Spicy Jalapeño Margarita
2 oz jalapeño-infused tequila (or red chili pepper-infused tequila)
1 oz Cointreau
¾ oz lime juice
½ oz simple syrup
Combine all ingredients in a shaker, fill with ice. Shake for 8-10 seconds and strain into a rocks glass over fresh ice that has been rimmed with salt (optional), or serve straight up if you prefer. Garnish with a lime wheel or jalapeño slice, if you like.
Once a novelty, over the past 15-20 years, the Spicy Margarita has elbowed its way into the upper echelon of the most popular cocktails in the U.S., to the point that you can now find a premix for it at Williams Sonoma, and Organic Jalapeño Limeade Trader Joe’s.
There are two basic ways to add jalapeño to a margarita, both of them simple. The first, and my personal choice, is to infuse it with the tequila (which takes less than an hour!), the other is to muddle fresh jalapeño right into the drink.
Because the level of spiciness varies from pepper to pepper, how much you need or how long you infuse will vary as well. So be sure to taste before you serve to ensure you’ve reached your desired degree of heat, or haven’t overshot it (during the Super Bowl of 2008, I made a Margarita so spicy I had to stretch it out over 4 additional Margaritas until it was drinkable). Outlined below is what I’ve found usually works, but I’ve certainly experienced outliers on both ends.
Or, if you willing to forgo the jalapeño, try making red chili pepper-infused tequila, which is much more consistent. You won't get any jalapeño flavor, of course, but the heat they give off - which is most important - is virtually identical.
This recipe is for a whole bottle but it can be extrapolated or minimized as needed. Just stick to the same ratio, about 1 pepper per 4-5 ounces of tequila. You can speed up the process by increasing the ratio of jalapeõs to tequila.
5 Large Jalapeño Peppers
1 750 ml bottle of blanco/silver tequila
Cut the heads off the jalapeños and slice them lengthwise.
Combine them with the tequila in a large container - a mixing bowl, quart measuring cup or pitcher work well.
Let it sit, stirring once or twice and tasting periodically until the desired level of heat is achieved. This will typically take 15-30 minutes, but you really never know.
Run the mixture through a fine strainer to removing all solids (you don’t any rogue jalapeño seeds in there) and funnel it back into the tequila bottle. This can be stored at room temperature.
Note: If the tequila comes out too spicy you can reduce it by cutting it with non-infused tequila.
Muddling Fresh Jalapeño
If using non-infused tequila. Slice half of a jalapeño into coin-sized discs starting from the stem end where there are more seeds. You'll need be about 5-6. Muddle them with the simple syrup and proceed with the recipe. If you let the jalapeños sit a minute or two with the other ingredients before shaking, it'll increase the heat. Be sure to use a fine strainer to catch the seeds.
How Spiciness is Measured: Capsaicin Levels
Spiciness in peppers is caused by an oily type of chemical compound called capsaicin. The word is a derivative of Capsicum, the scientific name for the genus that encompasses all types of peppers. The amount capsaicin and relative spiciness of a pepper is measured in by the Scoville Scale, which assigns pepper with a certain number of "Scoville units". Jalapeños have a natural range of 2,500-10,000 units, though some are cultivated to be milder. Striations on the pepper, which look like little white lines running up the side, are said to correlate with increased spiciness.
Other Ways to Add Spice to Margaritas (or Anything)
While jalapeños peppers are the most common choice for spicing up Margaritas - no doubt because they are a common ingredient in foods we are used to enjoying Margaritas with, salsa, guacamole, tacos, etc. - there other peppers that’ll do the trick. Serrano peppers are a good substitute. Though they are spicier, 10,000-25,000 Scoville units, so you’ll want to use less initially.
Red Chili Pepper-Infused Tequila
Crushed red pepper flakes, like what you’d put on pizza, are in many ways better for making spicy tequila than jalapeños. They are typically made from cayenne peppers and because they are dried their spiciness is concentrated, so they infused very quickly using very little. They're also more predictable, infusing time takes far less guesswork.
1 tablespoon red pepper flakes
1 750ml bottle of tequila
Steep for about 8 minutes. Fine strain through a mesh strainer to catch all the sediment.
More Spicy Margarita Variations
If you like spice in Margaritas, chances are you’ll like it in just about any Margarita variation. Jalapeño tequila (or muddled fresh jalapeño) is fantastic in both the Strawberry and Watermelon Margarita recipes listed on the Margarita page. Another one of my favorites is a Spicy Ginger Margarita, which is simply the recipe above with ginger syrup in place of simple syrup. Yum!