Friday, April 3, 2015

Renteria's Smoke Causes Tears….for Austin's ‘Cue Lovers

Last night Sabino “Pio” Renteria pursued his manic obsession against Austin’s barbecue restaurants and grilling food trailers, and the amazing thing to me is that he succeeded in getting his proposal to the next level. From listening to him yammer on, it’s apparent that the whole thing stems from the gentrification of East Austin. I hate Californians zooming in and snatching up the eastern side of our city as much as the next guy, offering cash for the asking price on the same day that a property hits the market. It displaces all of the old timers that can no longer afford to live there, and the increase in taxes is forcing old eateries out of the area. If you think the McMansionism of the ’09 zip code was bad a couple of decades back, I would urge you to hop in your lowrider and do an extended cruise around the eastside today. elected him, District 3. Happy now?

But what Renteria fails to understand, is that most of the barbecue venues are leasing their spots, and with the meteoric increase in real estate values (and therefore, taxes) in the area, the rents that the landlords will have to charge will eventually price the barbecue folks out of the area, along with all of the locals. Not to mention the fact that the profit margin on barbecue is abysmally small, and these restaurants cannot afford to buy scrubbers, even if they wanted to. The hipsterification of East Austin will be complete, and only those rich enough to live there will be rich enough to pay the Dallas prices the remaining restaurants in the area will be forced to charge.

When Renteria suggests that instead of wood as a fuel, the restaurants should instead use natural gas, or that smoke scrubbers should be installed on every pit smokestack, he shows what a moron he is when it comes to understanding the dynamics of the meat smoking art. It is a delicate and carefully choreographed dance between wood, fire, and air, and you start jacking around with that tango and you lose the flavor. Even raising the height of the smokestack changes the dynamics. A stack scrubber would be catastrophic.

Most of the hubbub seems to center around Terry Black’s on Barton Springs, and la Barbecue in east Austin. Read this from KXAN’s report on March 30:  “Last year, Terry Black’s Barbecue on Barton Springs Road received two TCEQ complaints alleging smoke nuisance. When TCEQ staff checked the restaurant, the smoke observed was not considered a nuisance and no violations were cited….La Barbecue has seen visits from TCEQ as well. In 2014, there were two complaints regarding smoke and in both instances TCEQ staff determined there was no violation.”

Holiday House WAAAY back in the day.....

It’s really unfortunate that Terry Black’s is one of the featured violators, because I've eaten their barbecue, and it is sub par at best. But the fact remains that the location has been a restaurant since at least the very early ‘60s, cooking flame-kissed burgers over charcoal (Holiday House started in Austin a long time ago). The time to bitch about the possibility that a barbecue restaurant might make some smoke, and that you lived right behind it, on the edge of a limestone cliff that would prevent the dispersal of said smoke, would have been during the months leading up to the opening, when there was near constant news coverage of the joint starting up. Or the public disclosure or posting of their impending alcohol permit, for that matter. Complaining a half a year later, after they've spent a butt load of money, just doesn't work.

This whole situation reminds me of the folks that raised hell about airplane noise when Bergstrom AFB became ABIA. Airplanes make noise, and believe me, B 52 bombers and KC 135 tankers make a HELL of a lot more noise than a puny airliner; we used to live under the approach to the north end of the Bergstrom runway when I was a kid, and it would shake the entire house to its foundation when one flew over (which was frequently). Unless you lived out there before Bergstrom was established, keep your mouth shut. You don’t move next to an airport and bitch about noise. Just like you don’t move close to a barbecue joint, and bitch about smoke.

John Lewis is talking about relocating his pits a little to help disperse the smoke more efficiently. A magnanimous gesture if you ask me. He was granted a certificate of occupancy for that new location, and went through all of the required steps from the City and the Health Department. I also saw some news footage from some guy bitching about the smoke from a smaller mobile food trailer. There are existing zoning provisions which cover that situation: “Neighborhood Planning Contact Team or a Neighborhood Association can adopt additional regulations that regulate the distance and hours of operation of mobile food trailers near residential areas…” No new rules need to be imposed.

Here’s the bottom line, back in the day, getting really excellent barbecue usually required a 30 minute (or more) drive out of Austin, and today we are blessed with a ridiculous bounty of great barbecue within our city limits. Pitmasters like Aaron Franklin, John Lewis, John Mueller, Tom Micklethwait, Lance Kirkpatrick, Bill Kerlin, Evan Leroy, Daniel Brown, Tom Spalding, and the rest have helped Austin’s national reputation as one of the best food cities in the country, as well as one of the nation’s focal points for excellent barbecue. That brings in tens, if not hundreds of millions of dollars of publicity to Austin, which benefits us all, whether you like barbecue or not. In considering the effects of Renteria’s proposal, I can’t think of a more wrongheaded, discombobulated move for Austin’s City Council to make. If you agree with me, I would encourage you to let him, and the rest of the Council, know about it. Next thing you know, they could be dictating what YOU grill or smoke in your own backyard.

Sabino “Pio” Renteria
Austin City Council, District 3

Mick Vann ©


Thursday, March 26, 2015

A Rabbit Rant


Belgian Giant breed of rabbit....THESE are the rabbits that we should be eating!

In today’s Austin Chronicle Food section, Anna Toon wrote an article concerning rabbits as food, and how several Austex restaurants are putting rabbit back on the menu. That article of course enraged the bunnypet bunch, who all started bitching about her article. They assert that rabbits were meant to be loving pets and should never be eaten, and wonder out loud, where normal people like me can hear them, what kind of a monster would even suggest such a thing. Those folks kinda got my dander up a little bit. I like eating rabbit, and don't really care what those people think.

Rabbit has been eaten by man ever since he was able to outthink the rabbit, which is no great feat. Rabbits have speed and camouflage going for them, but they are not blessed with superior intellect, their hide is easily peeled from their carcass, and they come in convenient, dinner-sized packages. Rabbits are a favorite foodstuff of pretty much anything that can catch a rabbit, from birds of prey, to any mammal fast or clever enough to subdue the wily beast.


We used to cook rabbit at the Clarksville Café back in the day, and every time we did, the customers would rave about it. It is a very healthy meat, high in protein, and low in fat. It tastes incredibly delicious when marinated and then braised, but if you don’t cook it correctly, it can end up a little on the tough side. My only complaint at the time was that rabbit cost too much for me to make much money on it, unless I charged what I thought was an excessive price. You were paying for a lot of bone weight, and you could get two good servings out of a carcass. The other thing is that rabbits can be kind of a pain to prep, because of the bones. The price per pound was high because there were very few folks raising rabbits back then for the restaurant trade.

