Spicy Cucumber Margaritas

July 24, 2014 § 6 Comments

While visiting my parents in the midwest earlier this month, I learned three things:

  • The town where I grew up built a new police station directly across the street from my old house. Seriously. Right. Across. The. Street. (Good thing that didn’t happen while I was in high school — just sayin’!)
  • I am lucky, lucky, lucky to have long-time, dear friends in my life, some of whom also happen to share my love of tequila. (Coincidence? I think not!)
  • Spicy cucumber margaritas are delicious and need to be in my cocktail-making repertoire.

    Spicy Cucumber Margarita

    Spicy Cucumber Margarita

During what’s becoming an annual celebration of belated birthdays, catching up, and plain-ole’ day drinking, one of my dearest friends and I enjoyed a couple of rounds of said margaritas on the 4th of July. They’re refreshing and go down a little too easily, but are perfect for a hot summer day — especially if you’re hanging out with good friends.

As it’s National Tequila Day, I’ve come up with my own version of this sweet-spicy, herbal-fresh margarita. Make up a batch and share them with your nearest and dearest! There are three parts to this recipe, which requires just a bit of advance planning:

  1. Spicing up your tequila.
  2. Making the cucumber simple syrup.
  3. Putting it all together and making the cocktail.

I’ve put the cocktail recipe first, just in case you already have your spicy tequila and simple syrup ready to go. If not, you can find these recipes at the end of the post.

Recipe: Spicy Cucumber Margarita
Yield: 1 cocktail

You’ll need a double old-fashioned or highball glass, cocktail shaker, shot glass with measurement markings or measuring spoons, and ice.

Ingredients:

2 ounces pepper-infused reposado tequila (recipe below)
½ ounce Cointreau
¾ – 1 ounce cucumber simple syrup (recipe below)
1 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice

For the glass:

1 tablespoon Kosher or freshly ground sea salt
1 teaspoon ground chipotle chile powder
1 lime wedge
Thin slices of cucumber

Ingredients for Spicy Cucumber Margarita

Ingredients: Fresh lime juice, pepper-infused tequila, Cointreau, cucumber simple syrup, spicy salt and garnishes for the glass

Note that I’ve given the ingredients in ounces. If you’re using measuring spoons,
2 oz = 4 tablespoons, ½ oz = 1 tablespoon

How To:

  1. Combine salt and chili powder in a small bowl, then pour on to a saucer. Run a wedge of lime around the rim of the glass, then turn the glass upside down and dip into the spicy salt. (You’re trying to get the salt to adhere to the outer rim of the glass). Set aside.
  2. Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker with four or five cubes of fresh ice.
    When I make this cocktail, I use ¾ ounce of the cucumber simple syrup. If you prefer a sweeter cocktail, by all means, increase the amount to your taste.
  3. Shake 4 – 5 times (not vigorously) to combine and pour into a prepared glass.
  4. Fill glass with ice and garnish with thin slices of cucumber and a lime wedge.

    Spicy cucumber margarita

    Make mine a double: double recipe in a highball glass.
    You know, for photo-styling purposes…

 

Recipe: Pepper-Infused Tequila
There’s not much work involved here: pierce or cut a spicy pepper and pop it into a bottle of your favorite tequila for the infusion. Ideally, start this project when you have a designated driver handy or are hanging out at home for a while, as you’ll need to taste the tequila periodically to test for spiciness.
Important: I strongly recommend wearing gloves while handling spicy peppers. Afterwards, make sure to thoroughly wash your hands, cutting board, knife, and any utensils you used. Don’t touch your eyes, mouth, or other, er, sensitive parts immediately after handling spicy peppers — wash your hands first!

Ingredients

1 – 2 jalapeño peppers, depending on your tolerance for hot peppers
1 bottle reposado tequila (my favorite is Tres Agaves, but choose whatever you like)

How to:

  1. Wash and dry the pepper(s).
    I used mature Purple Jalapeños from my garden. Want to know more about these peppers? Check out this post about my garden.

    Mature purple jalapenos

    Mature Purple Jalapeños (yes, they turn red) from my garden

  2. Take a look at the opening of your tequila bottle.
    a. If you can fit the whole pepper through the opening, then pierce several holes in the pepper using a skewer or sharp paring knife. Push the pepper through the opening and recap the bottle.
    or
    b. If the whole pepper will not fit through the opening, slice the pepper in half vertically. Press the pepper pieces into the bottle and recap it. Some seeds might come away from the pepper. Don’t worry, you can always strain them out later.

