Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Recipe: Margarita

I'm kind of a precise sort of cook. Much of what I do is by instinct and feel, but when I hit upon the right combination of ingredients, process and cooking times, I tend to write it down and get pretty anal-retentive about doing it exactly the same way the next 10,000 times. And my margarita recipe is like that:

First, obtain the biggest, juiciest limes you can find. Buy one per margarita. If you can only find sad little hard limes, buy two or three per margarita.

Oh, and buy Persian limes. If you can only find Key limes, just forget it and buy some nice Belgian beer.

For each margarita:

  • Place a large cocktail glass in the freezer. Wait half an hour or so; two hours would be better. The kind with etched designs on the outside and which look like over-sized martini glasses are best.

  • Roll the lime on the counter, kind of hard, to loosen it up just a bit. Cut it in half through the "equator." Rinse your knife off, particularly if it's that nice Henkels with the fresh edge. Squeeze the lime with a hand squeezer (the kind that looks like a bowl with a central ribbed squeezy-thingy). Throw one half of the lime shell in the compost pile, and put the other half aside for the moment.

  • Strain the juice through a fine mesh strainer and into a cocktail shaker. (If you don't have a cocktail shaker, run out and buy one. Get a good stainless-steel one, or a professional glass-and-stainless combination with a separate strainer.) Use your (clean!) finger or a muddler (if anyone's looking) to break up any lime sacs; you want all the juice you can get.

  • Get out your graduated cylinder. (If you don't have a graduated cylinder, use your volumetric measure with the smallest units; preferably milliliters.) Measure the volume of the lime juice.

  • If measuring in ml, round off to the nearest integer divisible by three. This makes the arithmetic easier. If not measuring in ml, read on and (shudder) fake it.

  • Double the amount obtained in the last step, and divide by three. This is the amount of triple sec you will use.

  • Pour the lime juice back into the shaker, and measure out the triple sec. Add it to the lime juice in the shaker.

  • Using the doubled amount obtained in the lime-juice-measuring step, measure out your tequila. Pour it into the shaker. This gives you a ratio of triple sec : lime : tequila of 2:3:6, which is the definition of a margarita. Anything else is, well, something else.

  • Add ice cubes (or, yeah, crescents) to the shaker. Leave enough head space for a medium-sized apple. (No, don't add an apple, just leave that much space. Sheesh.)

  • Close up the shaker, and shake very vigorously 128 times. (To keep count easily, count four repetitions of four shakes, and repeat that four times; then do it again.) What you're after here is for the mixture to be VERY well mixed, the shaker to threaten to give you frostbite, and the ice to be broken up into pieces; some small enough to get through the strainer and into the glass. If you can obtain this last feature, you are very close to margarita nirvana indeed.

  • Put the shaker on the counter, and catch your breath for just a moment. Particularly if this is your third or fourth margarita. Ignore any expectant glares from your housemates or guests.

  • Take the glass out of the freezer. Rub the reserved lime shell around the rim. Throw it (the lime shell) onto the compost heap. Pour a bit of kosher salt into your (clean!) palm, and coat the now-wet rim of the glass with it. If you don't have kosher salt, pour the whole mess down the drain and call it a day.

  • Strain the margarita into the glass. You may have some left over; if the margarita is for you, just let it sit till you want it. If it's for a guest, this is your portion; add it to your own glass.

  • Repeat as required or requested.


Use a middle-of-the-road triple sec and Jose Cuervo white tequila. Cuervo Gold is for undergraduates, who don't know any better. If you're making "top-shelf" margaritas, use Cointreau and Sauza Hornitos Reposado and be sure to let everyone around you know about it.

Be sure to build the margarita in the order given. The tequila helps rinse out the sugary reside of the triple sec from your graduated cylinder.

If someone asks for a margarita "on-the-rocks," it is permissable to sigh heavily and proceed as above - only instead of straining the margarita into a proper cocktail glass, just dump the whole thing, ice and all, into a (salted!) rocks glass and add more ice as necessary.

If someone asks for a frozen margarita, it is permissable to give them the back of your hand and order them off your property.

If someone asks for a frozen margarita with fruit (other than lime juice) in it, it is permissable to shoot them through the head with a small-frame, large-caliber handgun and order their friends to remove the corpse from your property.

If you are making margaritas for a house party, it is common practice to ask guests to squeeze their own limes. The reason for this become obvious after the eleventh or twelfth margarita. The host's prerogative (taking the leftover from the shaker after pouring the drink) evaporates (so to speak) under this policy, however.

Have fun - and, as always, play safe.

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