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The Super Bowl has become a national holiday and that has as much to do with the food as it does football. Typical game day offerings span a wide swath of fusion comfort food, blurring the lines between regional and ethnic cultures, from Italian pizza and heros, southern barbecued ribs and wings and perhaps the most popular, tex mex nachos and guacamole. At times it can seem a little over the top but that’s sort of the point. In the dead of winter we deserve at least one day to collectively indulge.
One issue I take with this tradition however is the refreshments. People create these incredible epicurean feasts and fortify them with cheap, flavorless beer. I never understood the reliance on light beer, and based on the amount of advertising it’s clearly the popular choice. I suppose a lighter beer makes it possible to drink it all day long while still remaining cognizant for the evening kickoff. But it still seems like a wasted opportunity to accompany your decadent 8-layer dip with something comparable in your glass. There are plenty of options to upgrade your beverage program. But if you’re serving nachos and guacamole (I know I will be) to me that can mean only one thing, margaritas.
Margaritas are about the most popular cocktail in the country, which is ironic because they are among the most butchered as well. We all have experienced the difference between margaritas that are bright, fresh and delicious and others that are cloyingly sweet and synthetic. So it’s only worth making them if you do it right. Here are my 3 keys to making the perfect unforgettable margarita. Do be careful though, they’re a bit stiffer than Coors Light.
1: Use fresh lime juice!
Put down the sour mix and the plastic lime of pasteurized juice, or better yet throw them in the trash. There’s just no getting around it, you’re going to have to flex those forearm muscles. Fresh citrus juice is easily the biggest step towards great cocktails. Not just margaritas, but whiskey sours, daiquiris, mojitos, the list goes on. On the flip side not using fresh juice is unredeemable. It can seem like a lot of work, but it really isn’t. Just think of it as kitchen prep. Try juicing the limes when you’re making the guacamole. Once you taste the difference you’ll never use sour mix again.
2: Buy good tequila.
Thankfully tequila is enjoying a bit of a renaissance and quality brands are widely available. Traditionally a blanco or white tequila is used in margaritas, as opposed to an aged reposoda or anjeo. Though those make delicious, slightly more complex, margaritas as well. Whatever you prefer the most important thing to remember is to buy brand that is 100% agave. It will say so on the label. If it doesn’t to that it means that tequila is cut with grain alcohol and probably has artificial coloring added. This will exclude some of the more visible brands (Jose Cuervo for example.) Try Ocho, Siete Leguas, Milagro, Don Julio, El Testoro and Partida, to name a few. As with the fresh citrus, the difference is night and day, for not much more of a price.
Step 3: Use Cointreau.
There are tons of triple secs, or orange liqueurs, out there. For me there’s Cointreau, then everything else. This is an area where you might be tempted by the bottom shelf bottle that’s half the price, but try to resist. A good margarita can be made with lower quality triple sec, but not a great one. Plus with Cointreau, you can make proper side cars and cosmopolitans, or just enjoy it with some soda water. It won’t go to waste.
Got everything? Ok, here’s the recipe. I always work in fluid ounces, which is equal to two tablespoons.
2 ounces blanco tequila
1 ounce Cointreau
¾ ounce fresh squeezed lime juice
¼-½ ounce simple syrup*
Shake with ice and serve up or on the rocks.
If desired, salt the rim of the glass beforehand.
*Simple syrup is, simply, sugar dissolved into an equal amount of water.
1 cup sugar
1 cup boiling water
Stir until dissolved, refrigerate.
I gave a range for amount of the simple syrup because sweetness of the you drink is up to you and everyone is different. The recipe above is what I think most people prefer. Personally, I like a more tart drink so I use little to no simple syrup. Taste and see where your own preference lies.
Having a party? Make a pitcher!
If you’re making drinks for a group just convert those ounces into cups, which will make eight servings, pour everything into a pitcher and add 1 cup of water. This will account for the dilution you’d get from shaking the drink with ice. This way you don’t have to make or shake drinks to order. But make sure to chill the drinks beforehand. You can chill them overnight since the tequila will help preserve the fresh lime juice. For a extra cold cocktails, put them in the freezer an hour or two before serving. When it’s party time just pour over ice and enjoy!\
Adding a little heat to your cocktail is a popular and delicious variation, but you need to tread lightly. It is very easy of over do it and render something that is undrinkable, trust me, I know from experience (Super Bowl XLIII). If you do want to explore this territory there are two ways of doing so.
- Muddle the jalapeño.
In the above recipe, lightly crush 1 or 2 slices of jalapeño the size of the quarter into the simple syrup. Add the remaining ingredients. Shake and strain, making sure to get out all the bits of pepper. You don’t the surprise of biting down on a rouge seed.
- Infusing the tequila.
This is optimal if you’re making drinks for a group. Slice up a jalapeño and add 5-6 pieces per 750ml bottle. Let it sit for only 20 minutes or so before tasting with a spoon or straw. Jalapeños vary in intensity so the time of infusion varies as well. One you’ve reached the desired spiciness which, again, is a matter of taste, strain out the jalapeño slices and seeds.
Now you’re ready to go! As for what to munch on, perhaps I’m being biased, but if you are going making margaritas and guacamole, there’s nothing better to accompany them than my dad’s Smoked Jalapeño CheeseCrisps. Yum! You can stock up for the big game here. Cheers!