Tuesday, August 02, 2011

It’s Michelada Time !

http://tmagazine.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/07/19/case-study-its-michelada-time/

While it continues to astonish me how the michelada — the Mexican doctored beer that is a godsend in these dog days — remains unknown even to many of my well-traveled drink-hound friends, there's also something about that which I enjoy. Most Mexican restaurants in New York, both high and low on the ladder, pull a puzzled face when you request one.

It remains that magnificent treat you somehow only remember when you cross the border to Mexico, plunking into a cafe seat on that first exhausting afternoon, contemplating what to order. Suddenly it hits that you are back in the land of micheladas. The first sip occasions the same reaction: Why don't I drink these all the time? Some treats are best savored in their natural habit. But when New York becomes synonymous with the Sonoran Desert, bringing Mexican heat-wrangling know-how to one's home glass is a savvy tactical maneuver.

The michelada neatly bridges two unsung categories of drinks I happen to love: savory cocktails and beer cocktails. Nailing down exactly what is in a michelada, or its sibling, the chelada, is like defining Zen; there is a set of acceptable ingredients from which you choose your tastes and proceed. As a loose definition, a michelada has some kind of tomato juice in it, often Clamato, and a chelada doesn't. (I find myself preferring the "without" kind, but it all depends on appetite, disposition, the angle of the sun and what the mariachi band is playing.) It could be considered a cousin of the Bloody Mary, or a spiced-up version of a Midwestern staple, the Red Eye.

In different regions of Mexico, what comes to the table when you order a michelada is what came when you ordered a chelada in other parts, and the ingredients get switched up a good deal, but that's part of the easy charm of this cooler: there's no rigidity. In many recipes — and even a cursory search will turn up hundreds — the same suspects come up time and again: lime juice, salt, Worcestshire sauce, soy sauce, Tabasco or other hot sauce, powdered chilies, tomato juice, ice and beer (emphatically Mexican). There's so much right with this drink that it's hard to quibble with any of it. Even the most slapdash michelada is still worth drinking, specifically because the preparation covers up a host of shortcomings.

Given that wide margin of error, there are little tweaks you can improve on without getting all Anglo-Saxon geeky and ruining the thing. One of the great things the Mexicans know about that we don't is Maggi Seasoning, an extract of wheat gluten that tastes like soy sauce that's been wrung out of a grilled steak. They put it in almost everything, which is why almost everything they eat tastes great. Maggi is a key player in the better micheladas — just a few drops — and so procuring a bottle amps your game exponentially from mere soy sauce or Worcestershire. As much as people love Tabasco, I find the vinegar base of it jarring in this drink; better Cholula, Tapatìo or any of dozens of others, particularly if you can find the regular yellow-label Valentina salsa picante from Guadalajara.

An elegant option is to relegate the heat part of the drink to a bit of powdered chile piquìn, which is serious stuff, blended into the salt with which you rim the glass, so it creeps up as you sip. And though people are compelled to use only Mexican beers in it, really any light, cheap suds work just fine, and I've gone to pale ambers with great results as well. The operative, once again, is enhancement without worries; when it's 92 degrees and 92 percent humidity, who needs more incentives to sweat?

CHELADA/MICHELADA: A LOOSE GUIDE
Use a pilsner or other tall beer or cocktail glass; a 20-ounce cooler or imperial pint works beautifully in that it allows for the ice, the additives and an entire 12-ounce bottle of beer. Cut a small lime wedge and use it to moisten the rim of the glass, then invert it onto a saucer of kosher salt, or salt mixed with chili powder. Fill the glass with as much or little ice as you wish. Then use whichever of the following ingredients fit your mood, pouring the beer in last. Do experiment with lavish versions compared to more stripped-down ones to see which you like best. Salud!




— Fresh lime juice, about an ounce, or one lime's worth. I like to save the squeezed half-hull to cap the drink, to incorporate the aromatics of the oil into it as well.
— Maggi Seasoning
— Salsa picante (bottled hot sauce)
— Worcestershire sauce
— Soy sauce
— 1-3 ounces tomato juice
— Beer, 12 ounces.

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