Rabbits in Aussieland

Rabbits are eaten by pretty much every civilization worldwide, and have been for thousands and thousands of years. Rabbits are really easy to raise domestically, and they breed like, well, like rabbits. They don’t take up a lot of room, and their manure is ideal for gardening. They can make a disturbing scream when they are dispatched, but that is why the rabbit punch was developed, to rapidly kill the rabbit before he knows what’s coming. As a plus, rabbit fur makes a dandy hat or a pair of gloves.

Rabbit hunter in Australia

Let a few rabbits escape in an area where they have no predators, and they will take over. Back in the day, the old Austin airport runways were overrun with rabbits. Ask the average Australian how he feels about rabbits, and you certainly won’t hear any sympathy for the bunnies taking over that continent. Introduced in 1859, they grew to such numbers that they caused the extinction of native plant and animal species, and led to erosion and siltation of waterways. They out-competed 
 with livestock for graze, and just generally became such a pain in the ass that they built the world's longest fence to try to contain the little peckerwoods. Rabbits still cost the Australian government $600 million annually, even today. 

So the bunnypet bunch can bitch all they want to about restaurants serving rabbit, and food writers writing about restaurants serving rabbit, but we all know that if we don’t eat those tricky bunny bastards they will overpopulate and leave us in an ecological wasteland. You don’t want to eat rabbit? Fine, don’t eat any. You start telling me what I can eat, then we got a problem. Personally, I loves me a plateful of bunny. Loves it.

Mick Vann ©


Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Prickly Pear Cactus Points

The resplendent winter coloration of Ranta Rita Opuntia (O. gosseliniana var. santa-rita)
sold in the nursery trade as an ornamental

Photo from

Researchers tell us that the prickly pear cactus was one of the earliest food crops, with Mesoamericans cultivating Opuntia ficus-indica more than 9,000 years ago. Today in South Africa, the Maghreb, Sicily, and South, Central, and North America the cactus is being grown as a food stuff, as cattle feed, and for the intensely colored, flavorful fruit, known in Mexico as tuna. The Mexican word for the prickly pear cactus, nopales, is based on the ancient Nahuatl nohpalli.

Prickly pear cactus are farmed around the world
Photo by

Nopales are strips or cubes cut from the pads of prickly pear cactus; 114 different species grow in Mexico. They are sold as spineless, peeled pads in Hispanic markets, and can be used raw or blanched (too much cooking and they get mucilaginous, like slimy okra). Bottled or canned versions packed in brine are available in Hispanic markets and some groceries. These should be rinsed in warm and then cold water, and drained before use.

Nopales, ready to blanch, at the mercado
Photo from

For fresh nopales, obtain tender young pads about 4 inches long and ⅛ inch thick. Larger ones will be tough and have a papery skin that must be removed before using. Remove all of the small spines on the pads with the blade of a knife. It is easiest to hold the pads with folded-over newspaper or tongs to prevent getting stuck by the thorns while processing. Cook briefly in boiling, salted water until just starting to get tender but not slimy (see cooking method, below). To prepare the fruit, lay a prickly pear on a cutting board and cut almost in half lengthwise. Using a knife with a flexible blade, “filet” the flesh from the skin as you rotate the blade around the interior surface of the skin, much like you would a kiwi fruit.

Prickly pear fruit, or tuna
Photo from

Ripe tuna
Photo from

You can easily grow prickly pear cactus in your yard, and many ranchers in Texas consider the plant an invasive pest, but they provide a valuable habitat for many critters (including snakes, so use caution when harvesting). In times of extreme drought, ranchers burn the thorns off with propane torches as graze for their livestock. To grow your own, they require only good drainage and adequate sun. Nurseries sell desirable spineless and ornamental varieties, and varieties will soon hit the market that have been bred for larger, sweeter fruit. To grow the common local species you can just cut off a pad from a plant, let the cut surface scab over for a few days, and insert it into the ground. It will grow with a vengeance.

Different types of Opuntia fruit
Photo from

Typical ripe fruit interior
Photo from

The flesh of the pads is used in salads, in pico de gallo and salsas, with scrambled eggs, in tacos, with meats, and in other dishes. The fruit has a texture similar to watermelon, kiwi, or dragonfruit, and the sweet, tart flesh can be used in a similar fashion, or juiced and added to drinks (local soda company Maine Root makes a prickly pear fruit soda called “Pink Drink”). Prickly pear fruit also makes a spectacular sorbet. Health freaks will appreciate very high levels of Vitamin C, antioxidants, and fiber, and studies suggest nopales could help with diabetes and hangovers.

Huevos Revueltos con Nopales · Scrambled Eggs with Cactus Strips

Serves 1

The Northern states of Mexico are especially fond of nopales. The blanched or grilled pads are fantastic mixed with scrambled eggs, and then eaten as a breakfast platter, with beans, chile-dusted and browned diced potato, and tortillas, or you can just place the filling inside a hot flour tortilla for a classic Austex breakfast taco.

1 Tablespoon lard, bacon fat, duck or chicken fat, or butter
1 large or 2 small scallions, trimmed and sliced
1 large serrano chile, stemmed and julienned (seeds and ribs removed for less heat)
⅔ cup prepared nopales (see preparation method, below)
2 large eggs, scrambled
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon cracked black pepper
3 Tablespoons grated Chihuahua or Monterey jack cheese, for garnish
Salsa of your choice, as a topping

In a seasoned or nonstick skillet over medium heat, add the lard. When shimmering, add the scallion and chile and sauté for 3 minutes. Add the nopales and sauté 2 minutes. Add the eggs, salt, and pepper, and using a heat resistant rubber spatula, scrape the eggs from the outside-in, just until the eggs are fluffy and set, but still moist. Place on a plate and garnish with the grated cheese, and top with your favorite salsa.

Ensalada de Nopales · Cactus Paddle Salad

Serves 4

Nopales make an excellent salad ingredient, and fresh shrimp, poached lightly in a chile-garlic broth, are excellent added to this salad.

1 ¼ pounds of blanched nopal strips
3 plum tomatoes, stemmed and diced
½ cup diced red onion
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
2 to 3 serrano chiles, stemmed and finely minced (seeds and ribs can be removed for less heat)
½ teaspoon dried Mexican oregano, crumbled
¼ cup cilantro leaves and tender stems, coarsely chopped
1 ½ Tablespoons lime juice
3 Tablespoons olive oil
Salt and black pepper, to taste
1 avocado, pitted and diced, for garnish
½ cup grated cotija or romano cheese, for garnish
Totopos (tostadas), for service

In a large mixing bowl combine the cactus strips, tomato, onion, garlic, chiles, oregano, cilantro, lime juice, olive oil, 1 teaspoon of salt, and mix well. Taste for seasonings for salt and pepper and add to taste. Evenly divide the salad among 4 salad bowls, garnish with diced avocado and grated cheese, and serve immediately with fresh totopos. 

