FOOD PAIRING TREND: TEQUILA!
by Karen McConnaughey
These days Tequila
is far removed from its old reputation of just a shot to get happy on! The
process of making fine-aged tequila is just as involved as a fine wine or Cognac so why not treat
it as one? Here are some great pairings of Tequila and food to host your next
Mexican fiesta. You’ll have to let us know how it comes out. As you will see
from my Sources below, I have gone through quite a few web sites for food
pairing ideas. I haven’t tried them all, but I’m definitely going to hit hubby
Bill up to try a few of them!
Fun fact: It takes about 15
pounds of agave piña to
make one liter of tequila.
First, you want
freshly made, robust food, and lots of it. Bottled salsas are convenient, and
some are quite good, but nothing compares to the way a freshly made salsa tickles
the palate. If you really want to impress your guests, serve a roasted
tomatillo or roasted red chile salsa with your meal. Roasting concentrates the
flavors of the tomatillos and the chiles, and adds a deep smoky taste that
particularly favors the fruitiness of not only sangrita, but also aged, oaky
Other suggestions range
from tomatoes and cucumbers fresh from the garden to seafood ceviche (with lime
and chilies) to marinated meats cooked over mesquite and citrus-flavored
desserts. All of these suggestions go really well with a smooth tequila be it a
Silver, a Reposado or Anejo.
Pairing Tequila with food is very
much like pairing wine, you look for things like acidity and freshness to cut
through fat, and things like tannin and bitterness to help break down meaty
Fun Fact: Mexican law deems that all Tequila must contain at least 51% agave. Anything less than 100% is designated as
Here’s a general
list of flavor
food, of course! And, obviously, anything spicy, grilled, served with salsa
accompaniments, or flavored with citrus. Try to mimic the flavors of Tequila.
- Lemon juice
- Orange juice
- Fruit juice
- Pomegranate juice
If you’re as loco about Tequila as I am, try pairing a different Tequila with
each course. A general rule of thumb for Tequila pairing with a three-course
meal is to go through each age category:
- Start with a
blanco/silver/plata Tequila with your appetizer (especially salad or
- Then a reposado
with the main course, and
- Then finish the
meal with an añejo, which generally pairs well with desserts.
connoisseurs suggest trying three varieties from same producer so that you can
really see and taste the nuances that occur during the aging process.
fact: Over 11,000,000 million
pounds are harvested every year for use in Tequila production and it takes each
plant a period of seven to nine years to mature!
Here are some
specific recipes, menus, tips and hints to go with the different types of
Tequila. Some of these meals were designed for Tequila tastings and are very
inventive food pairings prepared by the chefs involved. I have also included a few links to
recipes (you will have a link to the menu items highlighted orange at the bottom of the article...all the recipes are on one page) …some easy, some very creative in case there are some brave
souls out there.
Silver Tequila is also known as Blanco Tequila. Silver Tequila is usually 100% blue agave and is
not aged so that it purposely gives the drinker a stronger flavor of the blue
agave plant. The coloring of the Tequila is clear.
tastes delicious with a first course: something with acidity, like ceviche or
chips with salsa. With blanco, the distiller is showing you the true flavors of
the agave up front, it’s a great introduction to a meal and isn’t overwhelming.
cooks think that citrus is really the only thing that can complement a white Tequila.
That includes lemon, lime, bitter orange, Key lime, grapefruit, and even mango.
So any food that works with a citrus flavor, such as seafood or chicken, can
work well with Tequila. Think light seafood like tilapia or shrimp marinated in
Tequila and lime, then grilled with butter and sprinkled with cilantro and salt
- You would definitely order a blanco
with the salad course
- Red chile enchilada or tamale dishes.
