You might think that on Kentucky Derby Day, the day where bourbon reigns supreme, I should be celebrating all things bourbon and not pining away for a real agave margarita. I should be teaching you all how to make authentic mint juleps while I regale you with some madcap horse racing story from youth, no? The truth be told, I know precious little about horse racing and even less about The Derby itself other than it is over in 2 minutes and the expectation is that its spectators are to get very drunk.
I will have to admit to giving thought to posting a Mint Julep recipe anyway lying to you about how I came to know the drink. Any honest food blogger would tell you how easy it is to pretend to know everything about anything. (Isn’t that what Google and Wikipedia are for?) A julep is indeed a fine drink and certainly has earned its place on the racetrack menu but isn’t a very practical drink to know how to make for yourself when you think about it. Who would drink a mint julep anywhere other than at Derby party anyway?
“Hey! Look! Tom and Helen are here! Come in! Put your coats right here. Can I get the two of you something to drink?”
“Oh, I’ll have a have a dry martini Bill, and you know Helen, she’d just love a mint julep!”
Nobody does that do they? I think it would be more useful for me to teach you something more practical. Something I actually know something about. A mint julep may be for Derby Day, but a margarita is for every day. (At least every day over 70 degrees!)
As if I needed any more convincing that a real agave margarita is a far better choice to write about now it turns out that the day after Derby Day this year was Cinco de Mayo, the day where margaritas rules the bar menu.
I suspect that most people (even here in Orange County) celebrate this Mexican holiday but have absolutely no idea what it is actually about. No, it is not a night to celebrate cheap nachos and beer specials and certainly isn’t “the Mexican July Fourth.” Would someone please tell me what that means anyway? (Mexico does not celebrate its independence on May 5th…)
I will leave the aforementioned Wikipedia to explain the details of the day but here in Southern California, where we live on what used to be Mexican land, the day is primarily one to celebrate Mexican heritage, culture, and pride. Yes, we do it with cheap nachos, Mexican beer and of course, margaritas. Go into any Mexican bar on this day and order a mint julep if you want to see how strong the cultural pride is!
I celebrate it with a real agave margarita. Always.
Most origin stories have the margarita invented just over our southern border either in Ensenada at Hussong’s Cantina or at the Rancho La Gloria Hotel in Rosarito. I know that many Texans will also try to lay a claim on inventing it but then Texans try to lay claim to everything — so there is that to consider.
Of course the best margarita is always the one being offered to me as proximity must count for something in these matters. I do have to tell, however, that should you offer a radioactive colored, cloyingly sweet concoction you won’t get me very excited. Oh, I’ll drink it. It IS a margarita but I will be lying when I tell you it tastes “fantastic” all the while scanning the room for some fresh limes to squeeze in it and devising a scheme to surreptitiously plop an extra shot of tequila in it.
One should not have to resort to these corrective measures to misguided margarita attempts when pitch-perfect examples are so easy to make. Therefore, as a general public service and an expression of my sincere hope and optimism that someday you will get to make one for me, I will share with you my my very strong suggestions on how to do them well:
- Please, please do not blend my margarita in a blender full of ice. If you are going to insist on this folly then please refer your creation correctly as a frozen margarita. This will spare you from the disappointed look on my face as you hand me that snow cone. By offering me the correctly referenced frozen margarita I can politely decline it or at least ensure I have a plan in place to spike it with more tequila before the 30 seconds it takes to become a watered down mess passes.
- Using a commercial margarita mix is unnecessary. Besides, you don’t get to brag that you are “famous for the best margaritas” if all you do is add a mix, right?
- Don’t add fruit. Yes, I know they are called “Strawberry Margaritas” or “Mango Margaritas” and everyone oohs and aahs when you serve them at your backyard barbeques but these variations are more dessert than cocktail. Seeing as how I am not a college girl you are trying to get drunk and take back to your dorm room you really have no good reason for serving me these.
- Abstain from adding Triple Sec or any other liqueurs. This is especially true if you are using an already too-sweet bottled mix. Fancy bars call these overly sweet drinks “Cadillac” to make you feel posh and coax you out of an extra $5 but all you end up with is a cloying mess.
- Salt or no salt? Always ask first. Most people have a preference here so don’t assume everyone likes it the way you do. And please don’t use table salt! Suffering a mouthful of metalic table salt is no way to enjoy a cocktail. My preference seems to depend as much on my own mood as it does on the local air temperature. I crave the salted rim only when the weather is really warm.
A Real Agave Margarita
A tad picky perhaps but like I said, I am unlikely to refuse a margarita you offer me even if you haven’t taken my suggestions. Even if you have used a mix. The only time I ever refused a margarita was when one well intentioned but very misguided hostess informed me that her husband didn’t have any tequila in the house so she used vodka instead “because that is all we have”. That made me weep.
I do hope you will try to make a real agave margarita sans mix if you have not ever done so before. To hijack a familiar inspirational quote I know of: “Buy a bottle of margarita mix and you will drink margaritas only until the bottle is empty. Teach a man to mix a margarita with fresh citrus and he will drink them for a lifetime.”
Or at least until the limes run out which should never happen if you know what is good for you.
This recipe makes two margaritas but only one if you are making one for me. The recipe is easily scalable and if you end up with a bit extra just keep it in a mason jar to refresh the inevitable empty glasses with after a few minutes.
The best tasting and juiciest limes for juicing are the ones with the thinnest skins. Limes with the deepest, darkest green skins may look the best in supermarkets but they aren't usually the best tasting. I actually look for the ones that have bits of yellow still on them. Room temperature limes will always yield the most juice and if you cut the limes lengthwise before juicing them you might be surprised at how much more juice you will get from them. (I'm not making this up!)
This is what you will need:
- 2 1/2 oz silver tequila (or to taste. I like tasting more!)
- 1 oz fresh lime juice
- 1 tablespoon agave nectar
- 1 1/2 tablespoon water
- lime for garnish
- fluer de sel for rimming the glass (This is optional so don't forget to ask!)
This is how you make it:
- In a mixing glass or mason jar add all ingredients except the salt and lime garnish.
- Mix well with a spoon or cover the jar and shake very gently.
- To salt the rim of your glass (optional) drag a cut lime around the rim and then gently dip the rim in a saucer filled with fluer de sel so that the salt sticks to the rim.
- Fill the glass to the top with ice.
- Add cocktail mixture to a cocktail shaker filled with ice and shake until well chilled. About 30 seconds. Strain contents of shaker over the ice in the glass and garnish with slice of lime.