Resist the urge to bust out the blender or get all wackypants with with add-ins. The simple, unadulterated margarita is a symphony of tart, salt and kick - with nary a drop of sour mix in sight.
1 1/2 oz fresh lime juice
First – a note on ingredients. If you're making up a big batch of margaritas, you may not care to bust the bank, but if you're just shaking up a few, elevating the elements just a bit can transform your whole drinking experience.
For triple sec, plain ol' Bols, Hiram Walker or Llord are fine, but I'll bust out Cointreau or Gran Gala if my bank account is feeling fine and the drinks are the star - not just a means by which to wash down nachos.
Tequila purchasing can be intimidating. There are hundreds of brands on the market, at wildly varying prices. Don't get flustered. Save the spendy stuff for sipping straight (yup – sipping, not shooting) and learn to look for these terms:
Gold – This is generally "mixto" or adulterated tequila, where colors, sugars and flavors have been added to the fermented, distilled agave juice before bottling. It's unaged, sometimes called "joven" or "oro" and tends to be on the less expensive side, so it's what's often used at high-volume bars and restaurants. There's a good chance you can credit at least one of your youthful tequila hangovers to this free-flowing stuff, so while it's not necessarily bad, you can certainly do better.
Silver – This clear tequila is un-aged and may also be a mixto, so look for the words "100% Agave" on the label. It plays nicely with other ingredients, and tends to make for a bold, but smooth margarita. Silver tequila may also be labeled "blanco."
Reposado – A nap sounds good, right? This one has been "rested" in a wood barrel or cask for at least two months but less than a full year in order to age, and possibly pick up characteristics from a barrel's previous occupant - cognac, wine or bourbon. It may be mixto or 100% agave, but it's almost guaranteed to be a bit more complex than a younger tequila.
Añejo – Tack on a bit more time. An añejo must be stored for at least one year in a vessel that doesn't exceed 600 liters, and generally mellows to a deeper amber color, with an even richer flavor. Extra añejo or "ultra-aged" tequila hangs out in the container for three years minimum and can often hold its own against other aged spirits like bourbon, scotch and cognac.
In all cases, if someone presents you with a bottle populated by a worm - make a polite exit. Tequila should never have a worm present, and while some mezcals (they're an agave-based cousin of tequila) may boast a little hitchhiker from the agave plant's leaves, it's never the good brands. The worm isn't harmful - just a tad tacky.
Got all that? I'll make it easy. My personal go-to margarita tequilas - and please share your own in the comments below - are Don Julio Reposado, Milagro Silver and Don Nacho Blanco.
Here's how you shake it up:
Roll the lime against the counter with your palm to soften it and release the oils. Slice it in half and use a juicer, or prick the flesh of each half with a fork a few times, then twisting the fork into the flesh over a bowl or glass, release the juice. Work from the center out to the rind. Save one half of the spent rind, and cut that in half.
Pour kosher salt into a bowl with deep sides. Wipe the rind quarter around the rim of the glass, then rotate the rim through the salt, against the side of the bowl until it has an even coating. Set the glass aside.
Measure 1 1/2 ounces of the lime juice into a cocktail shaker, add 1 ounce triple sec or the orange liqueur of your choice, and 2 ounces of tequila. Add ice and shake.
Fill the salt-rimmed glass with ice and strain the margarita over it. Add a garnish of a lime wedge if you care to, but that's just wasting precious drinking time.
The recipe can be doubled, triple or quadrupled, and the ratio of lime and orange liqueur can be adjusted to your tastes.