To prepare nopales: You can buy them brined in jars (which need to be thoroughly rinsed), but they are much better fresh. Look for prepped (thorns removed), firm paddles in the produce section of gourmet, specialty, or Hispanic markets. If you harvest and prepare them yourself, using tongs or gloves, take a paring knife and excise each group of thorns by slicing just under the surface. When both sides are cleaned of thorns, remove the outside edge, and cut into ¼ inch strips.
To blanch nopales:
1 ½ Tablespoons salt
Pinch of baking soda
1 clove garlic, smashed
1 ¼ pounds of nopal strips
In 4 quarts of boiling water over high heat, add the salt, baking soda, and garlic, stir well, and then add the cactus strips. Skim off any foam that rises to the surface, and cook until just starting to get tender, but not limp (about 8 to 12 minutes, depending on freshness). Pour into a colander and rinse thoroughly with cold water to stop the cooking process and rinse off any slime. Drain well and reserve.

Alternatively, prepare the pads as before and grill both sides over a burner or coals until the pad starts charring, turning yellowish, and starts to get tender. 
Cooked this way, they are called nopales asadosIn case you weren’t paying attention and got pierced with tiny thorns, take a piece of duct tape and lightly drag it across the skin, or put a dab of Elmer’s Glue on the thorns. When the glue dries, peel it and the thorns from your skin.

Mick Vann ©

Friday, March 13, 2015

Pambazo at the Happy Fruit!


Chorizo and potato pambazo at Fruta Feliz

Earlier this week an old pal of mine was in town from L.A., and we zipped over to Fruta Feliz to grab lunch. I like FF because they have fresh, authentic, handmade food, the prices are right, and it’s only a few minutes from Campus. They have every variation of Mexican fruit dish imaginable, and I enjoyed an especially delectable, tall, frosty, and refreshing agua fresca made with fresh pineapple and mango. Homeboy ordered tacos of chivo, picadillo (made with minced meat and not ground beef; their ground beef taco is called a “crispi”), and chicharrón on their handmade corn tortillas. All excellent, by the way. I went for delicioso tacos of chivo (luscious shredded goat), and picadillo, both topped with the requisite onion and cilantro. They had three dynamic and tasty salsas that day: a fiery red chile with a bit of chile de arbóI, the standard taquería green with avocado, and a very piquant jalapeño-serrano fresh green chile sauce that sizzled the hair right off of my tongue.


Homeboy's tacos

I also ordered a pambazo, a less well-known sandwich here in The City with the Violet Crown, but one that is a big favorite all across Mexico. The happy fruit taquería makes a nice version, using a bun with exceptional flavor and softness, to go with that crispy, guajillo chile-anointed crust. They offer several filling variations, and I chose the classic potato and chorizo, which was delightfully delish.

Picadillo left, and chivo (goat) right

This is a fantastic sandwich that more folks need to know about, so I’ve included a recipe from my upcoming eBook,
Favorite Dishes from Regional Mexico, Texas and the Border, and New Mexico

Pambazos · Guajillo Salsa-Dipped Potato and Chorizo Sandwiches

A pambazo (also spelled panbaso, pambazo, and even banbaso) is a type of torta. It’s too big and hearty to be an antojito, although on occasion, slider-sized versions of pambazos, called pambacitos, are made for use as appetizers at parties. The name comes from pan bajo, or “low-class bread”, a reference to a bread made from the lowest grade of wheat flour during the days of Spanish occupation (the Spaniards in New Spain were exceedingly class-conscious). It began as a meal for the commoner and the laborer, made from the dregs of the mill.

The bun itself is also known as pambazo, and is a hamburger bun-sized soft roll shaped like a football (an American football). They are typically made by the local bakeries, or panaderías, and the bakery will usually offer warm pambazos to sell as well. The sandwich has some regional variations but they are minor. In some regions the bottom half gets a schmear of refried beans topped with longaniza or chorizo sausage and extra sauce instead of just crema fresca and the potato-chorizo filling. In Veracruz it typically gets a filling of black beans, queso fresco, tomato, pickled jalapeño, and chipotle powder.

The pambazo dominates in the center of the country (especially Veracruz, Puebla, Michoacán, and D.F.) but you can find them north to south. It is typically made with a doughy pambazo roll that is dipped in guajillo chile sauce and then fried on a flattop griddle in some lard to seal in the chile flavor on the outside, until the exterior gets crunchy while the interior remains moist and soft. Think of it as a lard-griddled French-dip. Some cooks stuff it before it gets fried, so that the cheese gets completely melted, and some stuff it after the frying, but the typical filling is chunky potato and chorizo, topped with shredded white cheese (queso fresco, panela, quesillo, Oaxaca, asadero, etc.). Some cooks add an extra bit of sauce to the potato mixture, to punch up the flavor. Some vendors try to economize by adding extra crema in place of the cheese, but the sandwich really needs the richness of the cheese to go with the potatoes.  Add some onion slices, shredded lettuce or cabbage, and a bit of salsa, and you have an appetite-filling behemoth.

The pambazo is eaten any time of the day, and it is sold by street and market vendors, by some taquerías, and by torterías, or sandwich shops. This sandwich really needs to be eaten hot, so if it is sold para llevar, or “to-go”, they’ll wrap it in foil to keep it warm. Since it is messy because of the chile sauce on the exterior, it really needs to be wrapped in foil so that you have a way to keep your hands clean while eating it.

Guajillo Chile Sauce                                       Makes about 2 ½ cups
15 dried guajillo chiles, stemmed and seeded
3 dried chipotle chiles, stemmed and seeded
2 plum tomatoes
½ medium white onion, cut horizontally
3 large cloves garlic
2 cups chicken stock
½ teaspoon comino

Potato and Chorizo Filling                             Fills 8 pambazos
1 pound red-skinned or Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and diced ½-inch
Hot water to cover by 1-inch
¾ teaspoon salt
1 pound Mexican chorizo, homemade if possible (casings removed if necessary)
1 small white onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon minced fresh serrano chile, or 2 to 3 minced chipotles en adobo
Pinch crumbled dried Mexican oregano (optional)
About 2 teaspoons lard, bacon fat, or vegetable oil, if necessary

¾ cup crema fresca
1 ½ cups shredded queso blanco (quesillo, Oaxaca, panela, queso fresco, etc.)
½ cup thinly sliced white onion
2 cups thinly shredded young green cabbage or romaine lettuce
Aluminum foil, to wrap the bottom half of the sandwich
Fire-roasted avocado and tomatillo salsa verde, for service

1. For the guajillo chile sauce, heat a comal or skillet over medium heat and briefly dry-toast the chiles until they are fragrant; do not scorch. Place the chiles in a small pan with the chicken stock, bring just to a boil, turn off the heat and cover, and let sit until softened, about 15 to 20 minutes. Roast the tomatoes, onion, and garlic on the comal or dry skillet until softened and lightly charred. Add the soaked chiles and chicken stock, tomatoes, onion, garlic, and comino to a blender and puree. Place a sieve over a large bowl and pour the sauce through the sieve, forcing as much of the pulp through as possible, while excluding any seeds. Reserve for dipping the pambazo buns.

