Now that summer is in full swing in North Dakota, my thoughts are turning toward some of my favorite hot weather cocktails. My favorite is a plain citrus-flavored margarita on the rocks. Here’s the recipe I use:
Fresh Margaritas, from The America’s Test Kitchen Cookbook
4 tsp grated lemon zest
4 tsp grated lime zest
½ cup fresh lemon juice
½ cup fresh lime juice
¼ cup superfine sugar
Pinch of salt
2 cups crushed ice
1 cup 100 percent agave tequila, preferably reposado
1 cup Triple Sec
Combine the zests, juices, sugar, and salt in a non-reactive vessel. Cover and refrigerate until the flavors meld, 4 to 24 hours.
Divide 1 cup of ice between 4 margarita glasses. Strain the juice mixture into a 1-quart pitcher. Add the tequila, Triple Sec and remaining ice; stir or shake until thoroughly combined and chilled, 20 to 60 seconds. Strain into ice-filled glasses; serve immediately.
The margaritas produced form this recipe are bright, deeply-flavored, refreshing, and astonishingly high in alcohol content while tasting like the best citrus-ade you’ve ever had. (So be careful, especially if serving to hot and thirsty guests.) Here’s a couple of hints to aid your mixing:
1. Don’t have superfine sugar? No problem, simply give regular granulated sugar a ride in your food processor or blender for 30 seconds. This procedure will reduce the size of the sugar granules and make it easier for it to dissolve into the citrus juices. Or simply just use sugar. I am fairly confident that all of the sugar will still dissolve.
2. Do salt your glasses before serving. Not only does it make the glasses look far more attractive, it adds a nice salty punch while drinking that provides a counterpart to the sweetness of the drink. However, do not plunk down the $5 or $6 for any product purporting to be a margarita salting kit. You’ll get nothing of value. Instead buy a box of Kosher salt (if you don’t already have some in your kitchen already) and get a salad plate out of your cupboard. Put about 1/8 of an inch of salt on the plate. Take a lime wedge and rub the rim of the glass with it. Then dip the glass in the salt. You should have a perfectly salt-rimmed glass.
3. The zest of the citrus fruits in this recipe is crucial. It is what adds that nice, bright, deep, citrus flavor that is, I think, the hallmark of a great margarita. But how best to get at that zest? Don’t use a knife because more likely than not, you’ll take too much of the peel off. And that is a very bad thing. The very outer edge of a citrus peel is great-full of those essential oils that we love. However, just under that peel is that white pith. That substance is bitter and foul-tasting. You do not want that in your margarita. To me, there are two zesting methods. The first is an inferior method but should work alright. Take a vegetable peeler and take off thin strips of the citrus peel. Then take your chef’s knife to the peeled strips until it resembles finely grated zest. This method is more labor-intensive than the next and holds more danger for acquiring that pith. But, if done carefully, it can be done. The second method is to use some sort of grater. A box grater would work here but I like to use a microplane grater. Here’s a picture:
All it takes is to rub the fruit against the grater and very fine shreds of zest come off. It is so easy and there is no danger of getting any of that pith in your recipe. This is one of those tools that I think every kitchen should have. Go ahead and spend about $10 to buy this item. You’ll love it. It works great with Parmesan and other hard cheese. You can also finely grate nutmeg and garlic with it.