By Carly DeFilippo
When we think of margaritas and guacamole, the chill of December doesn’t exactly come to mind. But seasonally motivated chef Rick Bayless – a veritable authority on authentic Mexican cooking – enjoys the challenge of adapting these beloved classics year-round. Last week, he gave ICE an inside look at his winter spin on summer dishes.
The concept of celebrating both traditional recipes and modern adaptations is the driving philosophy behind Bayless’ latest cookbook, Frontera. For colder months, he warms the flavor of margaritas with the addition of ginger and tops things off with a bit of festive bubbly. When it comes to guacamole, he trades out tasteless winter tomatoes for apples, onion for roasted fennel, and cilantro for thyme. The result is a distinct deviation from these summertime favorites and might just inspire you to test out your own seasonal twists.
Chef Bayless’ expert tips:
- Different tequilas for different margaritas. Since it takes 8-10 years for a tequila plant to mature, aging is less a question of quality than of taste. A blanco tequila works well for a classic 1:1:1 (tequila, lime juice, orange liqueur), but for something smoother, he’ll choose a reposado.
- He often prefers “fresh” lime juice one day later. To mellow lime’s bite, squeeze one day ahead and refrigerate, tightly sealed.
- Salt isn’t an offense to margarita “purists”. Like most food, margaritas reach their full flavor potential when a few flakes are allowed to mix into the drink.
- Be careful in choosing your orange liqueur. There are two primary types: triple secs and orange-infused brandies. When it comes to triple sec, he tends towards Cointreau, but with the brandies, he often opts for Torres Orange, a lesser known, lighter cousin of the caramely Grand Marnier.
- “Deflame” your onions. Bayless explained that chopping onions releases sulfurous compounds, which is why they burn our eyes. Rinse cut onions under cold water for thirty seconds, and voila – a milder, less aggressive onion.
- Don’t buy a molcajete. Chef Bayless doesn’t appreciate table-side guacamole service, not only because few waiters are adept at preparing this dish, but also because the grinding of mortar and pestle leads to the aforementioned offensive onion flavor.
- Try a potato masher instead. It may not be high-tech, but it helps achieve a perfectly chunky texture.
- Keep the pit out of the bowl. The only thing that keeps guacamole from oxidizing is cold. For large events where guacamole risks to brown in the sun, Chef Bayless and his team use refrigerated terracotta flower pots to help keep guacamole cool.