Ditch the triple sec, excessive salt and the eponymous Margarita glass!
Nothing says authentic Mexico quite like a Margarita. Or does it? This potent “bebida” was invented somewhere near Rosarita (Northern Baja) in the early 1930’s for a B-list American movie star named Marjorie King. Marjorie was allergic to all hard alcohol except tequila and she didn’t find the spirit palpable on its own due to its brawny wallop. Thus, Cointreau and lime juice were added, it was shaken and served over shaved ice with a slightly salted rim. The original inventor, Carlos “Danny” Herrera, essentially made what he called a “girly drink” out of the entire tequila shot experience: the lick of salt, the shot and the lime chaser. Since then, the Margarita (Spanish for Marjorie) has gained worldwide popularity and continues to be one of the world’s most beloved adult beverages. Like all things popular, it became corrupted, and not in a very good way. The main bastardization coincided with the processed food revolution and the kitchy booze movement from the 70’s and 80’s, producing many watered-down, overly sweet drinks, unrecognizable to the originals.
Today the basic recipe is, inarguably, liquor (tequila), sweet (triple sec) and sour (lime juice), served with a sugared or salted rim, blended or on the rocks and, more often than not, in a burdensome, weighty glass. Cheap triple sec has replaced the elegant Cointreau of the original recipe, and extra (processed) sweetener is often introduced in the form of out-of-line and gross sweet and sour mixes, which are essentially corn syrup-laden, processed lemon juice concoctions. Even the original glass was degraded poorly and, wham!, the current common Margarita glass was born: a cumbersome, ridiculous apparatus to drink from, especially when it’s covered in hefty, supernumerary amounts of salt.
It’s time for a revolution. It’s time for a modern Margarita! Free yourself from the current 7-11 style Margarita adult Slurpee, you won’t regret it. It’s simple to do.
Part of restoring this popular cocktail entails not only bringing back the best attributes of the original recipe, but also incorporating modern ideas for subtle improvements. The Margarita, like many classic drinks, is best enjoyed in pure form: tequila and limes balanced with hints of sweetness, all accented by salt. The modern version in my mind is the modern version of the “girly drink,” great booze accented subtly and smartly!
To begin this modernization, I alter the original and corrupted recipe by ditching the Cointreau and triple sec altogether. We want the tequila to shine through in our finished version. The triple sec is essentially the sweetener of a Margarita, and the Cointreau adds sweetness plus more character in terms of flavor (from the sweet orange peels). In terms of the Cointreau or the triple sec adding booze, these are low alcohol liquors, and frankly I prefer more tequila. My recipe replaces the triple sec sweetener with my Mango Pit Margarita Mix, which is essentially a simple syrup from fresh mango pits, lime zest, raw sugar, water and orange bitters. Cointreau is expensive and unnecessary with the mango pit syrup. Using the mango pits to create a syrup or essentially my own “margarita mix” allows me to brag about ending food waste in my own kitchen. By extracting all the flavor and fleshy bits off the pits after my ordinary mango usage, it also actually imparts a delicate, tropical mango flavor into the syrup, along with a perfumed mango essence that is not overly robust. The mango pit syrup carries a softness in sweetness, fragrance and flavor that resembles what the Cointreau achieved in the original recipe, but with a tropical twist.
The modern Margarita is shaken and served strained on the rocks. High quality, well-crafted tequila is a must, and I prefer a refined but “fuerte,” reposado kind. The briny nature of a reposado bodes well with the tartness of the limes, the flavor imparted into it by the aging in the oak adds a tinge of smokiness, creating depth and a sultry component to the cocktail. White (“blanco”) tequila is great too, although it’s a bit immature and “snappy” for me and my modern Margarita. Tequila añejo is a fine option as well. Fresh squeezed lime juice is a must, as is salt. But never fear: long gone is the caked rims of the bastardized versions, replaced by flecks of flake salt sprinkled on top, allowed to slowly melt into the beverage while showcasing or highlighting the other flavors, as well as providing a whisper of salty ocean to the forefront of each sip.
