On a recent reality television show episode, a guest on a private chartered yacht asked the chef to create a tequila pairing menu. For some inexplicable reason, the chef decided that eggplant parmesan would be the perfect main course. To probably no one's surprise, his idea was immediately shot down. Why? Because everyone knows that the best dishes to pair with tequila are ones from Mexico. Of course, the question remains: What should you order to go with your tequila the next time you're perusing the menu at your favorite Mexican restaurant?
Made from the blue agave plant, almost all tequila is produced in Jalisco, a state in Mexico. There are a few other areas in the Mexican states of Guanajuato, Michoacan, Nayarit and Tamulipas where tequila is also produced, but that's it. True tequila cannot be distilled in any other country. Like the word "champagne," the name tequila is protected, meaning that the liquor can't be sold under that moniker unless it is made in Mexico.
To understand which dishes would be best to pair with tequila, it helps to know a little bit about this Mexican alcohol. According to Cleveland.com, tequila is divided into three categories:
- Blanco or silver tequila. This variety is sometimes bottled immediately after being distilled. Otherwise, it is held for less than 60 days in either a stainless steel or other type of container before being bottled.
- Reposado. This tequila is aged for at least two months, but not for more than a year. The container of choice is typically an American oak barrel. Some companies will char the barrel to give the tequila a slightly smoky flavor or use casks that had been used for other types of alcohol, such as whiskey, to add flavor tones.
- Anejo. Considered the smoothest and the best for sipping, anejo tequila must be rested in small wooden barrels, usually made of oak, for at least a year. The aging process is said to mellow the taste of the tequila and also adds color to the liquor.
Pair with Flair
The type of dish you order in a restaurant to pair with your tequila depends a lot on whether you decide to go with blanco, reposado or anejo. According to Epicurious, the clear blanco tequila works well with acidic dishes and with light seafood. For example, it pairs well with ceviche, which is raw fish tossed with a citrus marinade, or with a Mexican shrimp cocktail. The clean, light taste of the blanco also works well with soups and salads. So if you're planning on doing a progressive tequila tasting menu, you might want to start with a blanco and your appetizers to open your dinner.
Because of the aging process, reposado tequila boasts a little more complex taste. It pairs well with spicy Mexican main courses, especially those that use chipotle and garlic. Consider, for example, pairing it with pork carnitas or chipotle chicken tacos.
If you're doing a progressive tequila tasting menu, you'll definitely want to end your meal with the smooth-sipping anejo. Chocolate works well with the rich flavor of anejo tequila, so one suggestion would be to pair it with a spicy Mexican chocolate cake. Or if you're full, you could just ask the waiter to bring you a beautiful anejo on the rocks and consider that your dessert.
Appreciation for tequila has been growing in recent years. In fact, according to the Fiscal Times, this liquor has seen its sales rise by 5.6 percent every year since 2002. If you haven't discovered for yourself what makes this liquor so popular, perhaps it's time to visit a local Mexican restaurant and try a few pairings for yourself. You can also contact companies like El Molinito Restaurant & Catering.