- Chili Chicken
- Sweet & Sour Pork
- Lobster-Corn Dumplings
- Spicy Crab Tostitos
- Tomato-Corn Gazpacho
- Jicama-Crab Rollitos
and crab salad with Pixie tangerine dressing; sage bread
- Shrimp Ceviche or Scallop Cerviche
Pork Rib with Mango Drizzle
- Anchovy, black olive
and sun blushed tomato twists (Anchovy Twists Recipe). The combination of the cocktail and the Salty Pastry Twists works
really well with blanco — plenty of flavor and a good appetizer.
de Pescado (Traditional Fish Recipe)
(Escabèche is a dish of fish or meat that has been cooked then marinated
and served cold or at room temperature). The citrus and earthy punches of the Tequila works beautifully
with the sweet pickled flavors of the fish.
- Bean and Lobster Chili (White Lobster Chili), with Avocado
Yogurt and Charred Corn Salsa.
- Roasted Duck Breast with Grapefruit and Tequila Chutney, Purple Potato
- Corona Battered
Crispy Onion Rings
Lobster Tail and Scallop Pinchos
translated means rested. Reposado Tequila is aged in white oak caskets from two
months to a year. The aging process gives the Tequila a mellow oak flavor yet
still brings out the flavor of the blue agave. The coloring of a Reposado is
usually a slight yellow coloring. Here are some ideas and recipes of dishes
that go especially well with Reposado Tequila.
- An easy pairing could include anything with orange,
cinnamon and honey. Try braising a chicken thigh with a reduction of orange
juice, Tequila and honey, topped with a sprinkle of cinnamon.
- Incorporate reposado into a main course — a sauce with spiciness, a
steak or something grilled. It’s got a little more body, more character
and may even add some smokiness.
- Carne asada with
grilled veggies, pico de gallo and corn tortillas.
Empanadita with Salsa Verde
- Soup course—serve Reposado
with a light and spicy soup such as Caldo Tlapeno, with the smoky flavor of
chipotle. It is not too heavy and is very colorful. Reposado also goes
surprisingly well with a garlic soup, Sopa de Calabaza (Roasted acorn squash soup with Chipotle Croutons), or a tortilla soup.
Serve the soup in small bowls.
- Garlic Shrimp
- Global Gourmet
Menu: “For a fine
time marked by both good taste and tasty goods, consider this entree: Chile-Red
Tuna (or Chicken or Shrimp), grilled with thick, tangy Thick Roasted-Tomatillo Sauce.
You can serve the meal with a simple side dish of shredded cabbage in a
light vinaigrette, with a pinch of red chile, or a grilled vegetable
mixture, and of course a "completo*"
of Tequila. Add a few warm tortillas, a pinata, and some mariachi music
and you've got more than just dinner— you've got a fiesta.”
- Chicken Tamales with black beans, rice,
and corn salsa
- Chile Relleno with Jumbo Shrimp
- Fresh Crab Tostada
- Chicken with Lemon and
- Roasted Chicken and Saffron Lobster
A buttery mild cow's milk blue cheese from Belgium called Grevenbroecker, and
Seven Year Old Quebec, a tangy sharp cow's milk cheese with great depth of
flavor. Each cheese worked well with the smooth and mellow flavor of the Tequila.
Monterey Jack is also a good cheese with Reposado.
- Dessert: Mango Flambé with Tequila Brown Sugar
- Dessert: Orange Truffle Tart with Grand Marnier Berries and
- Chocolates can
bring out the distinctive characteristics of the reposado. In one Tequila
tasting, the first chocolate was a Toblerone Dark with honey and almond
and made the Tequila seem more lemony. The second chocolate, a Citrona
Barque, was semi-sweet and had an infusion of lemon/lime zest as well as
coarse Kosher salt. The effect on the Tequila was amazing. It made it even
smoother and more fruity.
Añejo Tequila is
aged in white oak caskets for over a year and must be aged in smaller batches.
The longer aging process gives the Tequila a stronger oak and more complex
flavoring. In fact, according to a Tequila expert, “a Tequila that’s been aged
one year is equivalent to a 15-year-old Scotch. The amber color of the añejo comes from
being aged in oak barrels for 14 to 18 months, and the Tequila really takes on
a subtle flavoring from the oak.
