Master the margarita with chef Rick Bayless

JUDY HEVRDEIS
Chicago Tribune
Modified: December 5, 2012 at 2:05 pm •  Published: December 5, 2012
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To master mixing a perfect margarita, there might be no better coach than chef Rick Bayless.

The next best thing to a one-on-one class with the chef and TV celeb is his latest book, “Frontera: Margaritas, Guacamoles and Snacks” (W.W. Norton & Co., $24.95), written with his wife, Deann Groen Bayless.

The book opens with “A Master Class in Margaritas,” a lively conversation with the margarita master who offers insight into the nuances at play, from limes to tequila (save pricey aged tequila for sipping solo), from balance to texture.

Texture in a margarita? “When you shake a margarita the way I describe, not just back and forth three times then pour it out, but that full 15-second shake, you chip off little bits of ice and create a drink that’s got this wonderful sort of frothiness,” he says.

Starting with fresh lime juice is key. “The difference in flavor between fresh-squeezed lime juice you make yourself and anything that you can buy is huge.” And he favors agave or sugar syrups over granulated sugar: “You’re going to get a much better texture and much more even distribution of the sweet element.”

The book boasts recipes for seasonal margaritas (peach-basil, apple-habanero, etc.), mezcal margaritas, tequila-spiked classics, agua frescas, dessert cocktails and tequila choices. There’s also a “master class” in guacamole plus seasonal variations. To science-fixated “self-professed margarita geeks,” he coaches not to take “all the delicious fun out of it. ... I’m all about soul-satisfying deliciousness.” To that, we say: Salud!

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SPARKLING GINGER MARGARITA

Prep: 10 minutes Chill: 2 hours Makes: 8 cocktails

Adapted from “Frontera: Margaritas, Guacamoles and Snacks.”

16 thin slices fresh ginger, unpeeled, coarsely chopped

8 fresh kaffir lime leaves, halved lengthwise, optional

1 ½ cups 100 percent blue agave blanco tequila

½ cup fresh Key lime juice

½ cup orange curacao or other triple sec

¼ cup ginger agave syrup, see recipe

1 cup sparkling wine

1. Muddle ginger and half the kaffir leaves, if using, in the bottom of a pitcher. Add tequila, lime juice, curacao and syrup. Stir; refrigerate until chilled, about 2 hours.

2. Fill cocktail shaker half full with ice. Pour in 2/3 cup margarita mixture, including a small amount of muddled ginger and lime leaf. Shake; strain into two martini glasses. Top each with sparkling wine. Repeat with remaining mixture. Slap each leaf between your palms to release aroma. Float a piece atop each drink.

GINGER AGAVE SYRUP: Heat ½ cup light agave syrup or simple syrup, 2 tablespoons water and ¼ cup finely chopped, unpeeled ginger in a saucepan over medium heat. When mixture reaches a simmer, time for 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Cool to room temperature; strain.