2. For the potato and chorizo filling, bring potatoes, water, and salt to a boil, reduce heat to medium, and cook potatoes until just starting to get tender, about 5 minutes. Drain in a colander and reserve.

3. Put the chorizo in a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring and breaking up the chorizo, until completely cooked and lightly browned, about 12 minutes. Add the onions, garlic, chile, and oregano (if using), along with lard if chorizo hasn't rendered enough fat. Cook while stirring and scraping until the onions are translucent and soft, about 6 minutes.

4. Add the potatoes and cook until the potatoes are hot and have absorbed some chorizo fat and other flavors, about 8 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Reserve hot for filling pambazos or tacos.

5. To prepare and assemble the pambazo buns, heat 2 to 3 tablespoons of lard or vegetable oil over medium heat in a large skillet. Using a hand placed inside a disposable plastic glove or plastic bag, submerge the pambazo bun under the sauce for about 8 to 10 seconds. Remove and drip dry for a few seconds, and place bottom-side down in the skillet. Cook the bun until starting to brown, while pressing down with a spatula, and then turn over, repeating on the other side. Tilt the buns upright, so that they lean against each other, and cook each side until browned. You should be able to cook 3 to 4 buns simultaneously. Remove to paper towels to drain, and repeat with the remaining buns, until all are dipped and fried.

6. For assembly, slice the sauced and fried buns about 2/3rds of the way through, horizontally. Spread 1 ½ tablespoons of the crema fresca on the bottom bun and top with evenly divided amounts of the potato and chorizo filling. Spoon about 1 tablespoon of the remaining sauce over the filling, and top with 3 tablespoons of the shredded cheese.  Add a few slices of fresh onion and ¼ cup of the shredded cabbage or lettuce, and then wrap the bottom half of the torta in aluminum foil. I prefer the tomatillo-avocado green sauce on the side for service, but a chipotle salsa, or a fire-roasted red salsa works fine also. Serve immediately.

For the buns, bolillos, teleras, hamburger buns, or Kaiser rolls can be substituted, but they are not nearly as good as a torta made with the genuine pambazo bun. The best way to dip the bun in the chile sauce is to use your hand, covered with a disposable kitchen glove or plastic bag.

For the guajillo chile sauce, you can use any dried chiles you like, but guajillo chiles are the standard. I like to add several chipotles to amp-up the heat level just a bit and add a bit of complex smokiness. Ancho, pasilla, pulla, cascabel, and mulatto chiles can be substituted for the guajillos, or used in combination with the guajillos. 
If you are extremely lazy, or pressed for time, a canned or bottled red chile enchilada sauce can be used instead of the guajillo sauce.

For the potatoes, you may prefer to omit the fresh chile and substitute 2 or 3 minced chipotles en adobo, or powdered jalapeño or chipotle chile instead. For even richer flavor, omit the salt and boil the potatoes in chicken stock (which can be saved for soup stocks).

Mick Vann ©

My previous Chronicle review:

La Fruta Feliz
3124 Manor Rd.; 512-473-0037


Thursday, March 12, 2015

Overboard at the Deckhand Oyster Bar

The Deckhand Oyster Bar
500 Parker Dr., Round Rock
(512) 368-3379

So last (rainy, wet) weekend I somehow became intrigued by The Deckhand, a seafood shack and oyster bar in Round Rock that has Northern Thai owners. They have a few Thai items on the menu, so I thought that R and I might go and sample a few things for late lunch-early dinner on Saturday afternoon. We were leaning towards a Thai place in Georgetown, but they didn’t open until 5pm and we were both starving, so the choice was made. The Deckhand is technically on Parker, south of TX 45 and just west of IH 35, but when they put in TX 45, it chopped off Parker. So, to get there, you take the La Frontera exit off of the westbound TX 45 or frontage and do the turnaround lane to go back heading east; Parker will be the first big street on the right. You enter the restaurant into a long U-shaped bar filled with neighborhood beer types and a flat screen with a round ball game in progress, and the dining room is a little farther down. Both the bar and the dining room were pretty full when we were there, and the crowd was diverse, from blue collars to techies to a few starched collar types. Oddly, there was an abundance of feral kids. And the tables are all placed way too close together for the bulk of the Deckhand’s generously proportioned customers.

Spring rolls

We started with an order of Shrimp Spring Rolls ($4.99), which presented us with two fat rolls filled with rice vermicelli, lettuce, carrots, cilantro, red cabbage, mint, basil, and split shrimp, all wrapped in rice paper, and served with a rich, Thai peanut sauce. Recommended and tasty.

Calamari strips?...and rémoulade?

We ordered calamari strips with Cajun rémoulade ($6.99) and got a basket of what looked like cheese sticks, but were actually panko-battered logs of what came from either a very large squid body that had been cut into perfectly proportioned strips, or more likely cuttlefish. I was never completely sure that it wasn’t a processed product that had been shredded, compressed, and extruded. It was too uniform in size and batter to not send up frozen food warning flags. I have no idea if this is a Sysco/LaBatt/US Foods frozen heat-and-eat item or not. It was not what I had expected, but at least it wasn’t little tough rings with the consistency of rubber bands, and after all, it did taste vaguely squid-like. I’m certain it was not hog bung, the new faux squid, so we have that to be thankful for. The Cajun rémoulade tasted a lot more like chipotle mayonnaise than any Cajun rémoulade I’m familiar with. So as popular as the dish seemed to be at tables around us, it was not a hit with us.

Moo ping

Moo Ping ($7.99, and listed as Grilled Boar [which it clearly was not]) was plump skewers of tender pork with a coconut milk marinade. All of the moo ping I’ve had before in Thailand was dark and funky (and addictive as hell), and served with a seriously assertive jaew sauce of fish sauce (and maybe a touch of pla ra or nam pu), lots of shallot or garlic and chile, cilantro, palm sugar, and tamarind. The delicious sticks sold by the moo ping vendor that hangs around the Thai Telephone Building, just east of Siam Square in Bangkok, is a classic example of what moo ping should aspire towards. The Deckhand sauce was basically an herb paste, and not very assertive. Pla ra is a funky fish paste made from fermented fresh water fish and salt, while nam pu is a fermented salted paste made from freshwater crabs. Both instantly identify an Isaan dish at first taste. Moo ping dipping sauce should definitely have a degree of intense, umami-laden funkiness. If this was indeed wild boar, it was the most tender, un-gamey boar that I have ever eaten. The dish was okay, but lacked the northern Thai Isaan funk that I was hoping for.

