Friday, September 16, 2011

Tequila to celebrate Mexican Independence Day {She Made, Ella Hace}

What better to way to celebrate Mexican Independence Day than to raise our glasses to what is probably Mexico's most popular spirit - TEQUILA!  For this edition of She Made, Ella Hace, Leslie and I decided to feature not a recipe, but rather an ingredient.  So each of us are likely to have entirely different posts.  I'm extremely jealous of her at the moment, since she actually lives in the only state in Mexico that is actually allowed to produce tequila.  That state being Jalisco, where to town of Tequila is located and where blue agave plants grow very well due to its red volcanic soul.

Agave grows larger (taller, wider, juicier) and sweeter in the Highlands region, where most of the plants are grown on Western-facing slopes, since this allows them bask in the highest amount of sunlight each day.  In the Lowlands, the agave tend to grow smaller and closer to the earth, which (not surprisingly) produces an earthier flavor and aroma that is reminiscent of herbs and is more fibrous.
So, let's talk a little bit about the production of tequila.  Why not?  Jimadores (the men who harvest the plant) have been planting, tending, and harvesting the agave plant by hand since the beginning of tequila.  It is a skill to work quickly in tight rows of spiny agave fields.  They pull of the hijuelos (the new growth) carefully, so as to not damage to "mother plant", and then they transfer it to new rows.  Over time, they must learn the best time to harvest the piñas (the fruits that look a bit like the texture of a pineapple...) so that the amount of sugars needed for making tequila are just right.  If they pull it too soon, not enough sugars have formed, whereas if they pull it too late, then the plant will have used its sugars up in order to grow a quiote (long stem that holds seeds).  When the piñas are just right, usually weighing anywhere from 40 up to 120 pounds, they are cut away with a coa (special knife). Then they split the heart, or the piña or, and either cook them underground in a traditional palenque (underground pit) or in more steam ovens.  They are then allowed to cool before heading off to be mashed and shredded.
photo credits: 1. Saveur- agave piñas  2. Jimdo- splitting the piñas/hearts 3. Wikipedia- distillery  4. Townspicts- Oak barrels for aging Tequila
Next, the piñas are shredded and their juices are pressed out, using either a traditional tahona (stone wheel) or buy more modern machines, into fermentation tanks (either traditional wood or stainless steel).  The juice (called masquow), and occasionally the fiber, then sits and ferments for a few days, allowing the sugars to turn to alcohol.  At this time, the fermented liquid is distilled to produce a cloudy liquid, called Ordinario (ordinary) or distilled a second time to achieve a clearer liquid, referred to as Blanco (white) or Plata (silver).  At this point the tequila will be diluted and sold under the label "Silver" or pumped into barrels to allow it to age.
Most of the time, tequila is labeled in one of five categories.  The first, I mentioned, is called Silver or Blanco.  The liquid is white, un-aged and bottled immediately after distillation (or aged less than 2 months in barrels of Oak or Stainless Steel).  The second is Joven (young) or Oro (gold), which is a mixture of Blanco and Resposado.  The third type, Resposado (rested), is aged for a minimum of 2 months, but less than a year, in Oak barrels of any size.  The fourth type is Añejo (aged/vintage) is aged for a minimum of 1 year, but less than three in smaller-batch Oak barrels.  And the fifth, a category established just over five years ago, is Extra Añejo (extra-aged/ultra-aged), which is aged for at least three years in Oak barrels.
Of course, my first introduction to tequila was probably back in college where we did lame (but totally fun) party-things with tequila like Tequila Shooters....where you take a double shot glass and fill it half way with tequila, the other half with a soda (like Sprite), put your palm over the top and slam it onto the table then shoot it quick before it fizzes all over the place.  Perhaps when I was feeling a bit more sophisticated, I would drink a Tequila sunrise, that beautiful drink with layers of gold, orange, and red; topped with a slice of orange, a pineapple chunk and a maraschino cherry.  Or if feeling a wee-bit wild, I would go the lick it-slam it-suck it method.  Aaahhh, to be 21 again...(not really, I like my 30's).  I think I eventually worked my way up to Bloody Mary's Mexican Prima, the Bloody Maria and of course the ever-essential Mexican cocktail, the Margarita.  Oh yes, I love a Margarita in any form or flavor.  Frozen, blended and perfectly frothy or crisp and tart with ice cubes rattling around inside the glass of one on the rocks.  Heck, one of my favorite local Mexican restaurants (where incidentally, I worked as a cocktail waitress once upon a time, a long time ago) serves pitchers, mugs, and glasses of the frozen stuff.  You can choose flavors that range from original (lime) to cherry to creamsicle to mango...you can even swirl two flavors together.  I don't know if they still do it, but they used to have a special in which you could order a mug of frozen Margarita and you would get a shot glass hooked over side filled with your choice of tequila...which you would then "fortify" your Margarita with.  Picture warm, golden liquid floating atop that frosty mug...slowly melting in.  Oh yeah, you needed the food to soak it all up.  That's why their never-ending bowl of still-warm chips with salsa and ranch taste so damn good.  Of course now, in my "older" age, I will buy the "finer" bottles and do some relaxed sipping, instead.

So, no matter how you like to drink yours, I raise my glass to you and say...
SALUD!
Head on over to visit mi amiga, Leslie...and see how she celebrates with Tequila...right in its birthplace, Jalisco!
What happens when two American girls who are both married to Mexican guys find out that although one of them lives in the U.S. and one of them lives in Mexico, they both love eating the same food?  Well, naturally they decide to get "together" the only way they can and cook up the same dishes.  Or perhaps take the same ingredients and talking about them in their own voice or using them in their own way. 

Leslie and I have teamed up to occasionally cook/bake/make a our own versions of the same food.  We want to see how similar (or how different) they turn out.  Other times we will pick an ingredient and use it however we choose...or maybe just talk about it.  Good food knows no borders and we hope to share the food we love with you.  It's not a competition, it's a showcase.  We will post on the same day as each other and would love to hear your thoughts on what we've made and how you make it. 
Join me (here at girlichef) and Leslie in her kitchen (at La Cocina de Leslie) for some delicious food.
She Made, Ella Hace Banner- girlichef.com and lacocinadeleslie.com
sources:
~Wikipedia: Tequila
~Saveur