The Saffron Martini

This one is a real treat of colour.

 
I have taken the rarest, most expensive spice and infused it into the most elegant of drinks, although note that you can buy very high quality saffron gin ready made here.

I cannot claim credit for the original recipe. It has been created before at the incomparable martini setting – Dukes Bar, although they made it with vodka. You can see an instructional video by the venerable Toni Miccilota here

My recipe differs ever so slightly (I use gin for a start), but it is essentially very similar.

  
Saffron consists of the styles and stigmas of the saffron crocus.

The tiny little red ‘threads’ have been hand-picked and used in cooking for over three thousand years.

It has a grassy taste, evocative of wheat or hay and the warmth of the late summer harvest. Its strong colour also imparts itself easily to food and drink, making it popular in otherwise pale dishes such as rice.

  
An ancient Grecian harvests the spice.

Originally found in the eastern Mediterranean and wider Middle East the plant has since been cultivated in several warm, dry regions around the world, which thankfully for Brits, include some rare parts of Essex and Wessex in southern England.  

 
I was sent a beautiful batch of English Saffron from a friend who lives in one of the few areas: the town of Saffron Walden, named after its famous produce. Saffron was first harvested in the town in the 1500s.

  

I love the English Saffron packaging, with the gold-coloured metal metal box and a medieval-style wax seal on the plastic container inside.

I added 0.2g of the saffron (which equates to one of the bags from the English Saffron company) to a litre of gin.

  
Give it a good shake then leave it for around two days.

The colour, flavour and aroma transfer very quickly. 

  

Remove the saffron strands. I found it easiest to do this with a pair of chopsticks but you could strain the gin through a sieve as well.

Put the gin into the freezer and leave for at least 8 hours. I left it in there overnight.

  
When it’s time to pour, make it just like a classic martini with vermouth to your taste preference, topped up with the saffron gin.

Stir the drink, then garnish with some additional saffron strands. I tried to be frugal but you can put in quite a lot of you want a really strong flavour. I would recommend around 8 threads.

 And there you go.

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A Basil and Lemon Martini (and other herbal infusions)

I hate waste. If I leave my flat for an extended period of time (a fortnight for example) I can’t stand the thought of anything going off or out of date and I hate throwing things out.

I might pickle certain things, like any leftover cucumber to make Japanese Tsukemono. Otherwise, with my herbs I do what naturally comes to mind. I stick them in alcohol. 

  

I’ve recently blogged about infusing Coriander/Cilantro which worked quite well. I’ve also done it with sage.

I also have a friend who recommended that I try doing it with basil and lemon.
 
So, on my last trip, I was set to lave a pretty fresh basil plant behind. Poor guy. He didn’t stand a chance.

  

If I’m going to infuse something I like the flavour to be definite, not insipid. So I chopped he whole plant.   

 

I put the chopped leaves and stalks into a clean jar and covered with about half a litre/a pint of vodka.
 
I also peeled strips of lemon rind and added them too.

Leave it in a cool, dark place to infuse for a few weeks, giving it a shake every now and then if you can. When ready (ie when you get back from a trip for example), remove the herbs, squeeze the alcohol out of them back into the jar and discard them.

If making a martini I like to keep the infusion in the freezer for at least 8 hours before serving. One batch should make around 4-6 martinis.

  

We didn’t have any martini glasses to hand when we made a batch but it still worked fine.

  • If you’ve got any fresh basil left, rub some around the inside of the glass.
  • Squeeze some lemon peel into the glass.
  • Add a measure of vermouth to taste (between 2tsp to 20ml)
  • Add around 100ml of the infused vodka and stir with the lemon peel.
  • Garnish with basil leaves and/or lemon peel.
  • For a fresher-tasting version take the juice of one lemon and dissolve 6tsp sugar into it.
  • Add a dash of the lemon mixture to each martini.

 
This works with chives as well. You could use the resulting concoction to make a particularly gripping Gibson Martini.

  
 

You can also do it with lavender for a more subtle tasting infused martini.

The Stinging Nettle Martini

  
This is how to take the natural sting out of a nettle leaf and replace it with the more subtle but no less painful sting of vodka.


Does it ever feel like nettles are taking over your garden… and your LIFE?

 

If so, don’t panic! Alcohol will come to your rescue.

  
Apparently the Romans imported nettles (Urtica dioica) to the British Isles so that they could make tea.

 

This may have been what prompted the Iceni rebellion of AD61. Queen Boudicca (above) was possibly a very keen gardener and didn’t approve of the new Roman weed.

Today we rarely drink nettle tea. It is certainly not unheard. Mostly though we just battle through thickets of the plant when they spring up in the garden. I’m sure we all have painful childhood memories of nettle stings as well. Thanks Caesar…

Nonetheless, stinging nettles definitely have health benefits and a distinctive taste so we might as well use them while they’re here.

