Tequila has a bit of a reputation.
“A lot of people associate tequila with bad college parties,” says Peter Houghtaling, a wine shop manager at Kowalski’s. Houghtaling and Kowalski’s culinary and branding director Rachael Perron help bring it back into your pantry for more than just margaritas.
What you need to know: Tequila is made from the blue agave plant, and it can only be made inside a specific zone in Mexico.
“You want [the label] to say ‘100 percent agave,’” Houghtaling says. “Made with agave” simply means it contains at least 51 percent agave. “That other 49 percent is usually a neutral cane sugar spirit,” he says. “That’s the roughness that you associate with cheap tequila.”
As with wine, don’t cook with a tequila you wouldn’t drink. It has three categories relating to time aged. Silver, or unaged, is sweeter and more floral. “They make great margaritas,” Houghtaling says. Silver is also great for most cooking applications.
Reposado, aged two months to a year in a barrel, is Houghtaling’s favorite all-purpose tequila. “You pick up those vanilla and wood tannins,” he says. “And you get the toast and char from the barrel.” For certain recipes, especially where the tequila isn’t cooked, a reposado would be a great choice.
Lastly, añejo is aged one-to-three years, and “is not going to make sense for cooking,” he says. “It takes on so much more of that wood character.” Drink this neat, and you’ll likely notice similarities to whisky.
Give tequila a chance to amend its reputation with these recipes from Perron:
2 ripe avocados
¼ cup seeded, chopped tomatoes
2 Tbsp. minced red onion
1 tsp. chopped garlic
2 tsp. minced jalapeño pepper
2 Tbsp. finely chopped fresh cilantro
1 Tbsp. fresh lime juice
1 Tbsp. tequila (or mezcal)
kosher salt, to taste
Cut avocados in half; remove pits. Scoop flesh from one avocado into a glass bowl. Mash with a fork; stir in tomato, onion, garlic, jalapeño and cilantro. Cut flesh of remaining avocado into ½-inch cubes. Scoop out of skin and into the bowl with the mashed avocado mixture. Sprinkle with lime juice and tequila, mixing lightly until combined (but chunky). Season with salt.
For variety, stir in cooked shrimp, lump crabmeat, chipotle peppers, tomatillos, sliced red radishes or jicama.
Tequila Lime Marinade and Glaze for Grilled Chicken or Shrimp
¼ cup pineapple juice
¼ cup tequila
1 small jalapeño, very finely minced
1 small shallot, very finely minced
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
2 Tbsp. honey
½ tsp. kosher salt
¼ tsp. freshly ground Kowalski’s black peppercorns (or less to taste)
¼ tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
(or to taste)
1 tsp. freshly grated lime zest
2 tsp. Kowalski’s extra virgin olive oil
2 tsp. freshly squeezed lime juice
2 tsp. minced fresh cilantro (optional)
Combine juice, tequila, jalapeño, shallot, sugar, honey, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes and lime zest in a small saucepan. Remove half of the mixture from the pan to a small bowl and whisk in oil; set aside to use as a marinade. Bring remaining mixture to a boil over high heat to melt sugar; reduce to medium-low and simmer until reduced by half (7–10 min.). Cool slightly or to room temperature; stir in lime juice just before using. Stir cilantro into glaze just before using, or reserve for use as a garnish. (Makes enough for 1–1 ½ lbs. chicken or shrimp.)
To use marinade, toss with raw shrimp or boneless skinless chicken breasts; let stand 20-30 min. Grill as desired. Discard unused marinade.
To use glaze, brush over shrimp or chicken in the last 1–2 minutes of grilling and/or drizzle over food after it comes off the grill. Tent with foil and let stand 5 minutes before serving.
8 Tbsp. room temperature Kowalski’s Unsalted Butter
4 tsp. freshly squeezed lime juice
zest of 1 lime
2 tsp. tequila
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. freshly ground Kowalski’s black peppercorns (optional)
2 tsp. finely minced jalapeño peppers (optional)
2 tsp. finely minced fresh cilantro (optional)
Using a silicone spatula or wooden spoon, combine first six ingredients in a bowl until homogenous. Stir in remaining optional ingredients. Store covered in the refrigerator for up to a week. Serve on grilled shrimp, chicken, steak, potatoes and corn on the cob.
A Glass Act
Let tequila launch you into that summer spirit. For these cocktails, Kowalski’s culinary director Rachael Perron says silver (or blanco) tequila is best, and remember to look for “100 percent agave” on the label.
El Diablo (serves two)
2 Tbsp. frozen limeade concentrate
3 oz. tequila blanco
1 ½ oz. crème de cassis
2 oz. spicy ginger ale
4 oz. sparkling water
blackberries, for garnish
In a cocktail shaker, combine first four ingredients. Shake to combine; pour evenly into glasses over ice, and top with sparkling water. Garnish each glass. Serve immediately.
Paloma (serves two)
2 Tbsp. kosher salt
3 grapefruit wedges, divided
4 oz. Kowalski’s fresh squeezed grapefruit Juice
4 oz. white tequila
1 oz. fresh squeezed lime juice
4 oz. cold Joia grapefruit,chamomile & cardamom soda
Pour salt onto a flat rimmed dish. Moisten the rim of two highball glasses with a grapefruit wedge; dip in salt. Combine grapefruit juice, tequila and lime juice in a cocktail shaker with ice; shake. Pour evenly into prepared glasses. Top evenly with soda; garnish each glass with a grapefruit wedge.
Tequila Fun Facts
1.Tequila is a subset of mezcal. While tequila is only made from blue agave, mezcal can be made from other varieties of the agave plant.
2.In cooking, mezcal can be substituted for tequila, especially if you’re looking for a sweeter flavor profile.
3.Like Champagne or Napa Valley wine, tequila (and mezcal) labels can only be used for agave spirits made in certain regions in Mexico.