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Pairing Food with Tequila

03 | 29 | 2011

Tequila Tasting


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 tequilas.

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 dishes. 

Fun Fact: Mexican law deems that all Tequila must contain at least 51% agave. Anything less than 100% is designated as mixto.

Here’s a general list of flavor affinities:

Mexican food, of course! And, obviously, anything spicy, grilled, served with salsa accompaniments, or flavored with citrus. Try to mimic the flavors of Tequila.

  • Lime juice
  • Lemon juice
  • Orange juice
  • Salt
  • Cointreau
  • Chile peppers
  • Cilantro
  • Fruit juice
  • Ginger
  • Grenadine
  • Pomegranate juice
  • Sage
  • Sugar
  • Vermouth
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 soup),
  • Then a reposado with the main course, and
  • Then finish the meal with an añejo, which generally pairs well with desserts.

Most connoisseurs suggest trying three varieties from same producer so that you can really see and taste the nuances that occur during the aging process.

Try three varieties from same producer

Fun 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.

Food Pairings with Blanco TequilaSilver (plata, blanco)

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.

Blanco Tequila 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.

Most 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
  • Guacamole
  • Red chile enchilada or tamale dishes.
  • Chili Chicken Quesadillas
  • Sweet & Sour Pork Tempura
  • Lobster-Corn Dumplings
  • Spicy Crab Tostitos
  • Tomato-Corn Gazpacho with Avocado
  • Jicama-Crab Rollitos
  • Asparagus and crab salad with Pixie tangerine dressing; sage bread
  • Shrimp Ceviche or Scallop Cerviche
  • Chipotle 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.
  • Escabeche 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 Purée
  • Corona Battered Crispy Onion Rings
  • Marinated Lobster Tail and Scallop Pinchos

Reposado TequilaDish pairings with Reposado Tequila

Reposado Tequila 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. 
  • Crab 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 Coriander recipe
  • Roasted Chicken and Saffron Lobster Mashed Potatoes
  • Cheeses:  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 Honey-Mascarpone
  • 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.


Dishes to pair with AnejoAñejo Tequila

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 Bean Tostada
  • Fresh Corn-Jalapeno Cake stuffed with Goat Cheese Mousseline & Fig
  • Grilled shrimp, scallops or crab
  • Black pepper panna cotta and strawberry and pink peppercorn coulis.
  • 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
  • Sirloin Steak Tiradito with Traditional Chimichurri
  • Pechuga Rellena-Adobo marinated roasted chicken
  • 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 mousse
  • 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:



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!)

Drink Recipes
Food Recipes


Karen McConnaughey: Operations Manager for FocusOnMexico.

Focus On Mexico offers 8-Day Educational Programs to Ajijic and Lake Chapala, Mexico (2nd Best Climate in the World). Join us on a Focus program and learn why thousands of Americans and Canadians chose to retire in Lake Chapala.

Our programs offer the perfect balance; a wonderful vacation and an insightful, educational experience. Our expert speakers cover all topics: Health Care, Real Estate, Legal System, Immigration, Bringing Pets, Cost of Living, US Taxes for Americans, Non-Residency for Canadians, Living on the Lakeside, Investing in Mexico, Mexican Economy and much more...

You’ll get everything you need to help you decide if Lake Chapala, Mexico is the place for you, plus have a lot of fun doing it. Retiring in Mexico couldn't be better.



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