Furthermore, a farming neighbour told me that nettles only grow in good quality soil. If you’ve got them in your garden then you can take it as a sign that you’ve got some excellent topsoil at least.

Otherwise, follow this easy recipe to make a spritely alcoholic infusion from the pesky plant.

You will need:

  • A large container for liquid
  • A large pot
  • A sealable jar that can contain at least 1/2 a litre of liquid
  • Garden gloves
  • A bag or basket
  • Sugar
  • 1/2 a litre of clear alcohol (vodka would work)
  • An infestation of nettles (try not to collect them from a roadside, dog-walking area or somewhere that chemicals may have been sprayed)

You will basically harvest young nettle leaves then soak, simmer and infuse them in alcohol with sugar to create a flavoured drink to add to your martini.

  

Put on some gloves and pick the young leaves of a nettle plant. Collect them in a bag or basket. Check that there aren’t any growths, insects or dirt on the leaves (check the undersides). Discard any stems.

The leaves shouldn’t be more than about 3 inches wide and should be plucked from the upper stem of the plant. Go for the freshest, greenest ones.

Ideally the plant should be harvested in spring before it flowers or produces seed but younger plants can be harvested later if they are fresh. If you are in the West Coast of Scotland harvest them a couple of weeks before the midgies emerge for the best results.

  
Picking the leaves reminded me of the time I lived on a tea estate in central Sri Lanka. I remember beautiful, smiley but hardy Tamil women in brightly coloured saris picking young tea leaves at a rate of knots. I am sorry to say I was much slower than them at this job.
 
Once you have enough leaves to fill a 2 litre jug, put them in it, pour over some warm water, stir and leave to soak for about 10-15 minutes.

  

You can see their tiny little needles of burning pain here. The next process should (hopefully!) neutralise them.

Drain the leaves and add them to a pan of hot water over a medium heat. Stir them for about a minute. Do not bring the water quite to the boil but it should be hot.

Drain the leaves and add to a sealable jar. Add vodka until it covers the leaves. For every 1/2 litre of vodka you pour in, add 3 tablespoons of sugar. Prick the nettle leaves with a fork. Also use the fork to stir the mixture until at least some of the sugar has dissolved.  

 Seal the jar, give it a good shake and leave it to infuse in a cool, dark place. Shake it vigorously every now and then over the course of around 5 days.

Strain the liquid through a sieve. Pick out some of the more attractive nettle leaves to use as a garnish. Squeeze the rest of the leaves to get out the last of their alcohol then discard them.

 
You can serve the infusion straight up as a shot or a digestif as above. The flavour is enhanced with a little squeeze of lemon juice; it also helps to keep the glass in the freezer in advance so it’s nice and chilly when you serve it.

  


You can also serve the nettle infusion it with ice, tonic and a squeeze of lemon.

 
Or you can add 30ml to a classic martini to replace the equivalent volume of gin or vodka. Garnish with a nettle leaf and serve, perhaps in the garden – if the midgies don’t get you. 

 
The dog certainly seems to approve.

The Beet Up Vesper Martini at the Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town 4/5

Behold, the oddest blog title I have ever produced! But you will see what I’m talking about in the bar review below. 

 

I award the above-mentioned cocktail bar 4/5 for its variation on the classic Vesper Martini. Given the strict criteria of my Martini Ratings I could only offer full points upon trying a proper classic martini but if I offer my review in word form rather than numbers I would say that I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and the drink at this bar.

I went with a friend to the Breakfast Club near Spittalfields Market / Liverpool Street Station in London. I have wanted to try out the semi-hipster burger bar for ages but the queues on a weekend morning have normally been devastatingly long. This time, it was a Tuesday night. The service was fast, the burgers were tasty and the atmosphere was fun.

However, we had heard the rumours that a secret cocktail bar existed somewhere on the premises. To gain access you must utter a special code. After a little bit of intelligence gathering (Google and Foursquare) we deduced that we had to say “can I please see the Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town?” in order to gain access. 

We uttered the words and the waitress said that one her colleagues would be right with us.

  

A few moments later, to our surprise, the fridge standing next to the bar opened up and a man stepped out of it. He asked us to join him, so we followed him back into the fridge, through a secret door into a hidden stairway, which led down to a dark, secluded bar with a surprisingly large number of drinkers and a very interesting cocktail menu. 

Obviously I ordered their martini variation on sight. 

It consisted of Tanqueray gin infused with beetroot (I am a fan of savoury infused spirits), as well as vodka, Cointreau, Lillet blanc and a red current garnish. It was a far cry from my normal classic martini but I liked it nonetheless.

Nice and cold, beautifully presented, tasty, with good, friendly service and with a lot of effort put into the venue I award the bar/diner with 4/5.  

From an objective martini-fascist perspective I would award 5/5 if they offered a classic martini with the gin and glasses kept in the freezer, a strip of lemon peel and maybe a small bowl of olives. However, you can do that at home! 
 Otherwise, come out to play, try out the food upstairs and the range of cocktails downstairs… but no heavy petting!

