When I started to piece together my recipe for Keto Restaurant-Style Margaritas, I started by asking myself, “What is the lime all about?” I have a basic philosophical difference on this question with virtually every margarita recipe I see online. If you spent a lot of time reading margarita recipes, you’d think it was face puckering acidity and not its flavor and scent essence.
We have lime flavored candy and baked goodies of all kinds, both keto and not. Are they inedibly acidic or do they smell and taste of limes? It’s a pretty easy answer, I think. The lime is not its amplitude of acidity, although some is of course pleasant. It’s a flavor, right? So, why do we throw away where most of the flavor resides — the skin.
My Restaurant-Style Margaritas get their lime flavor from the skin by using a fine Microplane rasp zester to peel off the very outer layer where all the color, scent, and flavor reside. That zest is steeped in cold water for a couple of hours to extract all of that limey goodness. It is then sweetened with my standard mix of sweeteners to make a keto version of what Mexicans would call an “agua fresca” (fresh water) that will serve as the flavorful base of my drink.
It’s easy enough to make a drink keto-friendly by doing a straight one-for-one replacement of sugar with another sweetener, but there is another wrinkle with making keto Restaurant-Style Margaritas — the triple sec. This orange liqueur that is ubiquitious in margarita recipes comes with a cost in the form of the sugar it contains.
I find it helpful to back up at points like this and re-think the philosophy of the recipe you are trying to adapt. The purpose of the orange flavor is to backstop the lime and create a flavor “chord” of sorts, adding slight citrus complexity to the lime flavor that is the main player.
We really have two questions to ask ourselves about the orange background flavor that the triple sec brings. Can we add it another way, and does it need to be done at all?
We can of course do it another way. We’ve already discussed using the approach of using citrus zest to add powerful flavor to a drink base. We can just zest a small orange in with the limes while making our agua fresca and increase the amount of tequila in the drink to account for the missing volume from the triple sec. I know you’re really disappointed by that last part.
…but, does it need to be done at all? I generally lean towards simpler, cleaner flavors in my cooking. I like my margarita to be a pure expression of the lime as a fruit, and I find orange flavor to be distracting. The drink made without orange zest takes on an beautiful iridescent green hue from the lime agua fresca. It’s just not as attractive and crisp a drink with the orange zest added.
I keep food-grade orange essential oil in my pantry, so I always have that at my disposal if I want the flavor without the color, but I very rarely do that. Using lime agua fresca and not just lime juice makes it a pretty complex drink already. It’s all lime all the time in my margaritas.
As a final touch, I like to rim my glass in Tajin, a Mexican seasoning that is a combination of chile powder, dehydrated lime, and salt. You may remember it from my Tajin Smoke-Roasted Sockeye Salmon post. It looks pretty, adds a little heat and smokiness, and contributes the salty rim that we are all so used to. It’s strictly optional and the drink will still be delicious with the typical plain salt on the rim or even no salt at all.
Zest limes and (optionally) the orange with a Microplane or other rasp zester into one quart of cold water. Place in fridge and let steep for two hours.
Remove zest/water mix and strain thoroughly to extract all of the citrus zest from the agua fresca.
Add the powdered erythritol to the agua fresca and mix thoroughly. At this point you can cover and refrigerate until you are ready to complete the recipe, and I would actually advise that. It will have an amazing bright green color that will carry over to the final drink and that will fade if you add acid to it at this point.
When you are ready to proceed, add one and a half cups of this mix to a pitcher and add the tequila, lime juice, and salt. You should taste it at this point. It should be very strong, as it is designed to be served on the rocks and has to account for significant ice melt into the drink.
If it is not sweet enough, add stevia glycerite two drops at a time until you achieve your desired sweetness. I like stevia at this step because it doesn't add to any aftertaste the erythritol brings and it dissolves instantly into the beverage. Mix and serve over ice.