One of the things about the classics is that they are always being tinkered with. A gin and tonic SOUNDS like something so basic that it is tamper-proof. There is always someone willing to try and improve on the basics, because even something that simple has many elements. What kind of gin are you using? Old Tom? London Dry? And then there is the tonic. Before the craft cocktail boom, you had a handful of tonics available. After Brian van Flandern made a name at Per Se with his home made Tonic and Gin cocktail, the number of tonic waters available exploded, from overly sweet to bracingly bitter. You can even just make a tonic syrup that is added to soda water, avoiding the commercial stuff completely. That is just a two ingredient cocktail we are discussing. There are enough variations of Old Fashioned, Martinis, and Negronis out there that books are written just on those cocktails alone. Another cocktail that has seen its fair share of experimentation is the Margarita, a drink you can find in any flavor and color you'd like.
Food Network was just turning seven when a new style of cooking show debuted. Alton Brown was not thrilled with the trajectory that most cooking shows had taken. He set out to create a show that changed the conversation around food. Good Eats was that show. Sure, it gave out some great recipes, but those almost seemed like bonuses. The real treasure of the show was learning about the history and flexibility of ingredients we take for granted. Topics ranged from how to cook a perfect steak to dispelling culinary myths. One of my favorite episodes was when Mr. Brown took a hard look a his own eating habits, using his vast knowledge about food to help him lose the weight he had gained through doing the show. Good Eats lasted fourteen seasons, ending in 2012. He did several episodes about cocktails, beer, and liquor, but the one that I was intrigued by the most was the Margarita from American Classics IV: Raising the Bar Again.
Alton Brown's Margarita (by Alton Brown via Food Network)
2 oz./ 60 mL tequila (100% blanco is recommended)
1 tbsp. kosher salt
4 limes, divided
Half a small orange (Hamlin or Valencia)
2 tbsp light agave nectar
Garnish: Lime wheel
Ice: None (though feel free to add some cubes if you like)
To prepare the glass: Pour the kosher salt into one small saucer, and .5 oz./ 15 mL of the tequila into another. To prepare the glass, dip the rim into the tequila and allow it to dry for a few seconds. Then roll the rim in the salt, tapping it lightly to remove the excess salt.
For the cocktail: Slice two of the limes into quarters, as well as the orange. Slice the other limes in half, and slice a lime wheel off for the garnish. Juice the limes into a large mixing tin, then add the cut up fruit. Add the agave, then muddle everything well for two minutes. Strain the juice and the oils into the smaller half of the mixing tin, then add the tequila. Add ice, then shake vigorously for 20-30 seconds to chill. Pour the mixture into the prepared glass, add the garnish, then serve.
This is just as much a treat as I thought it was going to be. The orange comes forward much more, but the lime is still lurking in the background. The rawness of the tequila is important in this one to help it cut through the sweetness of the agave and orange juice. Adding the oils from the zest of the lime and orange helps build the flavors. That was the element I was looking forward to experiencing. It is labor intensive, but absolutely worth the time.