While you're frying up some eggs and bacon, we're cooking up something else: a way to celebrate today's food holiday.
Today we set our sights south of the border, and concentrate on a great spirit that’s often maligned. Happy National Tequila Day!
Tequila (the spirit, not Pee-Wee Herman’s favorite jam) is made in and around the state of Jalisco in Mexico, from the blue agave plant. Blue agaves are related to asparagus, and these succulent plants are pollinated by bats and grow at high altitudes. When the plant is twelve years old, the piña - the pine-cone-shaped heart of the agave plant after the sharp leaves are stripped away - is cooked and then mashed, and the resulting pulp is fermented and distilled.
Unaged tequila is referred to as blanco (“white”) or plato (“silver.”) If it’s aged in an oak barrel for two months to a year, it’s called reposado or “rested.” If it’s aged for a year to three years, it’s añejo (“aged” or “vintage.”) Blancos tend to be more vegetal and taste fierier, while reposados and añejos are mellowed by their time in the wood, gaining some subtleties of flavor.
Lots of people seem to have had bad experiences with tequila and sworn it off as a result. It’s worth giving the spirit another chance, though. There are so many good tequilas on the market nowadays that you’re not limited to the ones that gave you that horrendous hangover in college. Look for a tequila with a label that mentions it is “100% agave”, “100% blue agave”, or “100% agave azul” - ones that don’t have this marking are called mixto tequilas, and can be made with up to 49% other sugars besides the ones that naturally occur in agaves. They’re often harsher and more acrid as a result.
And, there are far more ways to drink tequila than the well-known lick-slam-suck ritual of the shot, with its salt and lime. In Mexico, a shot of tequila is often followed by a shot of sangrita, a fruity sweet-and-spicy chaser with tomato and orange juice. The margarita is, of course, the classic tequila cocktail, and if you make it with a good tequila, fresh-squeezed lime juice, and high-quality triple sec, it’s a fine drink indeed (Planning a party? Try bartender Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s recipe for a gallon of margaritas.)
Cocktail blogger Chuck Taggart also likes his tequila with Italian aperitivo bitters, orange liqueur and cucumber for an interesting-sounding vegetal bittersweet drink, the Tlaquepaque.
On those brutal hot and humid days, take the lime and salt parts of the tequila shot and throw them into the shaker with the tequila itself, then add grapefruit soda to the mix and you have the Paloma, an unbelievably refreshing drink:
Combine all ingredients over ice in a highball glass and stir.
The only way to make the Paloma even better is to use Tequila por Mi Amante, or “tequila for my lover.” Drinks writer Charles H. Baker, Jr. wrote about this strawberry-infused tequila in 1939: “This berry process extracts some of the raw taste, adds a rosy dawn touch. . .We opine that handled in the same way as sloe gin, discoveries would be made.” The infusion is amazingly good either on its own or in a Paloma:
Tequila por Mi Amante
Wash, hull, and halve the strawberries. Place them in a large jar and add the tequila, covering the berries. Let it sit in the refrigerator for three weeks, and gently agitate the jar each day or so. After three weeks, strain out the berries and squeeze the remaining liquid out of them through cheesecloth. Discard the berries and strain the resulting liquid again to remove sediment. Let the infused tequila age for three more weeks or so in the fridge. Use the infused tequila in Palomas, or just have it on the rocks with maybe a splash of lime.
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