So what if it's just the 5th of March and not Cinco de Mayo. Why not toast the last days of winter (and the seasonal availability of tart and juicy blood oranges) with a spicy-cool spin on the Margarita?
I recently test-drove this intriguing recipe as part of a "virtual cocktail party" hosted by Kara Newman, cocktail columnist for Chile Pepper Magazine and author of Spice & Ice: 60 Tongue-Tingling Cocktails. (You can check out what some other bloggers are doing with her heated-up recipes here.)
A refreshing riff on the basic tequila + triple sec + lime juice Margarita formula, this version spices things up by incorporating tequila that's first been infused briefly with fresh jalapeño slices, and gains extra citrus dimension - and a distinctively deep pink hue - with the addition of fresh blood orange juice.
In preparing my cocktail, I made a few adjustments according to personal taste. I like things on the hotter end of the spectrum, so I upped the jalapeño quotient, using a whole pepper in just half a cup of tequila instead of the full cup called for, and I then let the slices steep for a full 4 hours, instead of 2. I also scaled back on the sweetener (the Cointreau) so that the tartness of the fresh citrus juice would shine through. This is a recipe with a little leeway: Spicy/mellow, tart/sweet - play with it and see what works best for you.
The resulting drink had a robust but balanced mixture of flavors. I could feel the heat of the jalapeño, but even at extra-strength, it wasn't overpowering and blended nicely with the bright, fresh taste of the citrus juice. It would make a great accompaniment to a meal - with the very first sip, I found myself craving Mexican food.
Blood Orange-Jalapeno Margaritas
(adapted from Kara Newman, Spice & Ice: 60 Tongue-Tingling Cocktails)
makes two drinks
4 ounces jalapeño-infused silver tequila (*see recipe below)
3 ounces fresh-squeezed blood orange juice
1 ounce fresh-squeezed lime juice
3 ounces Cointreau (I scaled it back to 2 ounces)
[*To make jalapeño infusion: Slice up a fresh jalapeño pepper and allow it to steep in 1 cup (I used just half a cup) of tequila for 2 hours. Taste to check the heat level, and continue to steep if a stronger infusion is desired (I left the slices in for a full 4 hours). Once infusing process is complete, remove the slices by pouring the mixture through a fine-meshed strainer.]
Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake vigorously and strain into a cocktail glass. Optional garnish: salt the rim of the glass.
To serve as a pitcher drink: Multiply the ingredients by the number of guests. Combine in a pitcher and chill until ready to serve. Pour over ice or shake cocktails individually.
Nora Maynard is a longtime home mixologist and an occasional instructor at NYC's Astor Center. She is a contributor to The Business of Food: Encyclopedia of the Food and Drink Industries and is the recipient of the American Egg Board Fellowship in culinary writing at the Writers' Colony at Dairy Hollow. She previously covered food and drink in film at The Kitchn in her weekly column, The Celluloid Pantry.
Related: All About Margaritas
(Images: Nora Maynard)