Market basket: Tequila quality is what makes or breaks the margarita

Market basket: Tequila quality is what makes or breaks the margarita

Tammy Algood  |  Special to The Tennessean

Everyone has their favorite Mexican restaurant and many of those decisions are based on the authenticity of their signature cocktail, the margarita. And rightly so! If the restaurant pays attention to that aspect of the meal they will more than likely carry that pride into the kitchen.

Even though they are popular with some, I don’t want a margarita to come from a slush machine. I want it prepared by the bartender. That’s probably why I prefer mine on the rocks rather than frozen.

The basic recipe is a balanced mixture of tequila, an orange-flavored liqueur and freshly squeezed lime juice. The lime juice shouldn’t be in the form of frozen concentrate or bottled juice. The orange-flavored liqueur is usually Triple Sec, but can also be Cointreau or Grand Marnier.

As important as those two ingredients are, it’s the tequila that will make or break the success of the drink. This either colorless or pale yellow liquor originated in Tequila, Mexico, hence its name.

We can thank the blue agave plant for this liquor. It is made by fermenting and then double distilling the sugar or sap from that plant. Even though there are hundreds of agave plant varieties, tequila is only made from blue agave. Botanically, it is known as Agave tequilana Weber, blue variety.

As a general rule the higher the percentage of agave sugar used to make the tequila, the better. Mixing it with ice in a blender only serves to dilute the mixture by making it too watery.  Just shake the ingredients together in a cocktail shaker. For serving, a wedge of lime is run around the rim of the glass, then it is dipped in coarse kosher salt. Add ice to the glass, fill it and you have margarita perfection!

You asked for it

Reggie Watson of Louisville would like to know if it is OK to use colored sugars on margarita glasses. “What about regular table salt?” he asks.


That certainly makes it look quite festive but it isn’t my preference simply because it makes the drink too sweet for my taste. You can use regular table salt, but it will dissolve quickly. In that case, rim the glass very quickly with the lime wedge so you’ll have less that clings to the glass. In my experience, you’ll use less salt by sticking with coarse kosher salt.  

Tammy Algood is the author of five cookbooks and can be seen on “Volunteer Gardener” on PBS stations in Tennessee. Follow her at