When serving, use a glass that is comfortable to drink from, we’re not lifting weights after all. I prefer a rocks glass with a thin rim, as opposed to a thick rim low ball. I find that the liquor slips into my mouth more delicately, allowing the various nuances of texture and flavor to wallow and tantalize my taste buds a little longer and with much greater ease for my mouth.
My version of the Margarita is definitely a “girly” cocktail, but it’s not Marjorie’s “girly drink.” It’s refined and sophisticated, yet smart and evolved. My version empowers creative tequila crafters, showcasing the depth of modern day tequilas, while celebrating Mexicans and Mexico. The Modern Margarita pays homage to our modern food waste movement by utilizing the pits and showcasing creativity in clever food waste hacks. This “girly drink” is clever, creative, simple, perfectly loud and pays tribute to the original. I think Marjorie would have liked it!
Mango Pit Margarita Mix
A cheap homemade Cointreau alternative, making way for more tequila in your Margarita. Using up all your spare mango pits is a clever way to utilize your kitchen fully in ending food waste. Delicate and not overly robust in mango essence, this mix will help modernize your Margarita making!
Makes 12 ounces
3-4 mango pits with flesh
1 cup water
½ cup sugar, honey or sweetener of choice
zest of 1 lime
½ teaspoon orange bitters
Combine the mango pits, water, sweetener and lime zest in a small saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring a little as it comes to a boil. Adjust the burner to low and allow the mixture to simmer for about 10 minutes. Stirring occasionally and jostling the mango pits, helping some of the bits of flesh to come off. Take off heat and allow to cool completely. Strain, discard pits and refrigerate the syrup.
Mango Pit Margarita Mix will last up to 2 months in the refrigerator.
The Modern Margarita
The Modern Margarita should be made only one or two at a time for optimal results. Use high quality, well-crafted tequila and squeeze your limes on the spot and make sure to measure the juice: the perfect lime balance is a must! Use good tequila that tastes great on its own. There are plenty of amazing organic artisans crafting extraordinary tequilas with plenty of depth and character, perfect in this modern Margarita!
A few of my current favorite organic tequilas perfect for this recipe are:
Tequila Tierras Reposado – The robust orange peel nose gives the feel of the original Margarita’s Cointreau, while the modern taste of butterscotch and salted vanilla give it a very distinguished taste.
Aged 12-16 months
Color Golden amber
Nose Caramel, butterscotch and robust orange peel
Mouth Feel Velvety and cognac-like
Taste Butterscotch, vanilla with sea salt and oak
Finish Long and rich
123 Tequila (Uno Dos Tres) Reposado – This is one of my favorite sipping tequilas lately, but I have to admit I enjoy it in a Margarita as well. The strong spicy vanilla notes pair amazingly with the hints of mango from the pit syrup, creating a deep and extra sultry drink.
Aged 6 months
Color Slight Amber, Golden
Nose Spicy vanilla, spice, toffee
Mouth Feel Lush, textured
Taste Hints of citrus, vanilla, cinnamon, deep rich cocoa and mint
Finish Complex, long extended
Tequila Alquimia Reposado – Hands down my current favorite tequila for my modern Margaritas. The lightness yet depth of flavor are exquisite. I’m a sucker for extra smokiness in my Margarita and this brand delivers an incredible smoky and deep earthy finish.
Aged 6 months
Color Light gold
Nose Earthy, lightly oaky, hints of citrus
Mouth Feel Smooth, light
Taste Sweet agave, fruit, white pepper, floral hints
Finish Complex, slightly smoky and earthy
Makes 1 margarita
1 ½ ounces tequila reposado
1 ½ ounces lime juice
1 ounce Mango Pit Margarita Mix
2 pinches of maldon salt or 1 pinch of kosher
Combine the tequila, lime juice and mango pit syrup in a large shaker filled with ice. Shake vigorously for about 15-20 seconds. Strain into a rocks glass with ice. Toss a few pinches of flake salt on top (or one pinch of kosher salt) and garnish with a lime wedge.
Al centro, adentro!