The Long Road to a Perfect Margarita

Cold, lime-flavored, salt-rimmed glass… as God intended.

There is nothing that says “Today is Cinco de Mayo,” to me as much as a nice, ice cold margarita. I prefer them on the rocks – to put that debate to bed early – though I will have one frozen too if that is all that is available. But as for flavor, I am all about the traditional lime. I mean really, what else is supposed to go with tequila but lime?

But until recently, a great margarita was something that was only available for me at Mexican restaurants and upscale bars. And even those were frequently disappointing. I’ve tried to make margaritas myself for several years now, and the road has been one fraught with many terrible attempts and nights that (thankfully) I’ll never remember. But with 9 years of persistence and a blending of so many recipes and techniques that I’ve come across, I have finally created what I consider to be the perfect margarita. So great, that I would even dare to call it a “Matt-arita”.

The first margarita I made was two parts tequila, one part triple sec, one part Rose’s sweetened lime juice and ice put into a cuisinart (I didn’t have a blender then…) blended into a bitter, nasty slush of thick chunks of ice with untempered tequila. It was about the worst thing I had ever created drink-wise, and this is coming from someone who has mixed Rumplemintz with Mr. Pibb

But I was not defeated. I was determined to make my own perfect margarita. So much so that I bought my own giant vat of margarita salt and a set of decorative margarita glasses from a wine festival. Buying items like this when you have no ability to make a decent margarita is optimism in the highest form. Or perhaps it was motivation…

One thing I noticed as I was questing to see how others made margaritas was how other countries seem to use lemons instead of limes with tequila. In Australia – where I did a lot of drinking – it was impossible to purchase a shot of tequila with anything but a lemon wedge. But if you got a margarita, it was made with lime-flavored mix. There is not a large Mexican population in Australia, so we can forgive their lack of understanding on this point. Another country lacking in Mexican immigrants is Ukraine. I was there with a friend, and he said that we just HAD to try this “Mexican” restaurant there. The building was even topped with a glass “dome” shaped like a sombrero. The food was an interesting take on Mexican cuisine, so I had to see their take on a margarita as well. I went to the bar and ordered one, and was sure to watch him make it. Crushed ice, tequila, Cointreau, and the straight juice of a lemon.

Me (left) and my friend Shane in the Kiev Mexican restaurant. I am holding the worst margarita in the world, and I’m not smiling. I’m cringing.

“Oh dear,” I thought to myself as I watched it being made.

“Oh dear GOD!” I said aloud after tasting it.

My earlier attempts at margarita making seemed delicious and professional compared to this foul slush I was trying to swallow. This was the worst margarita in creation. It also taught me a valuable lesson in approaching a margarita: lemon is not a bad flavor with tequila, but limes are vital.

I will save you all from the millions of iterations of margaritas that I went through before arriving at the perfect recipe, but it was the lack of lime flavor that was always killing me. Most of the recipes I encountered had just Rose’s sweetened lime juice in there for all the lime flavor, and this was just not cutting it. Sure, the Rose’s was important for the sugar to help cut the sharpness of the tequila, but it was definitely a background player.

It wasn’t until I added the juice of a lemon to my margarita that I noticed a boost in flavors that really took me in the right direction. And I decided to really boost it up by zesting the lemon as well as adding the lemon juice. One sip, and I knew I was on the right track. It was all a question of balancing flavors from this point on, and of course, it was the lime flavoring that won out in the end.

So without forcing you to wait any longer, here is the recipe for what I consider to be the perfect margarita. Please give one a try. They’re involved and take a little while to make – as do most of my recipes – but I promise you the results are well worth the effort. I make one, thinking that’s all I want, and I usually end up making 2 or 3 more. Yes, they’re that good.

A perfect Matt-arita. In one of my special margarita glasses, rimmed with my optimistic margarita salt.

Matt’s Perfect Margarita
(a.k.a. the “Matt-arita”)

(makes one margarita)

    one lime
    one lemon
    one orange
    1.5 shots Rose’s Sweetened
      Lime Juice
    1 shot Triple Sec
    2 shots Tequila
      (I prefer silver tequila for a
    ice cubes
    Cocktail shaker
    two bowls
    fine mesh strainer
    margarita glass rimmed with
  1. Zest the lime (only the lime – I have tried it with the lemon and/or orange too: not as good…) into one bowl.

  2. Juice the lime, lemon and orange into the bowl. It’s okay to get seeds and pulp in there, they will be strained out later.

  3. Add the Rose’s, Triple Sec and tequila to the bowl.

  4. Give the mixture a stir, and let the mixture steep in the fridge for at least 10 minutes, up to an hour (as if you could wait that long…)

  5. Strain the mixture through the fine mesh strainer into the other bowl (press the solids to get all the flavor out.)

  6. Pour into shaker, add four or five ice cubes.

  7. Shake thoroughly and pour (use shaker’s strainer to keep ice out) into margarita glass.

I’m sure you will be pleasantly surprised with the results – especially with summer’s heat approaching. I can only hope that this recipe goes global – it would be nice to see something like this in other countries some day as well…

Chef Matt

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