Tag Archives: tequila

A Margarita Missive

Maureen and I LOVE margaritas. But, that statement comes with a long list of qualifiers. We’re talking about REAL margaritas here. The real deal. The genuine article. Before I talk about what makes a great margarita, I feel it’s critical to point out what DOESN’T make a great margarita:

  1. Bar mix – sweet and sour, margarita mix, some fluorescent limey, sugary syrup.
  2. Blended Ice – leave it for the Slush Puppies
  3. A glass the size of your forearm.
Wrong, wrong and wrong.

A real margarita is strong, tart, refreshing and, well, MANLY. Just like a daiquiri (don’t believe me? Look it up). It’s one of the simplest cocktail recipes out there. I’m really not sure why so many bartenders are so game to screw it up.

Here is the recipe for the real-deal Margarita, courtesy of Wikipedia:

1 ounce tequila
Dash of Triple Sec
Juice of 1/2 lime or lemon
Pour over ice, stir. Rub the rim of a stem glass with rind of lemon or lime, spin in salt—pour, and sip.

Got it? THAT’s a margarita. It comes in a small old-fashioned glass because there’s just not that much to it. It tastes of great tequila and fresh lime and just enough orange liqueur to take the edge of the bitterness of the lime and to provide a TOUCH of sweetness. It’s slightly paler than the colour of the pulp of the inside of a lime.

I can only imagine that a few of the party bars conspired to pervert the margarita as a party drink, to pad the volume with cheaper ingredients to justify higher prices. Of course, if most people ordered a margarita in a bar in Ottawa and a REAL margarita was put in front of them, they’d ask’ “What the hell is this?”, and I recognize that. It’s gotten to the point that many bartenders will argue that they make real margaritas, but when asked, “Does it have sweet and sour mix in it?”, they say “yes.” and when I make a face, they’ll say “…but not too much”, as valid a reply to this question as “Did you shoot the mailman?”

Funny story, and completely true: When traveling, we stopped at the hotel bar for a nightcap and asked the bartender to make us a couple of margaritas, but only if they had no sweet and sour mix in it. He proudly told us that they make their own mix, which was commendable but still wrong. I took a different approach and asked if he could make me one with an ounce of good tequila, a dash of Triple Sec and the juice of 1/2  a lime, on the rocks, no salt?

Oh, YES!

He told me that it would be awful and whipped one up and smugly presented it to me to prove his point. “You try this.” he said, implying that it was way off base. I took a sip and it was wonderful — and why wouldn’t it be? I told him so and he just looked confused. Then I read aloud the American Bartender’s Association recipe for a margarita, which was exactly what I asked him to make for me. He was humble and gracious and made one for Maureen and in fact, when we were about to leave he made us a “triple” margarita to bring up to our room to share on him.

Now, I don’t want to take away anyone’s favourite sugary, alien-fluorescent green faux margarita, but it has the same name. Can we fix that? Can we call it Margarit-ade?

I suppose I just have to keep doing what I’m doing now, which is to give bartenders the simple recipe to follow.

I really do have to go back to Guero’s in Austin where they know how to make real margaritas and the only variation is between ones with great tequila and ones with really great tequila.



Touched down just after noon on Friday. Up since 4 am we are tired and hungry. Austin is overcast and a light rain falls but it is also verdant with spring, mild and the birds are singing, with the bonus of being sans slush and the treachery that is our Ottawa driveway currently.

Rob and I have been to Austin on two other occasions for all-too-brief stops on road trips, so we already have a basic lay of the land and some favorite places to grab a bite. We make an easy decision. Gueros!

Guero's Taco Bar on Urbanspoon

Despite the drizzle, South Congress is alive and buzzing on this Friday mid-afternoon. We luck into a parking spot across from the restaurant and head in. Guero’s is packed but has a couple of free tables. We get seated and first up: Margaritas! We already know Guero’s does ’em right. They offer about 15 margs with different tequilas. We order The Don, February’s featured marg made with Don Julio tequila, Triple Sec, fresh lime juice, rocks, salted rim for me, no salt for Rob. Our drinks arrive with a slice of lime and starting to sweat. Guero margs are in short glasses and are about twenty shades paler than the neon chartreuse abomination that the unfortunate think is a real margarita. Ooooh! Goes down easy after our long day.