Seafood papaya salad

R ordered the Papaya Seafood Salad ($12.99) which did have a modicum of Isaan funk to it, and I did extract some dark crab legs which could have been from some nam pu that was not pounded-up in the mortar. Hard to say. The dressing was actually very authentic tasting and probably a little spicier than the requested “8 out of 20 total”. The dish was a little shy on the seafood side for the price, but all in all, not a huge disappointment.


I had a bowl of their Seafood Gumbo ($5.99) that was passable. The seafood was diced fish and small cocktail shrimp, the vegetables were the requisite Holy Trinity, there was a dollop of white rice in the middle, and the herbs were right, but it needed some heat and some dark and nasty roux to really submerge the taste into the swampy depths of a true Cajun Creole flavor palate.

Seafood noodle soup

I also ordered a bowl of their Deckhand Seafood Noodle Soup ($9.99) which was billed as rice noodles in a Thai tom yum talay broth, “with rice noodles with shrimp, fish, calamari, fish-ball, yellow onion, bean sprouts, mushroom, cilantro, tomato, green onion in Thai herb lemongrass (tom-yum broth)”. It was huge and contained the promised seafood and noodles, but the broth was a pale imitation of a true tom yum broth. It had little spiciness, and lacked the fragrant kiss of Thai lime leaf and lemongrass. As a bowl of seafood broth with noodles it succeeds, but as tom yum talay, it fails.

Catfish...note bizarre hushpuppy imitation objects, left

I also tried a one fillet plate of fried catfish ($8.99, for three fillets), which came with thin, uninspired frozen fries, and small, bizarre spheres of hushpuppies that had been cut in half before frying. Tiny little things they were, and once again, shaped too consistently to not be a frozen product which had been lopped in half. The catfish tasted fresh, but the cornmeal batter was too thick for my liking.

During the course of the meal we had four different servers, all of whom did an adequate job, but it was a little strange to see a busy restaurant floor that discombobulated. Maybe our table sat in between two sections and they couldn’t decide who got us. Who knows why we were waited on by committee. For a final assessment, I’d call it adequate although uninspired seafood served in large portions, at prices that fall just below the level that could cause alarm. For the residents of the vast apartment and condo land surrounding The Deckhand, it works just fine. For me, not so much.

Mick Vann ©

Monday, March 9, 2015

Mapo Doufu Attack!


Art and I dropped by Sichuan River for a quick lunch on a cold, rainy Saturday. It was my idea, because I was jonesing big-time for a steaming bowl of mapo doufu (Sichuan style spicy bean curd with minced pork), which, to me, is the ultimate comfort dish for a miserable weather day, and the true, no bullshit test of a Chinese restaurant’s skill level. I remembered that they had a good version, and Sichuan River is light years closer to our South Austin haunts than A+A Sichuan Garden way up on 183. Although the two restaurants feature different menus, they have a common provenance.

Mapo doufu at most restaurants is a poorly conceived imitation of the real dish, so I have to be really careful where I order it, or I’ll receive the bland dreck that I expect. It is a lot like hot and sour soup. Back in the day, when most American Chinese restaurants featured egg drop and won ton soup, if you found hot and sour soup on a menu, you could bank on it being a dish that would be cooked to order. Not that many Americans knew what hot and sour soup was, and when you found it on a menu, you could expect a large bowl of freshly made soup, with a rich, porky stock loaded with golden needles, cloud ear fungus, shredded pork, bamboo shoots, garlic, ginger, scallions, black vinegar, Sichuan preserved hot bean paste and fermented chile paste, tofu, and velvety egg drop.  On top you could expect a puddle of aromatic sesame oil and minced scallion. It was rich and complex, spicy and sour.


Let the average American learn about it and start asking for it, and the dish immediately gets dumbed down. Make it one of three varieties of free soup added to the lunch special, and the soup gets dumbed down even further, ending up a vapid broth made with soy sauce, with a few bamboo shoots and egg drop, and a dash of black pepper and vinegar. It really is criminal the way that one of my favorite soups has been degraded over time, and inconceivable that it is now one of the most difficult Chinese soups to find properly made at a restaurant. Much like mapo doufu, it has been subjugated by the mediocrity of the average American palate. I had hoped that Sichuan River’s version of hot and sour soup would relive the old-school glory of what the soup was meant to be, but their version was only slightly better than the competition’s. Same with A+A, Asia Café, and Sichuan House; they all have substandard versions of hot and sour soup, and contribute to it being a throwaway dish now, which is a real pity.

Mapo Doufu

Moving on, our pan fried dumplings were exceptionally good, with slightly chewy and nicely browned handmade wrappers encasing a rich, well-seasoned pork filling, accompanied by a nicely balanced soy-ginger dipping sauce. Their version of hot chile oil with mala (Sichuan peppercorns) is delicious, so no complaints at all in the dumpling department. We opted for a big steaming bowl of their mapo doufu, requested “spicy”, and what appeared was a cauldron of all that the dish should be. Thickened rich pork stock reinforced the spicy sauce, with ample amounts of minced pork, fermented black beans, and lots of umami-rich, fermented Sichuan chile bean paste. It is a paste made from fresh “two golden strips” chiles (erjin tiao) and fava beans (not soy beans, as many believe) which is then aged and fermented. The best and most famous paste is made in a town on the outskirts of Chengdu named Pixian. The fresher the sauce is, the redder the color will be. Paste which is aged and fermented the most will acquire a purplish hue. Generally the sauce is aged between 3 and 5 years. The sauce goes by the name Sichuan chili bean sauce, chili bean paste, toban djan, and toban jhan, and is available in cans, bottles, ceramic jugs, and plastic pouches. Good brands are Chuan Lao and Sichuan Dan Dan but they can be hard to locate. Lee Kum Kee or the brand that comes in the 6 ounce blue can are acceptable if that is all you can locate, but they lack the fermented funkiness and the heat of the real deal bean paste. Overall, I would rate Sichuan River’s version just slightly less than the superior version produced at A+A Sichuan, which is very high praise indeed. It is deliciously done at the River.

ChongQing Mala Chicken

We also ordered CK 17, ChongQing Mala Chicken (AKA LAzi Ji), which is a classic Sichuan dish of marinated chicken that is first fried in oil, and then dry stir fried with lots of garlic and Sichuan chiles. The version here substituted Sichuan chile paste for the whole chiles, and we loved their version. We both remarked about how tasty the dish was, and it disappeared way too quickly. Highly recommended. We also ordered a platter of Shanghai Mixed Meat Noodles, which could have easily been omitted. It was nothing special, and paled in comparison to the dumplings, mapo dofu, and the chicken dish. This has been my second time to eat here since it changed over to Sichuan River and I am absolutely delighted to have a southside Chinese restaurant that serves an admirable mapo doufu.

