Ciudad Juárez bartender Francisco “Pancho” Morales invented the margarita on the Fourth of July, 1942, according to the most plausible of many stories about the drink’s creation. Pancho says a woman wandered into his bar and ordered a “magnolia,” a gin cocktail. He didn’t know the drink, so he made up a Mexican substitute based on tequila and called it a “margarita,” the Spanish word for daisy. Ridiculing most versions of the cocktail as impostors, Pancho insists it should be made with clear silver tequila, Cointreau, and the juice squeezed from half of a limón (key-style Mexican lime). This is our rendition of his margarita, modified slightly for home preparation.
Yield: Serves 1
½ lime, preferably the small, key-type limón
2 ounces premium silver tequila
1 ounce Cointreau
Fill a cocktail shaker or lidded jar with cracked ice. Squeeze the juice from the lime into the container and then rub the lime half around the rim of an 8-ounce glass.
Place a thin layer of salt on a saucer and dip the lime-rubbed glass into the salt. Shake off excess salt to leave only a light sprinkling on the rim of the glass.
Pour the tequila and Cointreau into the container with the ice and lime juice and shake to blend. Strain the margarita into the prepared glass and serve.
Regional Variations: The typical margarita proportions are 3 parts tequila to 1 part lime juice and 1 to 2 parts orange-flavored liqueur, usually Cointreau or Triple Sec. From that starting point, the troops depart in all directions. Some people alter the ratios in favor of the tequila or lime juice, some like it frozen or “on the rocks” instead of “up,” and some have a strong preference for either the “pure” taste of silver tequila or the “rich” body of the gold variety. Cookbook author Jane Butel, founder of the Albuquerque cooking school that bears her name, adds part of an egg white for a little froth. The most unusual variations change the liqueur, substituting Curacao perhaps to make a blue margarita, or they combine another fruit flavor, from cranberry to prickly pear, with the Cointreau or Triple Sec.
By Mexican government regulations, all tequila must contain at least 51 percent distilled liquor from the blue agave plant. The best brands, for our tastes at least, use 100 percent agave. They come in three types, depending on the degree of barrel aging: plata, or silver (no aging), oro, or gold (aged in wood up to a year), and añejo, or old (aged in oak, usually for several years). Make margaritas with silver or gold tequila and reserve the añejo for serious sipping, like a cognac.