Pati Jinich's Tips For Custom Margaritas

For Pati Jinich, the James Beard and Emmy Award-winning host of "Pati's Mexican Table," any celebration can be improved with a frosty margarita. Jinich has worked with Gran Centenario Tequila to showcase the many ways tequila cocktails and Mexican dishes can complement each other.

In an exclusive interview with Tasting Table, Jinich shared some of the ways she likes to customize margaritas to pair with food. While a classic margarita uses lime juice, triple sec, and tequila, Jinich uses a different formula as the base for her experimentation. "I like a 3-2-1 ratio. So I would do 3 ounces of, say, different kinds of citrus juice... 2 ounces of Gran Centenario tequila, and 1 ounce of something sweet — honey, maple syrup, agave nectar, simple syrup." Within this formula, you can tweak each component to generate basically limitless margarita variations. Read on to learn some of Jinich's favorite ways to put a new spin on margaritas.

Play around with different citrus juices

It's hard to go wrong with the flavor pairing of tequila and citrus, so swapping out the lime juice in a standard margarita for another type of citrus juice is an easy way to make the drink your own. Of course, each type of fruit will change the character of the drink. Grapefruit will add a hint of bitterness and some flavor notes reminiscent of a Paloma cocktail. Orange juice will give you a sweeter taste and a beautiful, bright color. Lemon juice would bring the drink closer to a Sidecar cocktail or a whiskey sour. You can even play with less common types of citrus like tangerines or mandarins.

Jinich told us that she often likes to blend multiple types of citrus juice in her margarita mixes. This way, you can fine-tune different flavor notes to your liking; for example, you may want some grapefruit juice for bitterness, but you can balance that out with sweet tangerine juice so it isn't so astringent.

Make infused simple syrup to incorporate new flavors

The next place where you can add extra flavor to your margaritas is the sweetener. One option is to use naturally flavorful sweeteners like maple or honey; they'll perfume the drink with their distinctive tastes. However, if you want more control and flexibility, a better option is to make infused simple syrups.

As Jinich explained to us, making simple syrup is super easy — all you have to do is cook equal parts water and sugar together until the sugar dissolves. But regular simple syrup is very neutral in flavor; all it does is add sweetness. To turn it into a flavoring agent and not just a sweetener, boil aromatics in it while you're dissolving the sugar to infuse them. Jinich recommended sweet spices like cloves, cinnamon sticks, star anise, or vanilla bean. Simple syrup with these flavors will lend a warming, almost Christmas-y depth to your margaritas, adding complexity to the drink's typically bright and acidic flavor profile.

Try different tequilas

The final variable when crafting a custom margarita recipe is picking out the right the right tequila. One great choice is blanco (silver or un-aged tequila), as it tends to be mild and neutral, making it a natural fit for mixed drinks. This is Jinich's go-to; her preferred blanco is Gran Centenario Plata. "I tend to go to Gran Centenario Plata, because it's just so easy. It's smooth, it's sweet, it plays well with so many different ingredients."

Replacing blanco with an aged reposado or añejo tequila will give you a completely different taste experience. The aging process (especially in añejo tequilas, which are aged for longer) lends the spirits notes of wood, nuts, vanilla, and caramel. Like subbing in spiced simple syrup, using aged tequila will give your margaritas a complex, intriguing flavor profile. However, since aged tequila is less neutral than blanco tequila, it requires more care when mixing; you need to taste the tequila and figure out what mixers will complement its specific flavor notes.