Shanghai Nodles

Sichuan River
4534 W Gate Blvd, Ste 105


Mick Vann ©

Saturday, February 21, 2015

National Margarita Day

The 1967 Señor Pico Cocktail menu

The Margarita

National Margarita Day is February 22.
In 2008, on average, Americans consumed 185,000 Margaritas per hour.
America is the world’s biggest consumer of tequila.

“Common” ratios for a margarita are:
2:1:1 = (50% tequila, 25% Triple Sec, 25% fresh lime or lemon juice)
3:2:1 = (50% tequila, 33% Triple Sec, 17% fresh lime or lemon juice)
3:1:1 = (60% tequila, 20% Triple Sec, 20% fresh lime or lemon juice)
1:1:1 = (33% tequila, 33% Triple Sec, 33% fresh lime or lemon juice)

……although the IBA (International Bartending Association Official list of Cocktails) standard is:
 7:4:3 = (50% tequila, 29% Triple Sec, 21% fresh lime or lemon juice)

While the Margarita cocktail may or may not have been invented in Mexico, because it is made with tequila, lime, and salt, it is considered by most to be the consummate Mexican cocktail. The Margarita is the world’s most popular and best-known cocktail. You should know that the Spanish word margarita is the Latinized version of the name Margaret or Marjorie. It also the Spanish word for the daisy.

There is no cocktail recipe with a more discombobulated provenance than the margarita. No less than eighteen different folks claim the birth of the drink, spanning three decades. It even includes one creator across the ocean in London.

The Sidecar, the progenitor of the Margarita, originated in Paris sometime between 1914 and 1918. A Sidecar is brandy, Cointreau, and lemon juice. Substitute the brandy with tequila, the lemon with lime, and you have a Margarita. According to David Embury in The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks (1948), the cocktail was created during WWI by a pal of his who went to his favorite bistro in Paris riding in the sidecar of a motorcycle; hence the name.

The famous Pegu Club Cocktail (gin, orange curaçao, and fresh lime juice) has been around since the 1920s, and probably goes back further than that. It was the signature cocktail of a bar that catered to foreigners outside of Rangoon, Burma; the bar was named after the Pegu River. The reported first printed mention is in Harry Craddock’s famous 1930 The Savoy Cocktail Book, where he contends that the cocktail was of worldwide renown at that time. Some contend it was published earlier in Barflies and Cocktails (1927) by Harry McElhone of the famous Harry's New York Bar in Paris. Craddock used orange curaçao in his Pegu, while others used Cointreau.

The Margarita is basically a Sour, and Sours are one of the earliest cocktails (the Brandy Sour dates to at least 1850). According to Master Mixologist Guru Gary Regan, there are three main categories of Sours: Classic, International and New Orleans. A Classic Sour is sweetened by a non-alcoholic product, such as sugar, a syrup, or a sweet fruit juice (Daiquiri, Whiskey Sour). Both International and New Orleans Sours, as defined by Regan, get their sweetness from a liqueur. International Sours call for a base liquor, lime or lemon juice, and are sweetened by a liqueur, another fruit juice, or both. Both the Sidecar and the Pegu Club Cocktail are forms of a New Orleans Sour, which is made from a base spirit, orange liqueur, and a sour citrus, lemon or lime. That recipe is sounding more and more like a Margarita.

The Slightly More Modern Margarita Timeline
All of the following have been credited with inventing the Margarita cocktail, at one time or another.

· Some allege that Margaritas were served in the bar at the Aqua Caliente Racetrack in Tijuana, Mexico in 1930; the track opened in 1929.

· Doña Bertha, 1930
Doña Bertha, the owner of Bertha's Bar, the oldest bar in Taxco, Mexico, might have created the precursor to the drink around 1930, although little is known of the tale. There are repeated literary references to a tequila and lemon cocktail called “The Bertha” that had a splash of red wine.

· Bartender “Willie” from Mexico City, who in 1934, while working for the Melguizo Family at Los Dos Republicas Restaurante, concocted the drink for Marguerite Hemery, who had lived since the early 1930s in the small ranching town of Lyford, Texas, in the Rio Grande Valley. She went to the restaurant in Matamoros, Mexico where she was friends with the owners. The barkeep, known only as “Willie”, composed a special drink for her that was essentially the Margarita, naming the cocktail in her honor.
· Danny Negrete, 1936, whose recipe was equal parts of tequila, triple sec, and lime juice, made with crushed ice. According to Danny Negrete’s son, Salvador, his father opened a bar at the Hotel Garci-Crespo in Tehuacán, Puebla, with his dad’s brother, David. The day before David's marriage, Daniel invented the margarita as a wedding present to Margarita, his future sister-in-law. His version was made using equal amounts of tequila, triple sec, and fresh lime juice, but had no salted rim.

· “Irish” Madden, at a nameless bar in Tijuana, 1936
In the summer of 1936, James Graham, owner and editor of the Moville, Iowa, newspaper took his wife to southern California on vacation. They ventured to Tijuana for drinks and their cabbie told them about a bar run by an Irish bartender named Madden, who was famous for a cocktail he created called the “Tequila Daisy.” Madden was not chatty, but after being pressed, admitted that the drink had been a mistake, “In mixing a drink, I grabbed the wrong bottle and the customer was so delighted that he called for another and spread the good news far and wide.” (One of the earliest known recipes for the brandy daisy was published in 1876 in the second edition of Jerry Thomas' The Bartenders Guide or How To Mix Drinks: The Bon-Vivants Companion. It was made with gum syrup, curaçao, lemon juice, brandy, and a dash of rum and seltzer. Through the decades, the liquors and liqueurs changed. By the release of the 1941 Old Mr. Boston’s De Luxe Official Bartender's Book the recipe had morphed into brandy, lemon juice, raspberry syrup or grenadine, and powdered sugar.)

· Syracuse Herald, 1936
Without noting a specific recipe or inventor, a drink called the Tequila Daisy was mentioned in the Syracuse Herald as early as 1936. Margarita is Spanish for “Daisy”, which is a nickname for Margaret. The first mention in print of a tequila Daisy was in The Movie Mall of July, 1936 where the editor commented on finding the drink popular in bars across the border in Aqua Caliente and Tijuana, Mexico.

