by what I just wrote, I really do hope you make this margarita recipe and then decide for yourself if it is any good.  For those of you who have been making margaritas with a bottled mix, I hope this recipe convinces you to shift from convenience to authenticity when making yourself and your friends margaritas.  Who knows, this could be your signature drink this summer. But then again why wait for warm weather, this is a four season margarita.

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