Honest-to-Goodness Margaritas for a Crowd

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In the age of the 32-ounce (or larger) Big Gulps and the like, a small drink may not necessarily seem fashionable. But large quantity is not always related to good quality, as is attested by those mammoth margaritas, laced as they are with artificially flavored sweet-and-sour mix. This margarita is the real thing: purity and refreshing freshness that's strained into martini glasses after a vigorous rumble with ice cubes in a cocktail shaker. Just before your guests arrive, combine the tequila, orange liqueur, and lime juice in a pitcher, and you'll be poised for the shaking to begin.

Though we gave an "equal part" recipe for the three main ingredients in our Top-of-the-Line Margarita in Rick Bayless's Mexican Kitchen, these proportions focus a bit more on the flavor of the good tequila. And it's silver (unaged) tequila here, the freshest and most agave-flavored of the tequilas. Reposado (6-month-old) tequila is a little softer, without the bright freshness of a silver, while the añejo (aged) tequila is moving toward the flavor of an aged brandy ­ and I personally don't think that's what margarita flavor is all about.

Ingredients
 

  • 1 750-milliliter bottle silver tequila (in this margarita, the better the tequila, the better the drink. Try Herradura, El Tesoro, El Viejito, Patron, or practically any of the 100 percent agave tequilas that are available in the market)
  • 1 to 2 cups (1/3 to 2/3 of a 750-milliliter bottle) triple sec or Cointreau
  • 1 cup freshly squeezed lime juice, plus several tablespoons extra for rimming the glasses
  • Several tablespoons coarse (kosher-type) salt, for rimming the glasses
  • About a gallon of ice cubes
Instructions

1. Just before serving, in a half-gallon pitcher combine the tequila, the minimum amount of triple sec or Cointreau, and the lime juice. Taste and add more of the orange liqueur if you think your margaritas need more sweet oranginess to balance the other flavors. Remember, you're tasting it warm and undiluted: when chilled and diluted, the flavors will be mellower and the lime's tartness will be more compelling (tangy, warm champagne is not nearly as inviting as ice-cold).

2. Pour several tablespoons of lime juice onto one small plate, several tablespoons coarse salt onto another. Have martini glasses at hand (for an extra special touch, you can chill them). I like the 5-ounce size, since that size drink will stay cold from first sip to last. As your guests ask for their margaritas, invert a glass into the plate with the lime juice to moisten the rim, then lightly dip into the plate with the salt. For each drink measure 2 ounces (4 tablespoons) of the margarita mixture into a cocktail shaker ­ I can do 3 drinks at a time comfortably in mine. If you have a 2-ounce ladle that you can keep in the pitcher, measuring goes much faster. Add ice cubes (I put in 5 cubes for 1, 8 for 2, and 10 for 3). Secure the lid and top and shake vigorously for 10 to 15 seconds. Strain into the salt-crusted glasses and hand off to the lucky recipients.
Yield: 
Makes 20 to 24 old-fashioned margaritas
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