Johnny Durlesser

· Johnny Durlesser, head barman at McHenry’s Tail o’ the Cock Restaurant, 1936-37
Durlesser told The Van Nuys News in January, 1955 that he invented the margarita in 1937. The August/September, 1966 issue of Bon Appetit Magazine also credits Durlesser with inventing the drink, but “in 1936 when... [Durlesser] was asked to duplicate a drink a lady customer had once tasted in Mexico. He put together a drink which pleased the lady, whose name was Margaret, and today his ‘duplication’ is well known as the Margarita cocktail.” The magazine also reports that Durlesser entered the drink “in a national competition of original drinks and it won third place.” This claim has never been confirmed. Tail O’ the Cock owner Shelton McHenry did later hang out socially with Margarita Sames.

· The Picador, 1937
A recipe called the Picador was invented in London in 1936, and was published in 1937 in W.J. Tarling's Cafe Royal Cocktail Book. Made of tequila, Cointreau, and lime juice, it lacked the salted rim. The Picador calls for ¼ fresh lime or lemon juice, ¼ Cointreau, ½ tequila, shaken and strained; the basic Margarita recipe. The Picador was only one of 15 tequila cocktails in the book, which shows how popular tequila was in Europe at the time. Of all of the contenders for heritage, this seems the earliest to the true Margarita.

Danny Herrera

· Danny Herrera, 1938
At the Riviera del Pacifico Hotel and Casino in Ensenada, Mexico, famed bartender Carlos “Danny” Herrera was hopelessly smitten with Marjorie King, an aspiring American actress. Supposedly, tequila was the only liquor that she could drink (some versions say she was allergic to all other booze), and she hated drinking it straight. He developed the drink to win her favor. Some accounts say this took place at his Tijuana-area restaurant at Rosarita Beach, Restaurante Rancho La Gloria. Legend says that he developed the drink based on the flavors of the typical accompaniment to a tequila shooter, lime and salt. He poured tequila over shaved ice then added lemon and triple sec, and translated Marjorie's name to its Spanish equivalent, Margarita.

· Rita De La Rosa, 1938
According to legend from advertising for Jose Cuervo Margarita Mix, an unamed bartender created the cocktail in 1938 in honor of the beautiful Mexican showgirl, Rita De La Rosa.

· Don Carlos Orozco, October 1941
Bartender Don Carlos Orozco concocted the mixture of equal parts tequila, Damiana, and lime, served over ice in a salt-rimmed glass for Margarita Henkel, daughter of the German Ambassador to Mexico, at Hussong’s Cantina in Ensenada, Mexico (established 1892). Damiana is a traditional Mexican liqueur made with the Damiana shrub, Turnera diffusa, a native of Baja and a reputed aphrodisiac. Its flavor is sweetly floral, hebaceously woody, and mellow.

Margarita Cansino, AKA "Rita Hayworth"

· Enrique Bastate Gutierrez, early 1940s
Gutierrez, a bartender in Tijuana, Mexico, boasted that he created the Margarita as an homage to actress Rita Hayworth, whose real name was Margarita Cansino. Other versions of the story claim the Margarita cocktail was indeed named after the actress, but in the 1930s, before she acquired her screen name. As a teenager, Margarita Cansino worked as a dancer at the Foreign Club, in Tijuana, where she supposedly inspired a bartender, while turning a lot of other mens heads. She also danced at the Aqua Caliente Racetrack in the early 1930s.

· Francisco “Pancho” Morales, July 4, 1942
One story has bartender Pancho Morales inventing the drink on July 4th at a bar in Juarez named Tommy’s Place. A woman came up to Morales and ordered a cocktail called a Magnolia, made with brandy, Cointreau, and an egg yolk, with a Champagne floater. Morales could only remember that the drink contained Cointreau, so he improvised. After mixing Cointreau with tequila, he named the new concoction after a different flower, the daisy.

· 1945
In Anthony Dias Blue’s The Complete Book of Spirits, the first importer of Jose Cuervo Tequila into the United States advertised with the tagline, “Margarita: it’s more than a girl’s name.” He contends that the drink must have already been fairly common for the advertising to make that reference. Vern Underwood,  president of Young’s Market Co., which had distributed Jose Cuervo tequila since the 1930s, asked Shelton McHenry, owner of Los Angeles’ Tail O’ the Cock restaurant, why they were ordering so many cases of Cuervo. After learning of the drink (see 1936 entry for Johnny Durlesser, above), Underwood came up with the tagline. McHenry was a close social friend of Margarita Sames, and Carlos "Danny" Herrera claimed to be good friends with the Mexican bartender at the Tail o' the Cock restaurant. The history gets convoluted quickly.

· Al Hernandez and Morris Locke, La Plaza Restaurant in La Jolla, California, 1947
Calling California Home, by Heather Waite, attributes bartender Al Hernandez and La Plaza owner Morris Locke as the inventors of the margarita. According to an article in the San Diego Union-Tribune, Hernandez invented the drink after Locke had tasted something similar at Danny Herrera’s Rancho La Gloria. Hernandez then experimented and came up with his own version. (Herrera's used lemon juice, Hernandez and Locke used lime juice.)

Peggy Lee

· Santos Cruz, 1948
The Balinese Room in Galveston, Texas, was a notorious illegal gambling casino built into the Gulf on a 600 foot pier, owned by Sicilian brothers Sam and Rosario Maceo. It was nationally known, with first rate performers (Sinatra, George Burns, Bob Hope, The Marx Brothers, etc.) and renowned for superb food and drinks. Head bartender Santos Cruz was said to have created the cocktail for singer Margaret “Peggy” Lee in 1948, naming the drink after her. The Texas Rangers (the law enforcement Rangers, not the professional baseball team) finally shut the joint down in 1957. It reopened in 2001, and was destroyed by Hurricane Ike in 2008.

shown here somewhat older than 35 years of age

· Margaret Sames, December 1948
Wealthy Dallas socialite Marguerite “Margarita” Sames loved to create drinks for her party guests using whatever she could find behind the bar. When she was 35 years old, during a 1948 Christmas party at a borrowed vacation home (hers was still under construction) in Acapulco, Mexico, she mixed 2 parts silver tequila with one part each of Cointreau and fresh lime juice, and being familiar with licking salt before taking a shot of tequila, she decided to lightly coat the rim with table salt. Over the years, Bill and Margarita served the drink to their guests, referring to it as “The Drink” or “Margarita's Drink.” After Bill presented Margarita with a set of champagne glasses with her name etched on them, the drink got its official name. Bill and Margarita ran in a powerful set, who all loved her cocktail, including hotelier Nick Hilton (who was also Elizabeth Taylor’s first husband), Tail O’ the Cock owner Shelton McHenry, Hotel Bel-Air owner Joseph Drown, movie stars Lana Turner and John Wayne, and other worldly guests and friends that later served the drink in their hotels and restaurants, spreading the drink around the globe. Sames moved to El Paso, Texas, in 1958 where she was well known for her lavish parties, and eventually settled in San Antonio in her golden years.