Drinks arrive with complimentary, well made corn tortilla chips and two house salsas. The first, a smooth, roasted tomato chile dip provides a nice spicy burn. The second is a fresh, chunky pico de gallo with a hint of creaminess provided by some chopped avocado. I’m not sure which I prefer. Both are great with a margarita. I do immediately regret wearing a white shirt however.

Starving, we select a few apps off the menu to share. Tacos Al Pastor and Chorizo Quesadillas. The tacos are small, open-faced and piled with spiced pork and pico de gallo laced with coriander and fresh pineapple. They come with lots of fresh lime. The quesadillas keep me coming back to Guero’s. The soft, pillowy flour tortillas (corn are also available) are sumptuous with just enough cheese, chorizo and spiced oil rendered from the meat to glue the tortillas together. A generous helping of guacamole and sour cream for spooning up with each bite makes these the perfect marg-soaking-up food. With our bellies content we head to the hotel to check in and have a much needed nap.

Refreshed and ready to roll, we select the Iron Cactus for dinner because we can walk there. We are only a block from 6th street which is hopping on a Friday night despite the rain. The Iron Cactus, a large two story affair here in Austin, has a few locations in Texas, much like the Lone Star in Ontario minus the fake Texas crap and waiter named Durango. We have a 15 minute wait at the bar where the tender tells us they make a  mighty good margarita. We bite. They have a pretty good array of tequila behind the bar. He makes us a decent drink with fresh lime and agave nectar. It’s good but a tad too sweet. Not bad though. The bar is noisy on a Friday. We are by a factor of two, the oldest people in the joint. Oddly the sound track beckons to us: The Zombies, Johnny Cash, Pink Floyd, Tom Petty and Steppenwolf.

Iron Cactus on UrbanspoonAfter we are seated, I order a local beer, Fireman Four. Complimentary chips with two roasted chile -tomato salsas, one warm, one cold arrive. Chips are good and the salsas tasty. We order a Chile Con Queso app. It arrives in a cast iron pan, thin and white with a few chunks of chilies and tomato. Quite average but really good when sharing a chip with the mildly spicy roasted salsas.











For mains we are sharing an order of shrimp and pork carnitas fajitas. The dish arrives hot but not sizzling.  The pork is in good sized chunks, sweet and nicely spicy. The shrimp appear to be wild caught as they have an intense shrimpy taste and are smokey sweet. Accompanying the proteins are nicely sauteed onions, poblanos, and red peppers. The flour tortillas (again corn are offered) are soft and perfect. Our mains come with a choice of beans. We both opt for the bacon onion beans which are very good but not sweet. The Mexican rice is dull and the classic fajita fixins are fine but in our book cheese is a no no and the guacamole had been set out too far in advance and had started to oxidize which is unappetizing.

We head back to our hotel via 6th Street, Austin’s bar and restaurant scene. Lots of colourful characters and live music spill out into the street. Can’t wait to check it out!

Margarita-Braised Chicken Thighs

The citrusy, sharp, flavours of lime and tequila combine with the concentrated sweetness of dried fruit to make this chicken dish a family favorite. Use any mix of dried tropical fruits except perhaps banana chips. The fruit will char slightly and lend a nice caramel flavour to the meal. Serve it with plain or Mexican rice, or as I am tonight, Cilantro lime rice. Simply blend together a little salt, lime, fresh cilantro to taste with a little olive oil, to cooked, hot rice.

Margarita-Braised Chicken Thighs

Serves 4

Adapted from Cooking Light

1/2 cup flour
1 tbsp. paprika
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
8 skinless, boneless, chicken thighs
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. olive oil
Cooking spray
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
3/4 cup dried tropical fruit (I use mango and kiwi, papaya and pineapple are good as well)
1/2 cup orange juice
1/4 cup Tequila
Juice of one lime

1. Preheat oven to 400℉. Combine first three ingredients in a bowl. Sprinkle chicken with salt, dredge chicken in flour mixture. Heat oil in a large non stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken to pan; cook 4 minutes on each side or until lightly browned. Transfer chicken to a baking dish coated with cooking spray.

2. Add onion to skillet; cook 3 minutes. Add garlic to pan; saute 1 minute.

3. Combine dried fruit, orange juice, lime juice and tequila in a microwave safe dish; microwave on high for 2 minutes. Pour mixture into skillet; bring to a boil, scraping up brown bits. Cook 1 minute. Pour onion mixture over chicken.

4. Bake at 400 for 20 minutes.

Click HERE for a printable version of this recipe.