April 11, 2021

The Little Pearl

Ever wonder what’s in a name? I worked in Portugal a few years back and recall a conversation with the English winemaker about the meaning of names. He told me about his Portuguese friend with a very proper and formal surname that basically happened to translate into English as “all day long, I ride motorcycles.”

Most people think English names have little meaning, but if you research the origins of any name you’ll usually find some meaning behind it.

Take Margaret Thatcher for an example. A thatcher is someone who traditionally built and repaired old straw roofs. Margaret actually comes from the ancient Greek language and translates as “pearl.” The Greek version of the word derives from the even more ancient Persian.

What does any of this have to do with booze you may ask? Well, going back to my example, the name Margaret has many different variant forms used in languages around the world. When you take the Spanish version, which is an informal diminutive, you get the name of my favorite cocktail, the margarita – the little pearl.

As summer heat blazes away, I wanted to share with you what I have come to believe is the ultimate version of the best cocktail ever invented. First things first, do away with the slushy, frothy, frozen concoctions served in glasses rimmed with salt. It’s not the classic version of the cocktail, and I mostly consider it a novelty for tourists served at your local Mexican chain restaurant. If that’s the way you enjoy it, by all means continue to do so, but you must try the old-fashioned form – on the rocks, no salt.

You’ll need a basic bar tool to begin; a small cocktail shaker. I use one I got out of a holiday gift pack. The size of my shaker makes roughly two small rocks glasses worth. Any size will do though, as it’s the ratios that matter. All good cocktails start with a base. For a margarita, it’s lime. Skip the pre-made mixes loaded with high fructose corn syrup, artificial colors and who knows what else. Go right to the source and squeeze ‘em fresh. A small citrus press does the job quite well, and for the most part is quick and painless. I prefer to use a mix of the standard Persian limes and the small Key limes to get a nice, tart, limey flavor without juicing for hours.

Next, you’ll need some tequila. I’m a tequila aficionado, and make no apologies for being somewhat of a tequila snob. I pass on the standard label mixtos and go for good value 100% agave tequilas. I use either blancos or reposados for mixing and save the añejos for sipping. There happens to be two locally owned tequilas for those interested. Look for either Cruz or 3 Amigos if you want to go local. Otherwise, Milagro, 1800, Corralejo, Hornitos, Cazadores and Herradura are just a few of the brands that offer good value for their quality.

The fresh lime juice will be a bit tart and acidic, so you’ll need something to sweeten and balance the flavor. I recommend using agave nectar. It’s made from the sap of the agave piñas that get fermented and distilled into tequila. The nectar is a concentrated form that’s been reduced down to syrup with a honey-like consistency. It’s all natural, has a low glycemic index, dissolves easily in the mix, and gives excellent flavor.

The second component to balance flavor is the modifier, which for margaritas is an orange liqueur. My personal favorite is Grand Marnier, but triple sec will do. Two other common options are Cointreau, or a relatively new liqueur produced by Patrón called Citrónge. Add some good quality ice to your shaker for the final assembly.

My recipe is as follows:

1½ parts fresh lime juice

1½ parts tequila

½ part agave nectar

½ part orange liqueur

Shake the drink vigorously until frosty cold, then strain into your serving glass over ice and garnish with a slice of lime. The recipe suits my palate well, but you can play with the ratios if you desire more juice, more sweetness, etc., as the perfect drink is one that suits you.

It’s the quality of the ingredients though that really makes this particular drink such a treat. So, on a hot summer day, kick back, relax and enjoy yourself the little pearl. As always, enjoy responsibly.

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