By Heidi Allison
More and more, upscale restaurants and Bistros are taking a culinary approach to the bar, incorporating house-made syrups and bitters, herbs and root vegetables into their drinks. Even for restaurants with well-defined, ethnic menus, or, high-volume operations, the days of the perpetual drink menus are over. Bartenders are now haunting farmer’s markets, just as chefs do, and, a well-made cocktail not only uses top-shelf spirits, but is evolving into a three-dimensional taste experience: it has a beginning, middle and complex, yet intriguing finish... According to Dushan Zaric, owner of several high-end, world-renowned bars, Employee’s Only and Macao Trading Company in New York, "With every sip, the experience should get slightly better and ideally leave you craving for more.”
As with all great food, making a great drink is all about layering flavors. Recently, I ordered the signature drink at the new “It” restaurant in Los Angeles, Le Republique—a savory Margarita. While it had the same qualities we all know and love about the iconic original—fresh lime juice, orange liqueur, salt and tequila—this version had a slightly more rounded, flavor... there was a savory subtleness that first intrigued me, then after several more sips, beguiled me.
I was hooked.
The recipe is unusual in that it calls for a Lowland tequila, and fresh-squeezed celery and Serrano chili juices. According to Stephen Allison, Certified Specialist of Spirits and Certified Specialist of Wines (Society of Wine Educators), “Tequilas take on the flavors of the land they are grown in: Lowland tequilas are grown in rich, volcanic soil—high in magnesium and calcium, but, low in potassium—and warmer temperatures, which produces a spicier, more vegetal and mineral taste in the finish product... some describe it as “earthy and woody flavor”. The Highland, or Los Altos tequila, have more citrus, fruity and floral flavor notes, derived from the red, clay soil and cooler temperatures they are grown in.” According to Mario Lozano (Rilo Import and Export, Inc. of Mexican Tequila) , “Agaves grown in the hilly, volcanic slopes of the Lowlands, aka the “Valley”, stress’ the plant, which forces sugars to go within, to the heart of pina, where it’s stored... That creates the more complex and spicier flavor notes of this regions tequila. The Lowland tequila have citrus notes, and, sometimes cherry and vanilla too; aroma’s are orange, lemon and lime. The Highlands tequila has fruity flavor notes—banana, pineapple and apple.”
While Le Republique uses fresh pineapple juice as a counterpoint flavor to balance out acidity, I found this a bit too sweet for my taste. Playing with this recipe, I added freshly-squeezed orange juice, providing the perfect foil to the savory celery and clear heat of the Serrano chili flavor notes.
The secret ingredient that adds another layer (or, dimension) to the “drink experience” is freshly- squeezed Serrano chili juice. This surprising add-on not only supplies flavor, it also adds tactile sensation— or “heat”— creating complexity to the finished cocktail... an interesting touch! The contrast of freezing ice on slightly burning lips is thrilling and sexy, all at the same time!
This recipe is versatile. If you change out the Lowlands tequila for a Highlands tequila — go for the jalapeño instead. A Serrano's flavor profile is hotter, greener and richer, with more grassy flavor notes, which perfectly complements the spicier and more complex Lowlands' tequila, while the “fruity “ Jalapeño is a better match for the fruity-tasting Highlands product. One caveat, chilies can be unpredictable in their heat levels, especially Jalapeños. So, start with the lowest number of chili peppers given—6 Serranos. If using Jalapeños
, use 3 peppers. And, both chili peppers should not be seeded in this recipe.
2 ounces Lowland Tequila (Herradura, Fortaleza, Revolution, Tequila Selecto de Amatitan, etc.)
¾ ounces Freshly-Squeezed Lime
¾ ounces Evaporated Cane Simple Syrup (or, substitute with a squeeze of Light Agave Nectar; see recipe below)
1 ounces Celery and Serrano Juice (see recipe below)
½ ounces Freshly Squeezed Orange
Rounds, thinly sliced, as garnish
Celery and Serrano Juice
1 bunch Organic Celery
6-12 Serrano Chili Peppers
Place celery and serrano chili peppers in a juicer, and process until you extract a juice.
Evaporated Cane Simple Syrup
1 cup Organic Evaporated Cane Sugar
1 cup Filtered Water
Place water and sugar in a pot and bring to a boil, stirring until sugar dissolves into the water.
Remove from heat and allow cooling.
Place tequila, celery and Serrano juice, orange juice and simple syrup or agave juice, and medium-sized ice cubes ice into a cocktail shaker, and shake 10 times until blended.
Pour celery salt into a small plate. Run a cut lime around the rim of the margarita glass; then dip the glass into the celery salt to coat.
Pour the margarita mixture into the celery-salt rimmed glass; then top with a thin slice of lime round.