Let’s talk about margaritas, and how I came to figure out the absolute best, LBDelicious version of one.
My “first love” of adult beverages was the Mambo Taxi at Rosie’s Mexican Cantina in Huntsville, AL. To this day, when I go home, I basically force someone to go to Rosie’s with me (people at home: are you sick of Rosie’s yet?), so that I can have at least one of their frozen margaritas swirled with Jago sangria. It’s the only frozen margarita I order, ever. And, it may be one of those things that isn’t that wonderful to most people, but I have some sort of strange sentimental attachment to it and cannot let it go, much like a blankie or a favorite stuffed animal. For some reason, I cannot recreate the Mambo Taxi at home. I think they must, like everything else at Rosie’s, put a secret ingredient (crack, perhaps?) in it.
Despite never quite figuring out how to make a Mambo Taxi, I did eventually figure out how to make a pretty decent margarita from scratch. It started out when I realized that the store bought sour mixes are disgusting and hurt my stomach, thereby negating the “feel good” effects of the margarita. Besides that, “real” margaritas are a sublime combination of silver tequila and lime juice. And that’s it. So, I began to squeeze my own fresh lime juice and make a simple syrup (thanks, sweet tooth) to balance out the sour (1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 cup water, brought to a simmer & stored in an airtight container in the fridge), adding it in some odd proportion to whatever tequila was laying around (usually Jose Cuervo gold) along with some triple sec. It was a good first start, but not the happy, sublime, relaxing, refreshing margarita I knew existed.
Eventually, I figured out that if I added lime zest to the simple syrup before it came to a simmer, and then strained out the lime zest, I had a pretty tasty lime simple syrup, which enhanced the natural flavor of the lime juice. This was a HUGE improvement from my first incarnation. But, something still tasted off. I think I was laying on the couch one day watching Bobby Flay (which means I was really exhausted because I was too tired to turn him off… he’s not my favorite Food Network chef…), when he insisted that if you make a margarita, you have to use silver tequila. Duly noted, BFlay.
The switch was made – I reserved the Jose Gold for marinades, and started going for Milagro, Patron, or Herradura silver as my bar pantry, standby tequila (all three of these are excellent, but Milagro is my favorite budget option. Herradura’s the priciest, but also the best, in my opinion. Patron – well, you can’t ever go wrong with Patron either). Huge improvement number 3.
I eventually realized that Cointreau, not triple sec, was a key ingredient. Why did I even have triple sec in my cabinet? Who knows. I’m sure it was cheaper. But, even though Cointreau is more expensive, I think it’s worth it. It lasts a long time (moderation is key, here), which is how I justify keeping it around. Just the combination of one shot of tequila, a splash of cointreau, about 3 tablespoons of lime juice and however much lime simple syrup I felt I needed made me feel like I’d developed a restaurant-quality drink. I was happy. Temporarily.
Eventually, I got frustrated. Have you ever squeezed enough limes to get two decent-sized margaritas? It takes a long time. If you know me, you know I am not patient. Especially when I want a margarita. Which is usually when I’ve had a craptastic day. And my patience is minimal to begin with, much less on days when I need a margarita to make it better. I found that I was spending a lot of time squeezing limes, with little results, which made me an unhappy margarita drinker. I searched for a solution in the store-bought, jarred, organic lime juices, knowing better than to even attempt to squeeze anything out of a plastic, lime-ish looking container into a shot of good tequila. The organic jarred lime juice is okay, but still had a funky taste to it.
Fast forward (or rewind?) to about a month ago, when I was eating a grapefruit supplied by my lovely Farmer’s Market Basket. It all of a sudden dawned on me: these babies are tart enough to supply the base of my homemade sweet/sour mix! Every once in a while, I have good ideas. Not often. But sometimes. Like that day. It finally allowed me to nail my homemade margarita recipe, something I’ve been tinkering with for years.
Let’s also rewind a bit, back to one of the best margaritas I’ve ever had in my life: the one that I ordered at Frontera Grill. It was shaken, cocktail style, at the table before it was poured into a martini glass right in front of me. I learned something on that day: if Rick Bayless thinks margaritas should be shaken, then we should all be shaking our margaritas.
Combine the grapefruit idea with the shaker, and you have…
Grapefruit Margarita (for one serving)
First: put your margarita jug/glass/cup in the freezer, preferably for long enough to make it nice & frosty
Second: make a lime simple syrup. In a small saucepan, bring 1/2 cup water, 1/2 cup sugar, and the zest of one lime to a simmer, until the sugar dissolves. Remove from heat, strain out the zest, and set aside in an airtight container. Preferably, this will come to room temperature or be in the fridge for a while. If not – no big deal.
Third: Juice half a grapefruit (NOTE: you will want more than one of these, so just go ahead and squeeze the whole grapefruit, saving the leftover juice)
Fourth: fill a cocktail shaker with crushed ice. Add, in the following order: 1 1/2 shots tequila, 1/2 shot Cointreau, 1 1/2 shots grapefruit, and up to 1 shot of simple syrup (depending on how sweet you like your drinks). Shake vigorously, and strain into your frozen glass, which you will fill with ice right before you pour the drink. Oh, don’t forget to rim the glass with salt first.
Where’s the picture? I drank mine too fast tonight to share. Guess I’ll just have to make another one in the future to post here.