Please welcome Bryan, who with this post joins The Perfect Pantry as a guest blogger. By day, he's an experience design consultant; he's also a former bartender who studied at the Boston University Wine Resource Center. Bryan is passionate about local and sustainable food, dabbles in photography, and makes a mean mojito. He’s here to to raid that other kitchen cubbyhole most of us have: the liquor cabinet.
Guest post and photos by Bryan in Boston.
I used to bartend some years back at a jazz club, and at the end of my shift it was a habit of mine to mix up a tall, classic margarita.
I’m not talking about what passes for a marg at the neighborhood Chili’s, made with dash of Jose Cuervo, a bit of triple sec, and two or three glugs of sugary sour mix. This was the real deal: 100% blue agave tequila, Cointreau, topped up with freshly squeezed lime juice, rimmed with salt crystals the size of small stones.
The jazz club doubled as a restaurant. Nothing fancy, really -- steak tips, buffalo wings, and the sort -- but after an eight-hour shift standing behind a counter and slinging cocktails to parched salsa dancers, an order of overcooked steak tips tasted like just the closest thing to heaven.
After one particularly busy night, I accidentally spilled my margarita into my steak tips. I don’t remember what I was thinking -- perhaps I was just way too hungry to pick up takeout on the way home -- but I ate them anyway. What I do remember was that they tasted better than they did when they'd come out of the kitchen. (The soaked fries, not so much.)
Since then, tequila has been a go-to staple when I need to soften up a tough cut of meat, put an extra kick in a ceviche, or spice up a dressing for watermelon salad. But before you go throwing tequila on everything, there are few things you should know about it.
First, tequila is produced from a plant native to Mexico called the blue agave. Some of the more inexpensive tequilas only use half of the sugar from the plant, and use additive sugars instead. I strongly suggest you stay away from these. Look for a tequila that is made from 100% agave.
Second, tequila comes in two basic varieties: blanca (white) and añejo. White tequila is bottled almost immediately after it's distilled; that's the one to use for marinades. Añejo is aged in oak casks for three months to a year.
Tequila called reposado is aged from one to three years, but keep this one to sip, preferably while stroking your thin, waxed mustache and reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
Tequila-lime flank steak, grilled cherry tomato salsa, and a classic margarita
For the steak:
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
1/2 cup blanca tequila
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp chili powder
1 garlic clove, minced fine
1/2 cup finely minced fresh cilantro leaves and stems
1/4 cup canola or vegetable oil
Freshly ground pepper
1-1/2 lb flank steak, trimmed (or any other tougher cut of meat, like shoulder)
For the salsa:
1 small red onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
2 jalapeño pepper, minced
Juice of four limes (approx. 3-4 Tbsp) + zest of one lime
Juice of one orange
1 cup chopped cilantro leaves and stems
2 pints cherry tomatoes
4 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, plus some
Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper
1-1/2 oz good quality blanca tequila
1 oz Cointreau
Juice of 2 limes
Dash of simple syrup (optional)
In a large measuring cup or bowl, stir together first 7 ingredients, then whisk in the oil until combined. Season with pepper. Add steak to a baking dish large enough to hold it flat, and pour marinade over. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate 4 hours.
Heat your grill, and brush the grate with oil. Grill the steaks over high heat until done to your liking, 4-5 minutes a side for medium rare. Remove from grill and let rest for 5-10 minutes.
In a mixing bowl, combine red onion, garlic, jalapeño, lime juice and zest, orange juice, and cilantro, then stir in the 4 Tbsp olive oil. Toss the tomatoes with olive oil to coat, and toss liberally with salt and pepper.
Grill the tomatoes over high heat until the skins are a bit charred in places and cracking, 2-3 minutes. Remove from the grill, let cool a bit, and then stir into the salsa, breaking up some of the tomatoes with the back of a wooden spoon. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
To serve: Slice the steak against the grain and serve on a bed of mesclun greens, topped with the salsa.
Rim a margarita or rocks glass with a lime wedge and salt them, and then fill with ice. Combine all ingredients except salt in a shaker over ice and shake well. If you like your margarita on the sweeter side, add the simple syrup (orange juice works well, too). Strain the margarita into the glass, garnish with a lime, and savor.
Disclosure: The Perfect Pantry earns a few pennies on purchases made through the Amazon.com links in this post. Thank you for supporting this site when you start your shopping here.