Two. One. Two.
It’s what you need to know to make the perfect margarita.
The question has been on our minds because Friday, 14 Tucson mixologists — and one from Sonora — will take part in the World Margarita Championship competition, the only vestige of the Tucson Culinary Festival.
John Kulikowski is not one of the competitors, but he knows his margaritas — he is director of wine and spirits at the Hacienda Del Sol’s Grill.
And that two-one-two formula is one he swears by.
“Two ounces of tequila, one ounce of Cointreau and two ounces of syrup,” Kulikowski explains. “The first thing is balance.”
But before you even start measuring your ingredients, pay attention to what they are, he says.
Don’t, under any circumstances, use a margarita mix.
And stay away from the triple sec. “Triple sec is corn syrup with coloring,” Kulikowski says. Only Cointreau, an orange liqueur, should be used, he insists. “They peel the oranges and soak the peels in the brandy,” he says. “Cointreau is the only house that still does that.”
Another key ingredient: A good tequila.
At Maynards Market & Kitchen, where margaritas are mighty tasty, only a silver, 100 percent agave tequila is used, says Theo Goodhart, a bartender at the downtown restaurant.
Kulikowski echoes him.
“A margarita should not have anjeo,” an aged tequila, says Kulikowski. “The oak is a distracting note. … You want only 100 percent blue agave tequila.”
The Grill uses silver, blanco or platinum tequila.
Both spirit meisters swear by their own syrup.
At Maynard’s, an organic agave nectar is used, says Goodhart.
Kulikowski says making the syrup is easy, and well-worth it.
“Use equal parts sugar and water for a simple syrup, bring it to a boil and let it cool,” he says. “Don’t add ice.”
A rich syrup uses 2 cups of sugar to 1 cup water, he adds.
Add 1 cup lemon and 1 cup of lime to 1 cup of your simple syrup, says Kulikowski, and you’ve got your sweet-and-sour mix.
Of course, you don’t have to stop there.
You can dress it up. This is where you can get creative.
“Right now, we are infusing the syrup with raspberry and habañero pepper,” says Goodhart. “It makes for an interesting mouthfeel, and gives an effervescent touch on the tongue.”
So now you’ve another decision: on the rocks, straight up, or frozen.
If you are an aficionado, you eschew the frozen, which requires throwing the margarita into a mixer with ice and blending away.
Neither the Grill nor Maynards serves frozen. In fact, neither bar even has a blender.
“Blending is a way to mask the flavor,” says Kulikowski.
“Moisten the rim of the glass with lime, dip it into kosher salt, pour over ice and serve right away.”
Competition with a blustery title raises money for Blair Charity
The World Margarita Championship is a bit of a blustery title: Entrants are pulled from Tucson Original restaurants, though this year there is one nonmember competing, the bar staff of the Marinaterra Resort in San Carlos, Sonora, Mexico.
About that title: it is a bit of hubris, admits Colette Landeen, executive director of Tucson Originals. But not far off from the truth, she figures.
“We think Arizona, especially Tucson and our proximity to the border, is the hot spot for margaritas, so we would have the best margaritas in the world,” she explains.
And truth be told, some good old fashioned competition and raising money for charity — this year, a portion of the proceeds will go to the Blair Charity Group — is really what it’s all about.
The Tucson Culinary Festival had been a weeklong event, with workshops, discussions, and a wine dinner. The festival is no longer, though The World Margarita Championship has lived on.
Friday, 15 will compete for the win. Each must make a classic margarita — tequila, a sweetening ingredient, a tart one, and an orange component — as the skeleton for the margarita. Embellishments are on top of that, and often weird and wonderful.
There will be a panel of judges, as well as a “people’s choice” category.