The Secret to the Perfect Margarita (Hint: It Does Not Include Agave Nectar)
I just took a look at the calendar, and realized that Cinco de Mayo is right around the corner. Never mind that it's barely a blip on the radar in Mexico; around here, it's become Cinco de Drinko, where it's socially acceptable to get wasted on crummy margaritas and horrible Mexican beer. If you're going to have some margaritas, you might as well make them right.
In my travels, I have noticed a disturbing trend in margarita making: Agave nectar is becoming the sweetener of choice. In some recipes, it completely replaces the triple sec commonly found in a margarita. It's time to stop this madness. The only agave in your margarita should come from the tequila; anyone who claims that agave nectar is the proper or traditional sweetener in a margarita is full of it.
I'm perfectly fine with never seeing agave nectar in a bar again. The stuff is incredibly expensive, and doesn't bring much more flavor than plain old simple syrup. Proponents of agave nectar claim for a number of reasons that it's healthier than regular sugar. There's one problem. You're drinking it with alcohol, the emptiest calories you can possibly consume. If you want to have healthier margaritas, have one really good one instead of two crummy "skinny" agave-sweetened ones.
People who market agave nectar gleefully point out that humans have used and consumed agave for centuries, if not millennia. While this is true, its use as a sweetener is a recent development. Agave nectar has been a commercial product only since the mid-1990s, and has only taken a foothold in the US in the last ten years. Meanwhile, the margarita dates back to the 1930s or 1940s.
Then there's the whole matter of the drink's name. There's an old category of drink, the daisy. It combined a base spirit with lemon (or sometimes lime) juice and orange liqueur. Sound familiar? Make it with tequila, and you have a margarita. And what do you call a daisy in Spanish? That's right... margarita. If you're making margaritas without the triple sec (or at least some other kind of liqueur), you're just making tequila sours.
While I'm on my margarita soapbox, I need to get into the topic of the salt rim. Few things in a bar make me cringe more than the plastic thing with the sponge soaked in Rose's Lime. The glass goes into the sponge that's been collecting bacteria for god knows how long, then rubbed around in a pile of kosher salt. When the drink is poured into the glass, it knocks the salt on the inside rim off the glass and into the bottom of my drink. Just what I didn't want, half a teaspoon of salt sitting in the bottom of my drink. Gross.
Let me bestow upon you the proper way to rim a glass. First, throw away that silly plastic thing with the sponge. Then, fill a wide shallow dish with kosher salt. Take a wedge of lime, and rub it around the outside of the glass to coat with juice. Then, roll the edge of the glass through the salt. Hold it upside down over a trash can, and tap the glass to knock off excess salt. It's a piece of cake, and takes all of five seconds longer than the bad way to do it. If you know you're going to make a lot of margaritas, you can rim the glasses hours (hell, possibly days, but they've never lasted that long around here) in advance.
Margarita, The Right And Proper Way Bottlings of triple sec vary in sweetness. If you have a drier one like Cointreau, you might want to add a dash or two of simple syrup. ½ ounce lime juice 1 ounce Cointreau (or other orange liqueur) 1 ½ ounces silver tequila
Shake well with ice. Strain over fresh ice into a double Old-Fashioned glass with a salted rim.
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Phoenix dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.