Tuna Margarita

The Drink

It’s hard to believe I haven’t written about margaritas yet. Margaritas are where I began my love affair with cocktails. My success in crafting delicious, widely appreciated margaritas encouraged me to branch out. The margarita is still my comfort drink, and it makes me happy as no other cocktail can. This love has also ensured I can never order a margarita out. Anywhere. Ever. Once you put together a great margarita from scratch at home, you’ll be able to taste Rose’s Lime Juice and sweet and sour mix from a mile away. And you should run.

This drink utilizes the fruit – tuna – of the prickly pear cactus. If you’ve ever traveled through the desert southwest and picked up cactus candy, you’re eating something else created from this fruit.  Once the prickly pear blooms and the flowers fall off, the pods (tunas) remain. These can be split open and the inside scooped out.  Incidentally the  broad, flat sections (nopales) of the prickly pear  can also be eaten once the painful little  spines are removed.  They’re delicious fried up with onions and jalapeños and garlic, but I’m getting outside my focus here at JW.

To make a Tuna Margarita is a labor of love that is as heavy on the labor as the love. Check your local Mexican market to see if they carry tunas. Sometimes a regular grocery store will carry them but this is very rare (and rarer the farther you get from the desert). Also, the prices will be much higher.

Most of the spines will have been removed already but I recommend strongly using an oven mit or a gardening glove to hold the pod halves as you scoop the fruit out. If you get 5-6 tunas you’ll be able to make 2-3 margaritas. I suggest buying more, going through all the work at once and freezing leftovers for future deliciousness.

Once you split them open you’ll be stunned at the vibrant color inside – blistering shades of pink and purple. I’m sure those shades have names but I’m a man and I refuse to figure out what they are. They’re pretty, and they contribute as much to this drink as the flavor itself. 

Scoop all the flesh out of the tunas into a blender. Then pulse or blend on the lowest setting. This will separate the seeds from the fruit without breaking up the seeds. Let it run until it looks fairly liquid-y. You then pour this through a sieve into a bowl or some other container. I repeat the blending and sifting process several times to ensure I get as much of the fruit as possible. Compost the seeds and whatever pulp  remains. The juice at this point is very light and just barely sweet. It’s like tasting a flower, only better.  

You can either leave the juice exactly as is or modify it to your tastes. Raw honey or agave syrup can intensify the sweetness and some fresh squeezed orange  juice brightens up the overall flavor a bit. I recommed figuring out what you like and keeping this without alcohol. Use only as much as you need for the drinks you’re planning on enjoying and save the rest. It can be used as a delicious base syrup for a variety of drinks other than margaritas.

Tuna Margarita

  • 2 parts tequila 
  • ½ part agave syrup
  • 2 part tuna syrup
  • ½ squeezed orange juice
  • Sugar
  • 1 part triple sec
  • ice
  • splash  of Gran Marnier or Cointreau

Moisten the rim of the margarita glass with the orange half and rim with sugar. Add the other liquid ingredients into a shaker and shake or stir vigorously. Pause and taste. Add more of whatever you’d like to make you happy. When you’re satisfied, put ice in the margarita glass and pour the liquid into the glass. Once full, add a splash of Cointreau or Gran Marnier to the top of the ice/drink. Do not mix. Garnish with a slice or wedge of orange.

You could blend this up with ice if you prefer the blended, slushy style margarita. It’s a light and delicious drink – much different from the often over-sour margaritas you’ll get in restaurants. I much prefer orange as the citrus in my margaritas, which makes them smoother and less acidic than lime-based options. Even  folks who aren’t fond of margaritas are likely to be surprised at the taste of this one!