Tequila can add a sharp and smoky note to cooking

Posted Wednesday, Jul. 24, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
Margarita shrimp Serves 4 1 tablespoon butter 1 tablespoon olive oil 1 garlic clove, minced 16 to 24 Gulf shrimp, peeled and cleaned (tails left on) Sea salt and pepper 1 tablespoon tequila blanco Juice of half a lime Small handful of cilantro, roughly chopped Lime wedges, for serving 1. Melt butter with olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. 2. Add garlic; when you can smell it, add shrimp, season with salt and pepper, and cook just until shrimp turn pink, a few minutes on each side. 3. Add tequila and lime, toss, and let cook for about 15 seconds. Serve right away with a sprinkle of cilantro and lime wedges on the side. Nutritional analysis per serving: 187 calories, 8 grams fat, 2 grams carbohydrates, 23 grams protein, 180 milligrams cholesterol, 198 milligrams sodium, trace dietary fiber, 43 percent of calories from fat.
Roasted red bell pepper-tequila soup Makes 4 first-course servings 2 pounds red bell peppers Olive oil 2 garlic cloves, minced 2 cups vegetable or chicken stock Sea salt and pepper 2 tablespoons tequila blanco 1/3 cup cream Fresh cilantro, chopped 1. Preheat oven to broil. Put red peppers on a foil-lined cookie sheet, cut a few slits in them (so they don’t explode) and roast in oven. Watch them carefully, and turn them over as they char, so all sides get evenly blackened. Put the cooked peppers in a bowl of ice water and let cool for about 10 minutes. The skins should come right off. Remove the membranes and seeds, too. 2. Put a little olive oil in a saucepan along with minced garlic and turn heat to medium-low. Let cook just until you can smell the garlic, then add peppers, vegetable or chicken stock, and a pinch of salt and pepper, and stir. Using a hand blender, puree the pepper-stock mixture, then bring to a boil. Turn heat to low and let sit for about 15 minutes. Add tequila and cream and taste for seasonings. Serve immediately with chopped cilantro, or chill soup and serve it cold. Nutritional analysis per serving: 155 calories, 10 grams fat, 14 grams carbohydrates, 8 grams protein, 17 milligrams cholesterol, 655 milligrams sodium, 4 grams dietary fiber, 50 percent of calories from fat.
Tequila-lime ice cream Makes 1 quart 1 1/2 cups cream 1/2 cup lime juice 1 teaspoon vanilla 1 tablespoon tequila blanco or reposado 3 cups milk 3 eggs 1 cup sugar Pinch of sea salt 1. Pour cream, lime juice, vanilla and tequila into a large bowl, and set a colander over it. 2. Heat milk in a heavy saucepan over medium. 3. While the milk is warming up, beat eggs in a bowl along with sugar and salt. 4. When the milk begins to show tiny bubbles along the side, it’s ready. Temper the eggs by slowly pouring milk into the bowl and continuously whisking. Add enough milk to completely warm the eggs. Then add egg mixture back to saucepan and continue to cook for 3 minutes, or until it thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon. 5. Cool mixture in an ice bath, then refrigerate for 4 to 6 hours or until ready to freeze. Freeze in ice cream machine according to manufacturer’s instructions, then put into a container and let sit in the freezer for a couple hours to harden. Nutritional analysis per serving per 1/2-cup serving: 289 calories, 15 grams fat, 33 grams carbohydrates, 7 grams protein, 126 milligrams cholesterol, 104 milligrams sodium, trace dietary fiber, 46 percent of calories from fat.
Blueberry-nectarine salad with tequila vinaigrette Makes 4 first-course servings 1 pint blackberries 4 nectarines, sliced 1 avocado, chopped 1/4 teaspoon finely chopped jalapeño 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice 1 teaspoon tequila blanco 5 tablespoons canola oil Sea salt and pepper Lime wedges, for serving 1. Put blackberries, nectarines, avocado and chopped jalapeño in a bowl. 2. Whisk together lime juice, tequila and canola oil, and season with sea salt and pepper. Drizzle a few tablespoons over the fruit and gently toss. Serve with lime wedges. Nutritional analysis per serving: 335 calories, 26 grams fat, 28 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams protein, no cholesterol, 35 milligrams sodium, 8 grams dietary fiber, 65 percent of calories from fat.

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I’m not a big drinker, but I’ve always loved tequila. I once even traveled to Tequila, Mexico, on the Tequila Train, where I drank the cutest little mini-margaritas, called tequilitas, all the way there and back from Guadalajara.

I did quite a bit of dancing in the aisles, I vaguely remember, and otherwise learned to sip and savor the Mexico-born spirit via la bandera, a drink that’s really three, served in small glasses — blanco tequila, a spicy tomato juice and lime juice, the white, red and green of the Mexican flag. (You can, and should, take your time when drinking this. The tequila may come in a shot glass, but it is not to be thrown back like you’re at a frat house.)

Then I recently found out that National Tequila Day is the same day as my birthday, July 24, on which I always try to have a margarita or two if I can. Coincidence?

I’ve long since given up tequila shots (I do this with coffee instead), and have gained a healthy respect for Mexico’s super-high-octane fermented agave juice. There is tequila that isn’t 100 percent agave, called mixto (sugar is added in the distillation process), but I steer clear of that and buy the authentic stuff. It costs more, but it tastes better.

There are four types of tequila, which many of you know if you’ve ever ordered a margarita: blanco (also called white or silver tequila), gold, reposado and the darkest of them all, añejo.

The difference between them is taste as well as color. The white is the youngest and has a flavor that’s sharp and clean and closest to the agave. Simply put, the blanco tequila has the strongest “tequilalike” flavor. It’s a little bit grassy-tasting, and this makes the best margaritas in my opinion (and so said the experts at the distillery I visited in Mexico). It’s also the booziest, at 90 proof.

Joven, which means young, tequilas aren’t aged either. They are a mix of blanco and either reposado or añejo.

Reposado tequilas are darker because they’ve been aged in oak barrels for two months to a year. They’re called reposados because they’ve rested a bit.

Añejos are the darkest, most tawny-colored of the bunch and are aged the longest, at least one year, and have the smokiest, most scotchlike flavor of the tequilas. They are usually the priciest tequilas and are best for slow sipping.

These are just rough guidelines, based on what I’ve learned over the years and personal taste. Since I’m not a dark-spirits drinker, I steer clear of anything other than a blanco, or in some cases, a reposado.

But whichever tequila you like best, light, dark or darker, there’s so much more to do with it than pour it in a glass. Just as brandy, bourbon and vodka have made their way into sauces and marinades, so, too, can tequila.

It offers a sharp and slightly smoky note to all sorts of things that work especially well in the summer. It doesn’t take much — usually only a spoonful or maybe two — to add a little something different to what you’re cooking, and to leave your guests wondering what your secret is. You don’t have to tell them. We can keep it between us. And since it’s my birthday anyway, shall we drink to that?

Ellise Pierce is the author of “Cowgirl Chef: Texas Cooking With a French Accent” (Running Press). Read her blog and watch her cooking videos at www.cowgirlchef.com. On Twitter: @ cowgirlchef

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