The Perfect Margarita, as Made by Chef Rick Bayless
We were traveling Thanksgiving week, and had a layover in Chicago. Hungry, thirsty, and looking for a quick snack before boarding our next flight, we found Tortas Frontera, by Chef Rick Bayless, and decided to stop in for a bit of guacamole and a couple of margaritas.
Now, for those of you who don't know Rick Bayless, here's a very short biography. He's about as authentic as it comes when you're trying to find good Mexican food. He spent 6 years scouring the Baja peninsula for techniques and recipes, creating his signature style of cuisine, before opening his first restaurant--Frontera Grill--in Chicago in the late 1980s. He opened a second restaurant in Chicago--Topolobampo--two years later, and was awarded a Michelin star for his efforts. He's also a regular on TV (Iron Chef America, Top Chef and Top Chef Masters, PBS), and was on the short list to become the White House executive chef in 2008. He's the real deal, and has been for almost 30 years.
Sitting down at the bar counter, we ordered directly from the bartender (who couldn't have been nicer). The guacamole and margaritas came quickly, and we dug in to both. While the guacamole was really good, the margaritas were FANTASTIC!! Like, the best we have ever had fantastic. Not overly large, but certainly strong and extremely well-balanced. While we thought we only had time for one, our flight luckily got delayed (only time you'll ever hear us say those words) by a few minutes, meaning we could have another. This time, I watched the bartender as he made the drinks, and started asking questions about ingredients and technique.
First, he gave the standard line you'll hear from any good bartender: "We just use tequila, lime juice, and orange liquor." He even gave me the proportions he used, which were also pretty standard. You can find the same on Rick Bayless' website. But, I noticed as he made margaritas for others, that he was quickly adding a fourth ingredient. I pressed, wanting to know what it was. I guessed a jazzed-up simple syrup (it was slightly cloudy). It wasn't. He really didn't want to tell me what it was--we even switched to begging when flattery wasn't working.
Eventually, he divulged the "real" recipe that they use at Frontera (at least, according to him), and we thought we'd reproduce it here in case anyone wants to try this at home.
**1.5 ounces of Herradura Reposado or Anejo tequila (both somewhat pricy options, but delicious).
**.5 ounces of orange liquor (not triple-sec, which has other citrus mixed in). Bartender recommended Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao orange liquor. He also said that Grand Marnier was a great option, although didn't quite have the same orange essence as Pierre Ferrand (and is more expensive).
**2 ounces of freshly-squeezed lime juice.
**(THE SECRET INGREDIENT): 2 ounces of freshly-made limeade (made of equal parts water, sugar, and fresh lime juice, shaken well together). This really ads the tangy / sweet edge that you love in a good margarita. So simple, but makes a profound difference!
Try this recipe next time you're in the mood for the perfect margarita. I don't think you'll be disappointed. It's delicious!!