    Cut peppers inside the tequila bottle

    Cut peppers inside the tequila bottle

  3. Make sure that the bottle is capped tightly. Holding the bottle upright, give it a quick turn upside down. The pepper (or pieces) should float to the bottom and settle down.
    Depending on how spicy/mature your pepper is, the infusion process can take anywhere from a few hours to a couple of days.
  4. Grab a shot glass and taste-test the tequila at regular intervals.
    I did my first taste test after two hours of infusion, then two hours later. After eight hours I still wasn’t tasting the level of spice I wanted. Turns out my peppers were really mature, and not as hot as I’d anticipated, so I ended up just leaving them in the bottle.
  5. When your tequila has reached the desired (tolerable?) level of spiciness, remove the pepper and any seeds that might have settled in the bottom of the bottle.
    You can strain the tequila into another bottle for storage, or simply fish out the pepper from the original bottle, whatever works best for you. Make sure that you clearly label the bottle containing the spicy tequila. I also put the date of infusion on the label as well.

Recipe: Cucumber Simple Syrup
Yield: About 8 ounces syrup
Refreshing and tasty, you can also use this simple syrup to make an easy summer spritzer.

What you need:

1-quart saucepan
Fine-mesh strainer
Small container or bowl to hold the strainer
Rubber spatula
Glass or plastic container with lid for storing the syrup

Ingredients:

4 ounces sugar (½ cup)
4 ounces water (½ cup)
½ cup peeled, grated cucumber

How to:

  1. Peel the cucumber and grate it using the large holes on a box grater or food processor attachment.
  2. Combine the cucumber, sugar, and water in a saucepan and place on the stove top.
  3. Give the ingredients a stir and heat just until small bubbles appear around the edge of the pan.
  4. Remove the pan from the heat and allow the syrup to cool to room temperature.
    Give the syrup another stir to make sure that all of the sugar has dissolved.

    Cucumber simple syrup cooling in the pan

    Cucumber simple syrup cooling in the pan

  5. Strain through a fine-mesh strainer, pressing on the cucumber to remove as much liquid as possible.

    Straining the cucumber simple syrup

    Straining the cucumber simple syrup

  6. Store in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

 

My-my-my-my Paloma!*

May 2, 2014 § 3 Comments

Cinco de Mayo, your annual excuse to drink too many margaritas, is coming up on Monday — although some of you over-achievers might be getting a head start this weekend (in that case: rock on witcha bad selves). You know I love my margaritas, but this year I’m celebrating by shaking things up with another classic Mexican cocktail: the Paloma.

Paloma cocktail

Paloma cocktail

What is a Paloma? And Why, might you ask, am I breaking tradition from my beloved hand-made margarita? It’s a story that’s part inspiration and part economic practicality.

As the New York times informed us back in March, there is indeed a lime shortage. If you’ve started shopping for limes for your Cinco de Mayo celebration, you might have noticed that they’re teeny and pricier than usual. NYT writer David Karp broke it down to trio of problems: “[t]he culprits are weather, disease and even Mexican criminals.” The US relies on Mexico for much of its year-round lime supply, so with multiple issues reducing the availability of limes and sending prices higher, the effects have trickled down to our local markets.

During recent trips to Sigona’s and Whole Foods markets, I saw a paltry selection of Mexican limes that were the size of Key limes and almost as expensive. And yet, there’s still an abundance of other citrus varieties grown right here in California, some of it even within 100 miles of the 650 (Meyer lemons and mandarin oranges are just a couple of examples). Among this plethora of pretty citrus are California ruby grapefruits.

Fresh California ruby grapefruit

Fresh California ruby grapefruit

Although we’re nearing the end of the season, rubies are sweeter now than earlier in the season, readily available in the market, and they’re a good value (more fruit per pound and at a better price than the teeny-tiny Mexican limes.) Yes, I love my margaritas, but when life gives you not-limes, you gotta get creative.

So what about that inspiration part I mentioned? Coincidentally, a few weeks ago, I had my first-ever Paloma at One Market Restaurant in San Francisco. According to the bar menu, the ingredients are: Herradura Silver Tequila (as you might recall, my go-to tequila for margaritas), fresh squeezed grapefruit juice, soda, and lime juice. Grapefruit juice?! Not quite the Margarita I was craving, but eh, close enough. Never a fan of grapefruit, I was dubious, but figured why not? And this is why it’s good to try something new: the cocktail was delish — nicely balanced and refreshing! If I didn’t have to drive back to the 650 after dinner, I absolutely would have ordered another.

