How to make a classic martini

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This is the simplest guide to making the best classic martini.

You Will Need
-Gin/vodka
-Vermouth
-A fresh lemon
-Martini glasses

In Advance
-Put the bottle of gin/vodka in the freezer for at least 8 hours.
-Rinse the martini glasses under a tap and put them in the freezer for at least 30 minutes.
-Note that I keep my gin and glasses in the freezer permanently.

When Pouring
-Take a strip of lemon peel and squeeze it into the martini glass to spray it with lemon oil.
-Pour in the vermouth to taste: between 2tsp to 30ml.
-Top up with gin/vodka: around 130ml.
-Stir with the lemon peel, which you can then drop in the drink as a garnish.
-Serve with nibbles such as olives or nuts.

Further Information

For more detailed information on making a classic martini click here.

For more ideas on nibbles click here.

If you find martinis too strong click here.

For more ideas on martinis in general be sure to sign up to the blog.

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The Martini Glass

I begin with the basics. For reasons I do not understand, a martini must be drunk from the glass which is easiest to spill from and the easiest to break.

If you’re too drunk, you might end up spilling the martini before you get the chance to drink it – although this may be a blessing in disguise.

I imagine that the long stem allows the drinker to hold the chilled glass without getting cold fingers and without warming up the contents.

I wash my martini glasses by hand. I have lost several to the washing machine. There is also something ceremonial about rinsing them out one by one.

Once clean, I then rinse them under a cold tap (or bottled water if you are located in a country where the tap water is not drinkable). I then store the glasses in the freezer, for reasons I shall explain later.

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The Ingredients

In my mind, a martini should be made with gin, and a little vermouth to temper it. I have made vodka martinis before but I tend not to drink them very often.

I had a lovely spicy/dirty vodka martini in an oyster bar in New York once, and a nice basil and chilli vodka martini in London, but ultimately my favourite is the classic gin martini, or a “Thameside Malt” as my dad calls them, on account of the fact that I managed to convert him from his love of malt whiskies to actually prefer a martini as his favourite drink. To this day I still consider this conversion as one of my greatest ever achievements.

When it comes to picking the gin, everyone has their own taste, but I genuinely prefer cheaper brands because they tend not to be as floral. Nicer gins are often too flavoursome, which I don’t think works very well with the vermouth.

On special occasions I like the export brand of a certain kind of gin with the yellow and red label (am I allowed to say the brand?). A certain green coloured bottle is also good (I think Amy Winehouse sang about it once). Otherwise I openly admit to normally making martinis with the shops own brand of gin.

The vermouth, in my opinion, should be sweet. If you like a dry martini just limit the amount of vermouth you put in.

Like the glasses, the gin should be stored in the freezer, but the vermouth should be stored in the fridge.

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Temperature

One of the most vital elements of a martini is the temperature. It has to be cold. Extremely cold! It is for this reason that I keep the gin and the glasses in the freezer. The glasses should be in there for at least 10 minutes (but preferably a few hours – and I normally just keep them in there permanently). The gin should ideally be in there for at least a day if possible.

When I see someone putting gin in a cocktail shaker with ice cubes to cool it down I realise that (a) they haven’t kept their gin in the freezer (b) the glasses probably haven’t been kept in the freezer either and (c) they are now watering down premium quality alcohol with ice cubes. They will then likely present a room-temperature glass of almost neat gin, often garnished with a piece of lemon peel they seem to put more effort in to than any other aspect of the drink. In my opinion, this is utter madness. I’d rather have a nice drink than a fancy garnish, and I imagine that most people would agree with me.

Note that I don’t keep the vermouth in the freezer as it would freeze solid. Gin shouldn’t freeze solid unless its very bad quality or you only have a small amount in the bottle. Sometimes it can partially crystallise. If this happens, it looks lovely when you pour it but bear in mind that the martini will taste much drier than normal for the first minute or two before those hypnotic crystals melt.

When it comes to chilling the glasses I’ve seen people do a crazy thing when they put water into the glasses and then ice cubes to try and cool down the temperature, before they discard the ice and water and serve the martini. This is messy, time consuming and ineffective. Rinse the glasses under the tap and put them in the freezer for several hours, maybe overnight. I keep them in there permanently because you never know when circumstances demand a martini at short notice.

If you need a cold glass in a hurry (perhaps if you’ve had a martini and it was so good you want another one), run the glass under the tap and put it in the freezer for 5-10 minutes. Its not ideal but it’s just enough to get it to freeze.

If I have the time, I might take the frozen glasses out of the freezer in advance of a planned martini and quickly flick some water on them before putting them back in. These water drops freeze onto the exterior of the glass which makes it look a little bit more dramatic. It also means that it takes the glass a little more time to thaw so your martini stays colder for longer.

All of the above may seem like quite a bit of faff, but I wouldn’t do it if the temperature wasn’t an integral aspect of the drink. Also, if bartenders spend ages peeling, slicing and twirling pieces of lemon peel to perfect their drink, then maybe it isn’t that crazy to spend 20 seconds simply putting the gin and glasses in the freezer in advance of pouring the drink.

Having tried and tested these techniques I can confirm that it is a very simple and easy process. When you first sip your own home-chilled martini I think you’ll agree that I’m right!

