Gourmet Shot: Sue Torres

Chef Sue Torres takes her tequila and mezcal neat. “If it’s good, you really don’t need much,” she says.

And the menu at her New York restaurant, Sueños, reflects that idea. It stocks more than 50 different agave-based spirits—along with some of the best and most authentic Mexican food in town. There are also cocktails: seven variations on the Margarita, plus an array of original concoctions.

It makes sense that Torres became a chef. The daughter of an Italian mother and a Puerto Rican father, she grew up with family on both sides that cared about food. A lot. She learned to fish and crab from her grandfather and helped out in her mom’s family’s sizable vegetable garden. “My grandmother was adamant about getting the whole family to sit down for a meal,” she says.

After stints at a few of Manhattan’s finest establishments, including the ‘21’ Club and Le Grenouille, as well as an apprenticeship in Mexico City, Torres opened her own place. And Sueños has been going strong for almost 10 years.

So what will Torres be doing for Cinco de Mayo? “I celebrate Cinco de Mayo by staying in my kitchen for 18 hours,” she says. Such is the life of a chef, but that doesn’t mean she has no advice to offer.

The first tip is surprisingly simple: Cut limes in thirds instead of in half before juicing them. Torres got that trick from one of her cooks and says it yields a lot more from each fruit.

If your Cinco de Mayo guests claim they don’t like tequila, Torres says, they just haven’t tried the right one. She recommends the relatively affordable El Mayor, 7 Leguas or Tequila Ocho, along with Del Maguey’s line of mezcals. To make it a bit more interesting, serve Sangrita with the liquor. “It helps draw out more flavors from the tequila and enhance it,” Torres says.

As for pairing bites with your drinks, Torres says, “not all tequila and mezcal goes well with all Mexican food.” Try to match complementary flavors or shoot for a complete contrast. The smoky mezcal float in her Suzy’s Smokin’ Margarita, for example, is a perfect partner for her chipotle-spiked Tequila-Flamed Shrimp. But the drink’s tart notes could also highlight the richness of dishes like duck confit and pork belly.

So take it from a pro: When you’re celebrating Cinco de Mayo next weekend, break out the tequila and mezcal. It’s the only way to go.

Suzy’s Smokin’ Margarita

Contributed by Sue Torres

Add all the ingredients except the mezcal to a shaker and fill with ice. Shake, and strain into a chilled Margarita glass. Float the mezcal on top and garnish with a lime wedge.

Tequila-Flamed Shrimp Stack

Contributed by Sue Torres

  • 1 Ripe Haas avocado, seeded and peeled
  • .25 cup Diced golden pineapple
  • .5 cup Cooked black beans
  • 1 Scallion (green part only), chopped
  • Juice of 2 limes, divided
  • 1 tbsp Olive or vegetable oil
  • .75 lb Shrimp, shelled and deveined
  • 1 tbsp Minced garlic
  • 2 oz Silver tequila
  • 3 tbsp Chipotle puree
  • 2 tbsp Unsalted butter
  • 10 Corn tortilla chips

Combine the avocado, pineapple, beans, scallion and the juice of 1 lime in a small bowl. Mash until smooth, season to taste with salt and set aside.
Heat a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add the oil. Season the shrimp with salt and pepper, and add to the pan along with the garlic. Cook for about 30 seconds, shaking the pan frequently. Remove from the heat and add the tequila. Tilt the pan slightly over the burner to ignite (or ignite using a long-handled lighter) and cook until the flames subside. (Use extreme caution when doing this. If you’re not comfortable setting the tequila on fire, just add it to the pan and cook for a minute or two.) Add the remaining juice of 1 lime, chipotle puree and butter, and reduce the heat to low. Cook, stirring, until the shrimp are done, about 2 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
To assemble, spoon the reserved avocado mixture over the tortilla chips and top with the shrimp. Stack pairs of chips atop one another and drizzle with the cooking liquid.

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