Blue agave plants growing on the grounds at Los Tules

Those of us in the US tend to forget that, like our own, Mexico is a country of united states — 31 in all. The Mexican state that we’re living in is Jalisco. Among other things, Jalisco is where the blue agave plant (above) is grown, and the sweet syrup from the agave is used to make tequila.

Consequently, I have again taken it upon myself to pursue a recipe for The Perfect Margarita. Research for this project has spanned decades (and continents) and has only now succeeded in bearing fruit. The research has been grueling work, but I am now at peace.

1380648295055In its essence (and, to my mind, at its best) a margarita consists of only three ingredients: tequila (of course), something sweet, and something sour. Salt is optional.

The tequila need not be expensive. There are plenty of great tequilas, but they’re best sampled neat — savored and praised. If you’re going to mix your tequila for a margarita, look for a bulk brew that’s on sale. Get a name you trust, of course, but be thrifty. Here in Jalisco, a bottle of Jose Cuervo is about eight bucks. It’s reliable and it’s Margarita’s best friend. (Store it in the freezer: it won’t freeze.)

I prefer a citrus base for both sweet and sour. For sour, squeeze or muddle a couple of fresh limes (or a lemon — your preference). Juice in a container will do if the fruit isn’t available, but no sweeteners!

The sweet ingredient is the tough one. In the US I usually used triple sec, which is a liqueur made from orange peels that has been distilled, as the name says, three times. I’ve tried Curacao, Cointreau, and Grand Marnier, but they each seem to overwhelm the drink (and they’re expensive), so triple sec it is.

In Spain, Louise discovered a spectacular orange liqueur in a tall, Galliano-like bottle. It was dark orange in color, made from local Valencia oranges, and surprisingly inexpensive, given the fancy bottle and its exquisite taste. It was Heaven in a bottle, but it was also strictly local, so it makes little difference that I’ve forgotten its name.

Here in Mexico I have discovered Controy, an orange liqueur (“licor de aranja”) that’s as close to that Spanish Heaven as one can hope for. It’s tasty without an attitude, plentiful, and inexpensive. (Perhaps you’ve noticed: I’m fond of inexpensive.)

The ratio of these three ingredients is up to you. Start with an equal amount of each, pour them over ice (please, please do not blend), and have a sip. Do you adore tequila? You may want to add a bit more of that. Too sweet? Too sour? Adjust. Sipping and adjusting is a noble pursuit. It can take all night.

The issue of the salted rim is not just a personal preference, but a preference that may be based on the weather, your mood, and whether Mercury is in retrograde. It’s a bit like sex: you’ll know when you want it.

There you have it: years of research condensed into five hundred words. I have encouraged experimentation, you’ll note, and I hope you devote plenty of time to that. It’s a worthy cause.