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Lemon

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There is one more essential ingredient to my martinis: lemon. It must be fresh and firm, bright and bursting with lemon oil under its skin. It’s this oil that is the key ingredient.

Take a normal peeler and skim off a strip of jlemon peel. With the yellow waxy side (not the white pith side) facing down, twist and squeeze the peel over the glass so that little miniature explosions of lemon oil burst out and spray the inside of the glass. I also rub the peel around the glass to transfer as much of the oil as possible.

This process takes just a few seconds but it feels quite satisfying and it makes a very big difference to the overall quality of the drink.

I’ve seen people set fire to the peel at some point during this process. I gave it a try and in my opinion it didn’t seem to have that much of an impact on the overall taste.

Once the lemon oil has been extracted, its time to pour. Speed is crucial so that the drink can be served before it warms to room temperature so don’t dilly dally!

You could serve the lemon peel as the martini garnish as it is although I like to shape it quickly with a knife. Nothing fancy, just making the slightly ragged ends more neat.

Alternatively, you could discard the lemon peel and serve two olives skewered on a toothpick as a classical garnish.

Just so we’re clear, you cannot do this with lemons which are slightly old. The oil in the skin dries out and by the time you’ve squeezed any out, the glass will have warmed up. Trust me, it just isn’t worth it.

If you are ever caught out and you can’t get hold of any lemons you can use lemon oil from a bottle as an alternative. It’s not so bad! Just dip a toothpick in the bottle and use it to rub a thin streak or two of the oil into the glass before serving the alcohol.

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Look at those pores. They are BURSTING!

Olives

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Some of the best olives resemble my ex: zesty, large and Sicilian.

Olives are natural, simple and have been eaten in their current form for millennia. They were once consumed by the same people who believed in the Olympians. Quite humbling for such a small… Fruit? Berry? Whatever they are. I like them. Although I am no expert!

I usually garnish my martinis with lemon peel but I am certainly not averse to doing so with two olives.

Either way, its always nice to have at least some olives to serve with a martini. I also think they are marginally more healthy than processed snacks such as crisps or crackers (although I like those too!).

I know very little about olives so I am not really qualified to talk about this (comments and suggestions welcome!) but my absolute favourites, especially to serve with martinis, are like the ones I was given in the bar in the Duke’s Hotel. The moment I ate them I loved the flavour. They were pitted and stuffed with something flavoursome so I asked the waiter what it was.

“Anchovies” the waiter told me. “Really?” I asked. I couldn’t believe it, having never really warmed to anchovies in the past I was very surprised, but nonetheless converted immediately.

In Great Britain I tend to find these olives in cans, usually a brand from Spain. I’m not sure how available they are elsewhere in the world but I spent an hour looking for them in Beirut and was unsuccessful. To be honest, Lebanon has a multitude of it’s own natural olives. It’s also generally a difficult place to find anything specific, it’s more a place of lucky surprises when you find something you love when you least expected it.

But I digress. I normally avoid things in a can or a tin, but the tinned brand of anchovy-stuffed olives in find in the UK do the trick. Crucially, they last for a while, so if you stock up and keep some cans in a cupboard you’re always ready to serve them with an impromptu martini (you never know when someone might drop round).

I’m sure some people won’t like these olives but almost everyone I’ve served them to has loved them.

If you’re really averse to tinned things and you happen to be in London, you might want to take the time to go to Borough Market. A Middle Class scrum with prams, the place nonetheless continues to delight with its wondrous diversity of edible goods. There is a lovely Spanish restaurant there called Brindisa with really nice staff and a great meaty breakfast that’s good for a hangover (be it a martini hangover, or tequila, lager, or any other kind – all scenarios tested with dedication by the author). Brindisa also has a small shop in the market selling various tasty goodies many of which would go well with a martini. For the purpose of this blog entry though, they are notable for selling… yes… fresh olives stuffed with anchovies. Just indicate how many you need and they’ll give you a packet. Apparently they were manzanilla olives (my spanish is not good but it was pronounced along the lines of manthaneeja).

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Bites

Martinis should ideally be served with snacks to compliment the strong, icy flavour of the drink.

Olives are always a winner, and there are so many varieties to enjoy. Nuts are also good, as the saltiness goes so well with the martini. I like salted pistachios in their shells most of all. Japanese seaweed snacks work very well. Bombay mix is a classic. Miniature rice cracker snacks with lots of chemical flavours, additives and MSG also usually do the trick, but natural food is so much more refreshing. Inspired by Polish drinking culture I often like to serve sliced gherkins as a tasty accompaniment. You can’t go wrong with good quality crisps, but go easy on them for your waistline.

Small bites that you might otherwise serve as a starter work well if you’re feeling fancy. I like to keep the martini ceremony simple and relaxed but if you want to make an impression you could serve all manner of home prepared dishes, such as grilled skewers, sushi, sashimi (any fresh seafood actually), blinis etc. To be honest, it’s still a big experiment for me. As I said, I like it to be simple so I can relax and actually enjoy the drink, but you should be able to try out all sorts of things. It will also likely depend on your expected company, which is another key element of the perfect martini.

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