- Cheese: The cheeses used in one taste test
were Hoch Y Brig from Switzerland
and Amsterdam Reserve. Each cheese seemed to make the añejo even mellower,
while complementing a spicy finish.
- Chicken & Black
- Fresh Corn-Jalapeno Cake stuffed with
Goat Cheese Mousseline & Fig
- Grilled shrimp,
scallops or crab
- Black pepper panna cotta and strawberry and pink
- Lobster Chipotle Crab Cakes
- Pork Tenderloin
Confit and "Spiced Cider" Glaze with Grilled Portabello-Foie
Gras Bread Pudding
- Sliced Filet of
Beef Tenderloin roasted with Sweet Garlic, Honey-Roasted Carrots, Truffled
Potato Cake, Roasted Shallot Sauce
Steak Tiradito with Traditional Chimichurri
- Pechuga Rellena-Adobo marinated roasted
- Chile en nogada
- Tres leches cake
- Añejo and extra
añejo heads into the after-dinner drink realm, so try strong, rich flavors
like coffee and chocolate. Yep, just a simple Mexican coffee along with a
few squares of semi-sweet Ghiradelli chocolate will do the trick.
- Tequila-Misu with Bananas
- A mocha-infused
- The two chocolates
in one sampling were drastically different truffles. The first truffle was
a spicy Savannah
flavored with honey, cayenne, apello chili, white pepper, and hot
Hungarian paprika topped with a chili mango. It packed quite a punch, but
was delicious and contrasted beautifully by making the añejo burst with
fruitiness. The other truffle, by Cesjna, had a Morella cherry aged in
French brandy, with white pepper and a rich dark chocolate ganache. The
sweetness of the truffle combined with the smooth fruitiness of the añejo Tequila
truly made the final tasting an elegant dessert course.
- Flourless Chocolate Cake (Served with fresh
raspberry sauce and chocolate ganache)
And, last but not least, I ran across this wonderful menu on
Señor Jim’s page:
SENOR JIM'S MENU
* WARM TORTILLA CHIPS W/FIRE ROASTED TOMATO SALSA & GUCAMOLE
* MEXICAN SHRIMP COCKTAIL W/FRIED JUMBO PLANTAIN STRIPS
* GRILLED CHORIZOS W/SPICY DIPPING MUSTARD
* SEARED PASILLA CRUSTED RARE TUNA W/ SMOKED CHIPOLTE REMOULADE
* AGED TEQUILA SIMMERED PORK "CARNITAS" W/ CORN OR FLOUR TORTILLAS
* BBQ CHICKEN QUESADILLAS W/ CARMELIZED RED ONIONS, SMOKED CHEDDAR & LIME
Chorizo and Cheese Quesadillas)
* ARROZ CON FRIJOLES
* AGAVE NECTAR BAKED APPLES TOPPED W/ 1921 TEQUILA CREAM
Fun fact: It takes about 15
pounds of agave
piña tomake one liter of Tequila.
I would love to hear about your Tequila tastings, and if you’re in the Lake Chapala
area, would love to come be a taste tester! [BIG HINT!!!] You will definitely have a few
happy guests if you try any of these suggestions at your next party. Or suggest
to guests what to bring for a pot luck along with their favorite Tequila and
have a true taste test. Hopefully everyone will go away with a little more
understanding of Tequila and a little less inclination to indulge in that
classic pairing of poor quality Tequila with salt & lemon! Converting
people one cabillito at a time is my
mission in life!
For fun, I have also included Tequila drink recipes: Añejo Manhattan, Primal Scream and Dead Dog
Bark. Can’t wait to hear if anyone tries these!
When you come on a Focus on Mexico
tour, you will get a mini-lesson on Tequila and a taste of Ray’s famous
Margarita recipe on our final evening together. It might make you want to learn
more about Tequila…it did it for me!
Buen Provecho! (Good Eating!)
Karen McConnaughey: Operations Manager for FocusOnMexico.
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