How to make a perfectly balanced margarita every time

Ask the Oracle Pour: What should I drink today? All signs point to a margarita made with this foolproof formula

By Erin Keane
Published May 4, 2021 10:46PM (UTC)
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The Perfect Margarita (Illustration by Ilana Lidagoster)

"The Oracle Pour" is Salon Food's spirits column that helps you decide what to drink tonight.

Balance, you elusive ideal. Just imagining a life in which every part has found its rightful place, a perfect fit to create a state of equilibrium, can feel like a wild dream. What if balance isn't a state of perfection to achieve but an active practice that demands addition and subtraction, a series of small adjustments, until the mix of sharp and soft notes, of sweet and sour, of wildness and calm, feel just right? 

Consider the margarita. Put aside what you may have encountered in the wild: the hangover-inducing sugar bomb of cheap pitchers for the table, the sickly-green plastic jug of buy-in-bulk supermarket mix. Fresh lime juice, orange liqueur, a good tequila and some ice are all you need. The key is balancing those ingredients in a ratio that works for you.

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Sometimes, achieving balance requires a bit of surrender. For years, I swore by the countdown margarita: Shake three parts tequila, two parts orange liqueur and one part fresh lime juice, then serve on the rocks with salt. I found the formula beautiful in its simplicity, and I did not diverge from it.

But on a recent trip to the ocean, I relinquished my role as household bartender and gratefully accepted what came my way. And I found myself in love with a slightly different formula. Today, I'm a believer in the 4-3-2 margarita: same essential ingredients, with the ratio tweaked to allow more bright lime to shine through what I now feel is the right balance of tequila and sweet orange for me. 

Salt is a classic accompaniment to the margarita. But an easy way to inject a bit more flavor — just a kiss of spice, not enough to upset the harmony of the drink—is to substitute Tajín Clásico, a mild chile-lime salt blend that highlights the citrus of the drink while adding just a hint of warmth. 

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And if this ratio doesn't work for you? Experiment with the building blocks — a little less orange, a bit more lime — until you land on a harmonious combination of your own. 

Ingredients:

Serving size: scales up or down; 2 oz. of tequila per drink is a good guide

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  • 4 parts tequila (look for 100% blue agave tequila — blanco, silver, or reposado) 
  • 3 parts Cointreau (or your preferred orange liqueur)
  • 2 parts fresh lime juice
  • 1 more lime, cut in half
  • Tajín Clásico seasoning
  • Ice (small cubes or cracked/crushed works best)

Gear:

You don't need any specialty equipment to mix a simple cocktail. Improvise with what you have; take a hammer to a baggie of ice if you want. But here's what I keep at hand:

Instructions:

Fill a saucer with Tajín. Take one half of your lime, and cut it in half. Next, run the wedge around the rim of each glass before dipping it into the saucer of Tajín. Then add crushed ice to each Tajín-rimmed glass.

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Fill a shaker with ice. Add tequila, lime juice (fresh squeezed is best) and orange liqueur. Shake and strain into the Tajín-rimmed glasses. Add a lime wheel for an extra pop of citrus

Variations:

The margarita is infinitely versatile and rewards a sense of playfulness. You can go standard with a salted rim or try other spices like Bloody Mary blends. Swapping a mild mezcal for the tequila injects a smokiness that pairs well with the orange. Lime juice is standard, but there's no reason why you can't experiment with other fruit flavors. Just remember: Fresh is best. This blackberry margarita recipe from Serious Eats is a great place to start. 

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Erin Keane

Erin Keane is Salon's Editor in Chief.

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Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Cocktails Margarita Oracle Pour Recipe Tequila