Salty Ancho-Chile Watermelon & Cantaloupe Margaritas
When it comes to summer picnics and grilling excursions where I am asked to bring something to share, I lean on uncomplicated foods that don't require any actual cooking. That sometimes means a bag of chips and salsa... but I try to get a little more creative than that most of the time. Because no one respects a food professional that shows up with chips and salsa... even if she buys the good brands.
One of my go-to shareables isn't much harder to prepare than chips and salsa, but it makes amends for all the chips and salsa contributions that have plagued my past.
melon + lime + chili powder + salt
If you don't like eating this, you're a monster.
Serving fruit with salt, chili and lime is pretty common in Mexico (especially watermelon!), but it's also done in Southeast Asia (especially with mango!). You can either buy a pre-made chili-lime-salt seasoning called Tajín Clásico or just do your own thing with the real deal. Either way, it's so good. Which is why I made a drinkable version.
How to Make Melon Juice
Before you get to this margarita, you've gotta get your juice ready. Depending on the size, one melon will yield enough juice to make about 8-10 margaritas (possibly more!). It's so, so easy.
1. Choose your melon. (Or don't, and make one of each like I did.)
- Small Seedless Watermelon: Watermelon and lime (and chili and salt) work so well together, so this just makes sense to me. I used the one that is about the same size as a cantaloupe.
- Cantaloupe: The cantaloupe also made a fantastic margarita! A little more texture than the watermelon and you don't need to strain it, which is a plus.
- Honeydew: Like most people, I usually ignore honeydew when it is in a fruit medley, but it would totally work nicely in this margarita. I actually bought some to make this duo a trio (you can see it peeking out in the pictures), but I wound up putting it in a fruit medley and subsequently ignoring it instead (sorry, honeydew — old habits die hard).
2. Remove seeds and rind. Cut the melon into chunks.
The seeds of a cantaloupe and honeydew are super easy to scoop out. Even with a seedless watermelon, you may still have some small seeds and that's okay. We'll take care of them later.
3. Use a food processor or blender (or juicer, if you have one) to make the juice!
4. Strain, if desired.
I preferred to strain the watermelon juice because of the rogue seeds, but cantaloupe and honeydew don't require straining. The texture with the pulp will be more like a puree than juice without straining, but that works well in this recipe!
How to Salt a Rim
Many cocktail guides on salt rims will tell you to basically dunk the glass straight down into a little lime juice and then press and twist it into the salt. Don't do this... por favor. The salt winds up inside the drink and messes up the flavor. There's a better way.
1. Find some coarse ground salt.
Honestly, you can use pretty much anything but table salt. Don't fall for the trickery of "margarita salt." I prefer classic Morton's kosher salt because it is usually in my kitchen already.
2. Add some oomph.
Plain salt is just fine, but you can play around with the flavors. I mixed the salt for this recipe with chili powder and finely grated lime zest. Spread the salt out on a small plate.
3. Lightly run a lime wedge around the rim of the glass.
You don't have to press hard, but just make sure it's evenly moist around the outside (sorry I said moist, by the way). If there are any drips down the glass, wipe them carefully with a towel before you start rolling.
4. Roll the outside of the glass at an angle into the salt.
This ensures that the salt winds up in all the right places.
What kind of tequila is best for margaritas?
The age old question. I don't truly have the answer, because I don't know a lot about tequila (yet). All I know is that you shouldn't be cheap about it or you'll wind up face-planting into these chilaquiles in the morning.
I look to the experts to know what's best me. In Minneapolis, there's no one I trust more with a margarita than Sonora Grill. They use Corralejo Tequila Blanco, made with 100% blue agave. It's not terribly expensive, but it is delicious — probably one of the reasons their margaritas win every cocktail award in town.
For this recipe, I tried a different distillery: Pasote Tequila Blanco. The guy at the liquor store was really excited about it and the bottle was super cool so I fell for it. I'm okay with it, because it is also delicious. Smooth stuff.
Now, time to make a margarita.
Salty Ancho-Chile Watermelon & Cantaloupe Margaritas
Ancho chile-salt rim Ingredients
- 2 T coarse kosher salt
- 1/2 tsp ancho chile powder (or regular chili powder)
- 1 tsp lime zest, finely grated
- 1 lime wedge
- 1.5 oz. tequila blanco (like Pasote or Corralejo)
- 1 oz. triple sec (like Cointreau)
- 1-1.5 oz fresh lime juice
- 2 oz. fresh melon juice of your choice
- optional: 2 slices of serrano peppers
- mini melon wedges for garnish
- Stir up the kosher salt, chili powder and lime zest and spread on a small plate. You'll have enough to do a few glasses. Lightly run the lime wedge around the outside of the glass and then roll the glass at an angle to salt only the outside of the glass. More tips on salting a cocktail glass above, if you need them!
- Add ice to the glass.
- Add tequila, triple sec, lime juice, melon juice and the serranos (optional) to a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake well.
- Strain into the glass and garnish with mini melon wedges.
- If you don't want to buy triple sec (it's sort of a liquor cabinet unitasker, I get it), you could sub in a little orange juice with a smidge more tequila. Or you could just leave it out entirely. It's obviously not going to be the same, but it'll still taste good.
- Melon juice freezes really well, and once frozen you could try a blended version of this recipe (probably sans serranos, because that would get intense quickly).