Make no mistake: Texas heat is real. It gets hot. Damn hot. And in the nearly two years since moving here, one of my favorite (not to mention delicious) coping mechanisms is watermelon agua fresca. When it’s blistering hot and you’re struggling to stay hydrated, let alone cool, natural watermelon juice is your BFF. Watermelon is 90% water, and it’s loaded with “hyrdrating salts” like magnesium (also awesome for migraines), calcium, potassium and sodium. Not only can it help you quench your thirst, it can actually help reverse dehydration. It tastes absolutely delicious on its own, but even better in mixed drinks. In terms of drinker’s math, if you pair watermelon with tequila, they pretty much cancel each other out. Or at least that’s how I choose to look at it.
Especially today, on Cinco de Mayo, which they do down here in Texas better than anywhere else save Mexico itself. To celebrate, I’m sharing my homemade watermelon agua fresca recipe — perfected over my first Austin summer while hiding out in the AC — paired with a quick jalapeno-infused tequila, inspired by a drink made famous at my favorite place in Austin to celebrate Cinco: La Condesa.
When La Condesa first opened, I was down here for SXSW and remember being so psyched to try the “freshly squeezed Texas watermelons mixed with organic agave nectar and a hint of lime” and “house-made habanero-infused tequila” featured on one of me and Ginger’s favorite food travel shows, Drinking Made Easy, with host Zane Lamprey literally plunging the neck of a bottle of hooch straight into a massive watermelon under the direction of La Condesa bar manager Nate Wales. That’s my kind of party, I thought. So, when I got to Austin in March 2010, I marched right up to the bar and ordered “that watermelon juice” and some house-infused habanero tequila. It wasn’t how the drink was intended, but they made it for me anyway, and my new favorite Austin vice was born.
Tonight, just like last year, Ginger and I will be some of the first to arrive at the La Condesa Street Party for Cinco de Mayo, which I now treat as the official kick-off to summer in Austin, and we will throw down like Pleepleus. Cheers with us from afar, tonight or any time this summer, with this fun little recipe. If you really want to turn up the heat, make some of my DIY sriracha salt and crush it up for the rim. Salud!
JALAPENO INFUSED TEQUILA
– 750ml bottle of aged tequila (like Espolon Tequila Reposado, $23.99)
– 2-3 whole jalapenos (or other hot peppers of your choice), $2-3
Seriously, the directions for making homemade infused tequila couldn’t be easier. Pour the bottle of tequila (I like the 100% pure agave reposado Espolon, which I think is one of the best-value tequilas for your mid-range money) into a glass jar with a tight-fitting cap or clamp lid. Slice your spicy pepper of choice (I used jalapenos for a little kick without too much acid reflux, Cinco is a marathon not a race) and toss them in the tequila. Close the jar up tight, give it a shake, sit it in a sunny spot, and let it sit for a few days. Strain, reserving the tequila-soaked jalapenos in a small container or bowl (if using right away), and you’re ready to rock. (If you don’t have time to infuse your tequila, buy a jar of sliced jalapenos in brine and add 1-2 TBSP of brine to each margarita.)
WATERMELON AGUA FRESCA
– 1 large seedless watermelon (organic), about $4/lb
– 8 limes (organic), about $2/lb
– 4 TBSPs agave nectar (optional)
First things first, it’s important to know that each half of a seedless watermelon should make about a pitcher of watermelon juice, and can be a little tedious the first time you do it, so start with half. Slice the rind off the watermelon, keeping as much of the light green pith as you can, because that’s where those good, dehydration-fighting minerals are hiding. Chop the remaining watermelon into cubes and toss into a large flat-bottomed pot (preferred) or mixing bowl. Squeeze four (4) of the limes over the bowl of watermelon. (If you like your watermelon juice even sweeter, here’s where you could add 2 TBSPs per half watermelon of the agave nectar.) Using a handheld immersion blender, pulverize the watermelon until you get a fine slurry. Pour the watermelon slurry, a few cups at a time, into a sieve over a pitcher, using a spoon or spatula to press the watermelon firmly against the mesh of the sieve to extract as much juice as possible. Repeat until all the watermelon slurry is strained into the pitcher. Chill in the refrigerator or pour over ice, alone or mixed with the tequila, and enjoy immediately!
SPICY WATERMELON MARGARITAS
– Watermelon agua fresca
– Jalapeno-infused tequila
– Tequila-soaked jalapeno slices, for garnish
– Crushed sriracha salt or sea salt, for rims
Pour 2oz of tequila over ice in a shaker glass. Fill the rest of the way with watermelon agua fresca. Shake. Rim a rocks glass or tumbler with preferred salt, then strain the tequila and watermelon juice into the glass. Garnish each drink with a tequila-soaked jalapeno slice on the rim, into the glass, or both. Salud! To your health, literally! Stay hydrated, my friends. I don’t always drink margaritas, but when I do, they contain watermelon.
All photos by Chelsea Laine Francis for Shoestring.
For more step-by-step process photos, visit my Watermelon Agua Fresca album on Flickr.