Flash forward a couple of weeks, and guess what turns up in my CSA box? Grapefruit — two of ’em (er, that would be grapefruits, then). As always, part of the fun of the CSA box is the “what am I going to do with that/those?!” game. But I’d been thinking about that Paloma I’d had at One Market, so the grapefruit question was easily answered: I have tequila, I have lime… hello, Paloma! All I needed was a recipe.

As it turns out, the classic Paloma recipe is basically grapefruit soda and tequila. Seriously. I prefer my cocktails sans bubbles, so this discovery was not making me happy. I was craving the fresh-juice Paloma I had at One Market, but with a few tweaks that would make it my own. The bubbles had to go — no soda, soda water, tonic or mineral water in my Paloma. A small amount of lime juice would add some tartness and balance the grapefruit, so the lime juice would be necessary, but not the star of the show. (Bonus, because, well, I didn’t want to be juicing bags of tiny limes all day long.) Finally, adding a little sweetness in the form of agave syrup would pull the whole drink together, smoothing out the tartness of the citrus. The only unknown was which tequila to use.

In my initial Paloma testing I went with a reposado because I wanted an added layer of flavor and complexity beyond a blanco tequila. But then I’d been thinking about a recent mezcal tasting at Loló Restaurant in the Mission and how that the sweet smokiness of a good mezcal might be an interesting pairing with the grapefruit.

If the word “mezcal” brings to mind something-like-tequila, but with a creepy-looking worm at the bottom, stop. There’s so much more to mezcal than a dead worm in the bottom of the bottle (and by the way, most quality mezcals do not contain a worm). I had my first taste of small-batch mezcal years ago when my friend Monica gave me an unlabelled, hand-painted bottle of the Oaxaca-produced spirit. The mezcal was smoky and sweet with herbal notes and that characteristic mezcal “burn” as it went down. I’ve been a fan ever since.

Mezcal is distilled from the cooked heart — the piña — of the maguey agave plant. It’s the cooking process, which involves fire roasting the piña for several days, that gives mezcal its characteristic smoky flavor. While a quarter of Mexico’s states are allowed to produce mezcal, most mezcal production takes place in Oaxaca. Recent years have seen a rise in the production of artisan/hyper-local versions of mezcal that focus on using agave plants from specific areas (for example, mountain vs. valley) and different methods of cooking the piña (steam roasted vs. fire roasted). Unaged mezcals are called “joven” (juvenile) and, like a blanco tequila, are clear spirits. The amount of smoky flavor in the mezcal will determine whether you want to sip it or use it for cocktails.

After what we like to call “serious research” around here (read: multiple cocktail and mezcal tastings), Mina Real Silver mezcal turned out to be the best choice for my Paloma.

Mina Real Silver Mezcal

Mina Real Silver Mezcal

Rather than the traditional in-ground fire roasting, Mina Real Silver is steam-roasted, which results in less smoke than mezcals produced by fire roasting the piña. On the nose, this mezcal is equal parts smoke, floral notes, and agave sweetness. It’s a nice pairing with the bright citrus combination of ruby grapefruit and lime. This drink is best served martini-style, rather than over ice, to fully enjoy the flavors. Give it a try!drink-side-view

Happy Cinco de Mayo! How are you celebrating this year?

Recipe: My Paloma

You’ll need a martini glass, cocktail shaker, shot glass with measurement markings or measuring spoons, and ice.

Ingredients:

2 oz freshly squeezed ruby grapefruit juice
½ oz freshly squeezed lime juice
2 oz Mina Real Mezcal
½ teaspoon agave syrup

For the glass:

Wedge of grapefruit
3-4  Tbs Kosher salt

Note that I’ve given the ingredients in ounces. If you’re using measuring spoons,
2 oz = 4 tablespoons, ½ oz = 1 tablespoon

How To:

  1. Pour salt on to a saucer. Run a wedge of grapefruit around the rim of the glass, then turn the glass upside down and dip into the salt. (You’re trying to get the salt to adhere to the outer rim of the glass). Set aside.
  2. Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker with four or five cubes of fresh ice.
  3. Shake 4-5 times (not vigorously) to combine and pour into a prepared glass.
  4. Garnish with half a grapefruit wheel.

Tequila version: As I mentioned in an earlier post, I happen to be a fan of San Francisco-based Tres Agaves Tequila. If you want to try a tequila-based Paloma, substitute Tres Agaves Reposado for the Mina Real Silver mezcal.

(*To the tune of “My Sharona,” by The Knack.)

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