|Picante de la Casa|
Photograph by Leticia Alaniz © 2015
A famous Spanish saying goes like this: Eat, drink, dance and enjoy that the world is going to end. (A comer, beber, bailar y gozar que el mundo se va a acabar.)
As old as the mountains, people soon discovered the art of fermentation. With that came the accidental discovery of making spirits and liquors which eventually were distilled. To sweeten the spirits people added fruits, spices, and herbs for flavoring, and many apothecaries insisted it was good practice for medicinal purposes. Some recipes included minerals, ground up animal bones, dried meats, fats, skins, and even hallucinogenic mushrooms!
The origin of the modern word “cocktail” is highly disputed. The Oxford Dictionary of the English language cites that the origin of the word “appears to be lost”. I will explain a few that amuse me and simply are good stories to hear:
Evidently the word cocktail is formed by two words: cock, the male chicken or rooster, and tail, the cock’s tail. The first recorded use of the word ”cocktail" was in 1806 in the United States, but keep in mind that the famous drinks, as creative and inventive in the thousands, have been prepared and drank since ancient times.
One legendary story claims that a doctor in ancient Rome made a wine-based drink which he called “cockwine”, for which the emperor Lucius Aurelius (180-192 A.D.) went crazy for and possibly celebrated many happy occasions with the drink.
Another delirious story comes from New Orleans, the city made famous for its cocktails and legendary mixologists. According to legend, a famous french apothecary named Peychaud served his guests a beverage that contained a secret recipe which he wrote in his recipe book. It consists of a good amount of brandy, a little more than less, sugar, water and bitters which was to be served in an egg cup. The apothecary prescribed it for “relief” of the head. The drink was called the “egg-cup cocquetier” in french, which eventually was shortened to “cocktay” and then cocktail. I assume the french word “coquette” may have been invented this way. It has a good sound and it sounds fancy as all french words do. In any case the word had been in use for a very long time in Bordeaux, France where the beverages were served in pitchers called “coquetel”.
During the Mexican war, there came a legend that a very handsome american soldier paid a visit to the aztec emperor. The emperor had a very beautiful princess daughter named Xochitl. The emperor had his daughter offer an alcoholic drink with fruit to the soldier. She was dressed in her finest and was adorned with the most beautiful feathers of the most beautiful birds of the region. Upon giving the drink to the soldier, a feather fell from her hair into the drink for which the soldier was highly amused. He liked the drink very much but could not say the princess’ name. The soldier pronounced her name, Xochitl as “Coktil” which then became “coctel”. It’s an amusing and romantic story but pretty far fetched.
But what is true and without dispute is the ingenuity of the Mexican mixologists for making an amazing array of recipes for cocktails that include some of the most exotic fruits, flowers, flavorings indigenous to Mexico like chocolate and vanilla, chile peppers, and even ground up dried insects.
Here is a cocktail guaranteed to tickle your throat and open your senses. It’s quite spicy because it contains jalapeños!
Picante de la Casa
2 oz tequila (buy a good one)
1 oz freshly squeezed lime juice
¾ oz agave nectar (simple syrup if agave nectar is not available)
12-15 cilantro leaves
¼ inch piece of a Jalapeño chile pepper
The preparation first has to be fun! The first ingredient is to dance a little as you prepare it. That’s what I do in my kitchen (it’s inevitable). A little latin music may help you make the cocktail even better. I like to use a “molcajete”, the Mexican grinding stone, but you can muddle directly in your cocktail mixer. Slice the chile and muddle it in the mixing tin. Hand squeeze the cilantro and the lime juice. Add the agave nectar. Add lots of ice. Shake, shake, dance, dance… serve it strained in a cocktail glass with ice, or without if you want to taste more of the hot chile. Garnish with chile slices and cilantro. Enjoy!