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Tequila (Recipe: tequila-lime flank steak, grilled cherry tomato salsa, and a classic margarita)

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

Serves 4.


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)
mesclun greens

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

Classic Margarita:
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.

[Printer-friendly recipe.]

More recipes in The Perfect Pantry:

Spicy skirt steak
Oven-barbecued brisket
Vaca atolada
Salsa and shrimp-stuffed avocado

Need more creative ideas for using tomatoes all year round? Get 25 Tomatoes, my e-book packed with fantastic recipes, full-color photos and a fun video tutorial. With the FREE Kindle Reading app, delicious tomato recipes will always be just one click away on any computer, tablet or smart phone. Click here to learn more.

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Hi Bryan:

I'm so glad that I saw you reading The Omnivore's Dilemma at the DeLuxe! Nice post.

Ted Chaloner

This sounds great with all the spices plus tequila, lime, and of course, cilantro! I love the idea of flank steak marinated in tequila, never thought of that before.

A tequila-lime combo also works really well as a quick marinade for chicken. Grill it along with some onion slices, toast a bun, mash some avocado on it and you have a really tasty sandwich!

What's the price point for cooking tequila? Not the really good stuff, surely?

Hello to everyone! I'm thrilled to be writing for TPP after being a long-time reader.

Kalyn: Keep in mind that anything with a high alcohol content or high acidity will tenderize meat very quickly, so you don't need to let it sit for a long time.

Kate: You can easily use this marinade on chicken! You can even use it on shrimp or scallops, but if you let it sit for more than 10 minutes, the seafood will literally cook in the marinade.

Alanna: This is an excellent question. The tequila in the photo, Patron, can be quite expensive - $35.00 or so for a bottle. You should easily be able to find something much cheaper that is still 100% agave - I recommend Sauza Hornitos for a good basic tequila that not only makes a good marinade base, but also a very nice marg. :)

One more thing about cooking with tequila - One bottle goes a long way - especially the good stuff. Instead of letting it languish in your liquor cabinet, get it out once in a while, taste it, and see what it can do outside of the margarita and shots for which it usually makes an appearance. A couple of tablespoons mixed with red wine vinegar and tossed with watermelon and cucumber is an easy summer salad!

Hi Bryan - always been a big fan since you suggested that sugar pumpkin risotto for me to make last spring. I'll definitely be making this flank steak (great for summer!) soon and will be subscribing to the Perfect Pantry to look out for more of your great recipes.

Keep 'em coming!

I enjoy eating flank steak when it is marinated.I even have a recipe for it and it comes out great. If you would like to see it or the collection of tips and recipes I have for grilling you can visit www.cookingandgrillinoutdoors.com

I made this sans the tequila...sorry I'm really not sure how it would have tasted as listed, but it was quite a nice meal and everyone that joined in was very happy especially with the salsa

Patron is a fabulous tequila and that meat is perfectly cooked!

Not being a drinker and having a husband who loves expensive stuff like Patron has been eye-opening. I wrote a post on my blog about a year or so ago about sashaying in to the liquor store to buy the gold Patron for hubby's birthday and almost gagging at the cost. No juice I drink cost anywhere near the price of liquor. So, I'll find a cheaper tequila (but 100% agave) for this recipe. Between the cost of the steak from "Whole Paycheck" and the tequila that would be one really expensive meal. Perhaps I'll make for hubby's birthday to justify the cost. Thanks for the recipe.

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