College friends of mine get together every summer for an annual birthday party. Well, not just a birthday party. The birthday party is the capper on a week-long reunion at a low-key vacation spot (think: Bend, OR or Cape Cod, MA). What started out as a lobster-and-Freixenet dinner party in a college fraternity house (more than a few) years ago has morphed into a yearly vacation tradition that includes spouses, kids, and friends joining in for a week of hanging out, cooking together, and competitive games of bridge.
The birthday party location varies every year, switching from right coast to left to accommodate East Coasters and West Coasters equally. I attended a few of the West Coast birthday parties in the decade or so after graduating university. In the early years, most of us were just fresh out of school and settling into apartments and careers. Some of us were in serious relationships. Some were not. There were no kids, no bedtimes, and probably more cocktails than cooking. (And wine. Lots of wine.) People slept on the floor. Clothing was lost. Long-running inside jokes were born. And we ate and drank well. The food was always plentiful and fresh, especially the birthday party dinner, which consisted of a spread of seafood (lobster was the star), salad, and sides, and of course: cake.
The guys handled the organization of the event, the cooking, and the beverages. My friend Jon took on bartender duties at more than one of these events. Unfortunately, my favorite cocktail — the margarita — was not his specialty (sorry Jon). Ever the excellent host, he was willing to make it right. “You know what this needs?” he asked enthusiastically, and then without waiting for me to answer: “Orange juice!” No. No, it really didn’t. But to this day it makes me laugh to think about it. One of those small, but memorable moments from a long time ago.
Flash forward to this year’s day of margaritas: Cinco de Mayo. I’ve been thinking about revamping my standard House Margarita to create an organic version using my new favorite tequila (Casa Noble Añejo). The first idea was to replace the Cointreau, which has a heavy alcohol taste, with the organic, lower-alcohol, sweeter Greenbar Distillery Organic Orange liqueur.
Important safety tip: it’s not a one-to-one replacement when it comes to orange liqueurs. Because the Greenbar liqueur is sweeter than Cointreau, I had to adjust the acidity of the cocktail. So, then how to coax out the orange flavor of the liqueur and adjust the acidity without the lime taking over, while letting the chocolate and caramel flavors of the tequila shine through? Good ol’ trial and error.
After a few rounds of testing different amounts of lime juice and adding some rich simple syrup to balance the acidity, something was still missing: more orange flavor. So there I am on Cinco de Mayo thinking how do I add some true orange flavor and sweetness plus some acidity, without making things too lime-y? And then it hit me: You know what this needs? Orange juice. No kidding. (Thanks Jon.)
Recipe: Orange Margarita
Yield: 1 cocktail
Not your classic margarita, this one brings the orange flavor forward, while downplaying the lime and letting the unique flavor of the tequila shine through on the finish. You can vary the sweetness by increasing or decreasing the amount of rich simple syrup. For an all-organic cocktail, choose organic limes and oranges, if possible.
You’ll need a double old-fashioned or highball glass, cocktail shaker, shot glass with measurement markings or measuring spoons, and ice.
2 ounces Casa Noble Añejo organic tequila
¾ ounce Fruitlab Organic Orange Liqueur
1 ounce freshly squeezed orange juice
½ ounce freshly squeezed lime juice (Tip: Zest the lime before juicing; set aside zest for Lime Salt)
¼ ounce rich simple syrup (recipe below)
For the glass:
Thin round of lime
Lime salt (recipe below)
Note that I’ve given the ingredients in ounces. If you’re using measuring spoons:
2 ounces = 4 tablespoons
1 ounce = 2 tablespoons
¾ ounce= 1½ tablespoons
½ ounce = 1 tablespoon
- Prepare the glass.
Pour the Lime Salt onto a small plate. Run a wedge of lime around the rim of the glass, then turn the glass upside down and dip into the Lime Salt. (You’re trying to get the salt mixture to adhere to the outer rim of the glass). Set aside.
- Combine tequila, orange liqueur, juices, and simple syrup in a cocktail shaker with four or five cubes of fresh ice.
- Shake 4 – 5 times (not vigorously) to combine and pour into a prepared glass.
- Float a thin round of lime in the glass for garnish.
Recipe: Lime Salt
Zest of one lime
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
- Preheat oven to 250° F.
- Line a small baking tray with parchment paper. Spread the zest on the baking tray and place into preheated oven to dry for 5-6 minutes, stirring and tossing halfway through to ensure even drying.
- Remove from oven and allow to cool.
- When zest is cool, place in a small bowl. Break the zest into smaller pieces, approximately the same size as kosher salt grains, by rubbing it between your thumb and forefinger or crushing with a pestle.
You want to create something that looks like crushed — but not powdered — zest.
- Combine the crushed zest with the kosher salt.
- Set aside until you’re ready to make the cocktail.
Recipe: Rich Simple Syrup
Yield: About 6 ounces syrup
Rich simple syrup has twice as much sugar as water, resulting in a thicker syrup with more sweetening power than regular simple syrup. If you can, use organic, fair-trade sugar as it has a richer flavor than refined white sugar. Adding a few drops of lemon juice to the mixture will minimize crystallization during storage.
What you need:
Glass or plastic container with lid for storing the syrup
4 ounces sugar
2 ounces water
A few drops of lemon juice
- Combine the sugar, water, and lemon juice in a saucepan and place on the stove top.
- Give the ingredients a stir and heat just until the sugar has melted and small bubbles appear around the edge of the pan.
- Remove the pan from the heat, cover, and allow the syrup to cool to room temperature.
- Refrigerate syrup in a closed container. Store up to three weeks.