As was reported in the San Antonio Express-News in 1994, when they did a feature on her for the 45th anniversary of the cocktail: “Margarita and her husband, Bill, invited some friends from Dallas to visit them in Acapulco. Their cliffside hacienda was under construction, so they borrowed a home from a local friend, with luxurious grounds and a pool with a swimming bar. Sames wanted to make a refreshing drink that could be enjoyed poolside before lunch. ‘After all, a person can only drink so many beers or so many Bloody Marys, or screwdrivers or whatever,’ she said. ‘I wanted to make up a new drink.’
Margarita had initially tried to invent a rum drink, inspired by her visits to Cuba, but had no success. Tequila was her favorite spirit, so she turned there. Having tasted and enjoyed the orange-based French liqueur Cointreau, she decided to combine the two. At the time, she said, there were no mixed drinks using tequila, which was mostly served in classic style in a shot glass, with salt and a slice of lime. (There was a popular tequila cocktail called the Tequila Daisy, popular during World War II; a mix of tequila, citrus juice and grenadine served over shaved ice that was derived from the Brandy Daisy - MV) Mrs. Sames’ mixology attempts were not immediately successful. ‘I was pushed into the swimming pool quite a few times because some of those first drinks were so bad,’ she recalled. As she experimented with various combinations of tequila and Cointreau, they were either too sweet or too sour. Eventually she found a recipe that suited her, with lime juice used to balance the alcohol and a light dusting of salt on the glass rim to add pizzazz.”

Margarita Sames’ recipe and tips for making a good Margarita, from a talk show during the 1990’s: “First, you must use a good tequila—one that is authentic, made in Jalisco, Mexico. I prefer a white tequila, not any of this gold stuff. No blenders ever. Shake it or stir the drink in a pitcher. Do not strain. Use Cointreau, not the less expensive and less flavorful Triple Sec. The original Margarita recipe: 3 jiggers tequila, “or you can do 2,” 1 jigger Cointreau and 1 jigger lime juice. Serve over ice cubes, “not those little chips.” “Most people over-salt their Margarita glasses. I take a piece of lime and go all around the rim of the glass with it. Then I put regular kitchen salt on a paper towel. Just put the glass down into the salt and then pick it straight up.”

· Esquire Magazine, 1953
The first appearance in print of a drink actually called “Margarita” is the December, 1953 issue of Esquire Magazine, which helps support the notion that she invented it, and the recipe was spread around by her influential friends. Margarita Sames’ original Margarita recipe is featured on page 76 of that issue.

· Rusty Thompson, 1961
A later story is that the margarita was actually invented in October, 1961, at a party in Houston, Texas, by party guest Robert James “Rusty” Thomson while acting as bartender. He concocted a mixture of equal parts tequila, orange liqueur, lime, and crushed ice in a salt-rimmed glass. However, Thomson's recipe was made with Damiana liqueur, not Cointreau. Supposedly the idea was an experiment after running out of rum while making frozen daiquiris.

Of all of the possible origin stories listed here, Sames’ story seems the most plausible, but it is hard to discount the other stories, especially when you consider the complex interaction of the players involved. Truth be told, there were similar cocktails around for decades, but Sames seems to be the first to serve it with the proper proportions, in a glass with a salted rim.

Victor "Trader Vic" Bergeron

The person credited for really popularizing the Margarita was Victor “Trader Vic” Bergeron, who owned California’s Señor Pico chain of restaurants. In the 1960s he went to Mexico to do research on a cocktail containing tequila, but discovered that Mexicans drink tequila straight. So he collected recipes for tequila cocktails from other restaurants around the States, and settled on the Margarita. By 1973 his restaurants sold more tequila than any other restaurant in the world.

Mariano Martinez

Although I consider a frozen Margarita an abomination, I should probably mention that the world’s first frozen margarita machine was invented on May 11, 1971 by a Dallas restaurateur named Mariano Martinez. He modified a soft-serve ice cream machine into the first frozen margarita machine to create a consistent, mass produced beverage. He got his inspiration from a frozen slushee machine he saw at a convenience store. Frozen Margaritas and Piña Coladas were all the rage back then, but they had to be made in a blender, which was time consuming, loud, and didn’t make for a very consistent product. His invention popularized the bar and the frozen Margarita at his Dallas TexMex restaurant, El Charro, and the category of frozen drink machines has gotten ever more popular through the years. His original machine now resides in the Smithsonian Institute.

Margarita Rim Dust
I like to reinforce the flavors of the cocktail in the salt mixture that coats the rim of the glass.
1 part powdered lime
1 part powdered orange
1 part sea salt, finely ground
½ part superfine sugar
Mix all of the dust ingredients together and store in an airtight container. Place in a rimmed saucer to apply the dust to a glass rim. Dip the outside of the rim in saucer of a mixture of half triple sec and half lime juice to wet the rim before rolling the outside of the rim into the rim dust.

Well or House Margarita
2 ounces Alteño, Espolón, El Padrino, Olmeca Altos, or Milagro Blanco tequila
1 ounce Hiram Walker or Stirrings triple sec
½ to 1 ounce fresh lime juice, to taste

Shake with ice until well chilled, strain into a dust-rimmed flute for straight-up, or a dust-rimmed double rocks over ice. Garnish with a lime wheel and a lemon twist.

Top Shelf Margarita
2 ounces Siete Leguas, El Tesoro, Herencia, KAH, or Don Julio Blanco tequila
1 ounce Cointreau
½  to 1 ounce fresh lime juice, to taste

Shake with ice until well chilled, strain into a dust-rimmed flute for straight-up, or a dust-rimmed double rocks over ice. Garnish with a lime wheel and a lemon twist.

Prima Margarita

2 ounces El Tesoro Paradiso, Herradura Selección, Don Julio 1942, or Siete Leguas Reposado
1 ounce Grand Marnier Cuvee du Centenaire
½ to 1 ounce fresh Key lime juice, to taste

Shake with ice until well chilled, strain into a dust-rimmed wine flute for straight-up, or a dust-rimmed double rocks over ice. Garnish with a lime wheel and a lemon twist.

The classic Champagne coupe glass for a straight-up Margarita is a horrible choice. It exposes too much surface of the drink to the air, allowing the drink to warm up rapidly. The goal is to keep it chilled as long as possible. A Champagne flute is designed to keep Champagne chilled for a longer time by limiting air exposure, with a long stem preventing the hands from warming the bottom of the bowl portion of the glass. Fruit and vegetable powders used in making the rim dust are available online, or in some health food stores.

Mick Vann©

Excerpted from my upcoming eBook:

Favorite Dishes from Regional Mexico, Texas and the Border, and New Mexico