Monday, June 2, 2008

Buvare: Margarita

Nothing says lazy weekend Summer afternoon in the West quite like a frosty salt-encrusted thirst-quenching Margarita. They are also my favorite cocktails to mix at home and for guests, whether squeezing from fresh fruit, experimenting with different flavors or guiltily indulging in an americana bastardization of the libation. Here are some of my notes on making a crowd and tastebud pleasing marg.

Perfect Scratch Cadillac Margarita
All you really need for a perfect margarita is decent tequila, lime juice, orange liquor, and salt. The classic Cadillac uses Cuervo 1800 and Grand Mariner, but I also like Suaza Hornitos and Cointreau.
Follow a 3:2:1 ratio - 1 1/2 oz. tequila, 1 oz. fresh lime juice, and 1/2 oz. Grand Marnier. Shake over ice and serve in salt-rimmed glass.

Fiddling with a Classic
I always tend to follow this basic mixing recipe to start, but sometimes when I'm in the kitchen my puckish (if not wreckless) creative side takes over. Muddled fruits, juices, peppers and herbs later, I either have a new favorite or an occasional sour frown. When mixing in bulk or for large numbers of people, sometimes the hand-crafted details (particularly the fresh squeezed juices) can prove awfully laborious. Luckily Trader Joes has introduced a remarkably affordable ($1.99 bottle) and tasty mix, sans nasty preservatives. This weekend while entertaining I tried muddling fresh pineapple with a lime wedge to start, adding Hornitos, triple sec, splash of OJ, splash of Guava nectar and topped the shaker off with a dash of Trader Joes mix. Shaken and served on the rocks, glasses rimmed with margarita salt I tossed with some smoky chili powder. It was a hit! Moral: Don't be afraid to experiment and see what a Jalepeno Cilantro Margarita might taste like. In fact, one of my favorite cocktails of all time was a spicy twist on a margarita. Colosso, a [sadly now-deceased] tapas bar in southeast Portland concocted the Zirkpatrick, a delicious cocktail combining housemade black pepper-infused Tequila shaken with pure pomegranite juice and fresh lime, served on the rocks with a salted rim. The spice of the pepper was perfectly offset by the juicy tannin of the pomegranite and tartness of the lime. Simple tweaks anyone can do that can add a whole new dimension include adding some fresh clementine or tangerine juice, muddling a fresh apricot or some mint leaves, shaking in a couple blackberries, mixing in coconut and other tropical fruit juices, or simply floating some nice cognac on top. Have fun with it!

The Trailer Trash Margarita
Sometimes the foodie in you needs a vacation. For lazy days by the pool, I prefer this old "family" recipe (apparently a priest taught my mother... Amy Sedaris also endorses it in her hospitality book I Like You). This margarita has a different effect than the standard tequila-only brand, creating a mellow buzz that is just right for an afternoon in the sun. Start by emptying 6 oz (1/2 can) of frozen limeade concentrate into a blender. Save the other half in another container for the second round! (There will always be another pitcher.. be warned!)
Fill the empty concentrate can 2/3 with tequila of your choice (don't waste the fancy stuff on this recipe). Fill the last 1/3 with triple sec. Pour in a bottle of light mexican lager beer (I like Pacifico) and top the blender with lots of ice. Pulse until smooth and watch for the froth (I sometimes add the beer slowly as I blend so as not to overflow). Pour in Schlitz glasses, garnish with lime and enjoy the float down the river!

Another Round, Please!
Now that we've thoroughly discussed margarita-making at home.. what about those warm Los Angeles summer days that are SO lazy, you don't even feel like making your own margarita? Well, Lord knows this is most of the season, so let's quickly one-off the prime watering holes for margs in the neighborhood.
Drumroll, please.

10. Barragans: Go on Wednesday for $2.50 margs - But you'll need about triple your average intake (the buggers are deceptively small).
9. El Compadre: Home of the famous Flaming Margarita - Just don't spill the singed 151 into your drink.. Makes the whole thing taste like lighter fluid.
8. Casita Del Campo: Serve doubles and a darn good blended marg, great patio too.
7. Mexico City: A dependable, appropriately dosed, balanced margarita every time.
6. El Chavo: A classic - No frills, but who can complain about a $5 marg??
5. Malo: A tart, stiff standby. Great with their pineapple-infused tequila too.
4. El Carmen: Knows how to make a good 'rita. Just avoid the spicy jalepeno version.
3. Lava Lounge (RIP!): I swear there were egg whites in this frothy masterpiece.
2. L' Scorpion: Solid top shelf tequila bar delivers - and has a killer happy hour.
1. El Conquistador: Heroin moonshine trumps any day. (But if you don't feel like blacking out, try the banana blended margarita - I know, I know, just TRUST ME!)

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