Thursday, June 4, 1998
You tried rubbing cabbage juice on your forehead. Then you sucked on a sugar cube drizzled with clove oil. Then you even gingerly attempted quaffing a cocktail of boiled and strained banana peels--all to no avail. You''ve come to the unhappy conclusion that no last-ditch Ukrainian folk remedy, no esoteric Oriental restorative, no quaint Appalachian folkway will ease your misery. Your heroic efforts to resuscitate the worm floating, pathetically, at the bottom of the bottle have left you drained and pained.
A mere 12 hours ago, that was you shouting >"Viva Zapata!" and this morning you''ve got the Third Reich''s katzenjammer mounting behind your eardrum. After your penance to the Aztec gods is duly paid, perhaps you should consider switching brands of tequila.
"People visit Mexico and then come back and say, ''Oh, I shouldn''t have eaten the food, or drunk the water!''" smiles Luis Solano, executive chef of The Whole Enchilada in Moss Landing, and noted tequila authority. "My next question is always to ask, ''What kind of margaritas did you drink?"
After snorting a whiff of agave wine while visiting Jose''s in Seaside--the kind Marco Maldanado uses to blend the lower alcohol margaritas that his wine and beer license dictate--my curiosity was piqued. For restaurants that choose not to take on full liquor licenses, a margarita made with agave wine might be said to approach the essence of its brawnier cousin, tequila. And it might provide an inherent complement to south-of-the-border cuisine, but stop short of delivering the one-two punch.
But if it''s going for the gold you''re after, you might be convinced otherwise after consulting Solano. "All tequila is made from the blue agave plant, but the best recommendation for a well-made margarita is to start with the white, or silver tequila. What happens is that the gold tequila acquires its color from aging in aromatic wood barrels; cherry is sometimes used," he explains. "But the faster process is from adding what is called ''pilancillo,'' chunks of brown sugar or molasses that increases the alcohol and makes the tequila dark. It''s the high amount of sugar and alcohol that''s going to go to your head and stay in your system," he cautions.
"The quality of the tequila is also going to depend on which part of the agave plant was used to extract the juice," he continues. "The best is made from the heart, which looks like a pineapple--and that''s what it''s called, too." However, these pineapples can weigh up to 150 pounds, as it happens, and may only come from the Jalisco region of Mexico. "Then after the juice is extracted, it''s put in barrels to ferment," says Solano. It''s at this stage that it may be bottled as wine. But to make tequila, it must be distilled. "And the best brands are found, of course, in Mexico," he adds, "named for the factories where they are made."
Although they''ll happily concoct a whole rainbow of tropical-flavored margaritas at The Whole Enchilada, Solano''s pick for the margarita hall-of-fame dictates simplicity. His favorite pour is Porfidio, a silver tequila requiring only a splash of Cointreau, lime juice, ice and a frosty rim of salt, a perfect counterpart to all things hot and spicy. And, enjoyed in moderation, a pre-emptive measure against waking up to a Montezuma moment. cw