The Parmesan Cheese Martini

“Sweet dreams are made of cheese.” 

Before you think “that sounds gross” I would recommend giving this one a try.

This martini idea genuinely came to me in a dream. I woke up with a clear memory of shaking up a cheese martini and decided to google whether or not such a thing existed. It turns out that at least two recipes are out there in the interwebs, such as the Grilled Cheese Martini, so I decided to have a go at my own variation. 

I used a tablespoon of Parmesan cheese for every 100ml of vodka I wanted to infuse (when it comes to flavour – go big or go home).  

 

Put it all in a clean jar and give it a good shake, then leave it in a cool, dark place (i.e. not like in the above photo – but doesn’t London look good?). 

Continue to shake it every now and then, just when you remember – maybe one a day or so, maybe more if you’re enthusiastic and impatient for CHEESE FLAVOUR. Do this over the course of around four days. 

Get yourself some plain cheesecloth. Strain the vodka infusion through it so as to remove much of the cheese goo.

Pour the strained liquid into a jar and place in the freezer for at least 6 hours.

Then, when it’s time to serve, add some vermouth to a martini glass and top up with the infused vodka, as per these instructions and measurements, i.e. 2tsp – 30ml vermouth (to taste) and around 130ml vodka).

Before you pour the drink, the www.parmesan.com blog suggests rubbing a little honey around the rim of the glass and dusting it with Parmesan powder. This sounds delicious but in this instance I really wanted to taste the Parmesan in the alcohol itself to test how effective the infusion process had been, so I left the glass un-rimmed.

Next, stir the drink and garnish it. You could choose all sorts of things for this: 

Grapes for example;

A simple pickle perhaps;

Or some prosciutto.

Olives stuffed with cheese would be a good alternative. Asparagus spears, perhaps trimmed so that they fit into the glass without towering over it, would also work. A basil leaf or two, or maybe some cherry tomatoes, would also compliment the Parmesan flavour.

 

And as for accompanying nibbles you could serve it with all of the above garnishes. Figs, walnuts, fried sage leaves and of course, cheese and biscuits, will all work well.

If you still think it sounds like a weird concoction I promise you it’s a nice, savoury/umami flavour that REALLY whet my appetite before my meal. If you make some of these for guests at a dinner party it will no doubt be a talking point.

A martini using gin infused with coriander/cilantro



I have previously mentioned that Coriander (cilantro) is the Marmite of the herb world (you either love it or hate it). I have also previously mentioned that I love it. So I infused some gin with it.

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Coriander is already one of the flavours infused into many gin varieties, although juniper is (or should be) the dominant flavour. Being a traditionalist I would normally want to preserve the juniper flavour as the key ingredient but I was curious to try out something new and wanted to satisfy my own love for the coriander flavour. It has a fresh, grassy, almost citrusy taste and pairs well with lemon and lime. Critics often describe the flavour as soapy, so be careful who you serve this to. Otherwise I think it’s delicious.

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To infuse the gin take a handful of coriander leaf per 100ml gin you want to infuse. Wash it, pat it dry then coarsely chop it.

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Add it to a clean jar, top up with gin, seal the lid, give it a vigorous shake, then leave it for around two days. Shake it once or twice each day.

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The gin should turn a nice green hue.

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Strain it and discard the coriander leaves.

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Then decant it into a glass container or two and keep in the fridge to store, and freezer if you want to use it in a martini.

When you’re ready to serve, pour the drink as a normal martini but with coriander gin instead of normal gin. Garnish with some coriander if you have any to hand (or a piece of lemon peel which compliments the zesty coriander flavour) and serve with some nibbles.

When I was testing out the coriander gin first I felt a craving for avocado so I decided to make some very simple guacamole.

I mashed 2 avocados with a square inch of onion, chopped, a handful of chopped fresh coriander, a squeeze of tomato purée, a sprinkling of chilli flakes and a squeeze of lemon or lime (whatever you have to hand) and served it with tortilla chips. This is a very basic guacamole recipe I just threw together with what I had to hand (it was a Friday night and I was exhausted). There are almost bound to be better recipes out there. My cousin in Scotland makes a good one!

The coriander martini also goes well with peanuts.



And seafood.

Here I served a plate of pre-cooked prawns with tiny drizzles of honey, sesame oil, lemon juice, mirin and rice wine vinegar, with further tiny sprinkles of grated lemon zest, chilli flakes and chopped coriander. I wanted to compliment the delicate prawns not anhialate them with a bazooka of sharp flavours.

All in all, I liked the coriander martini more than I was expecting. I also found that it went very well with certain nibbles. I would recommend it for dinner parties but you’ve got to be careful because some of your guests might be of the “I hate coriander” persuasion. 

Green Tea-infused Gin

Here is a quick guide on how to infuse gin (or vodka for that matter) with green tea for you to use in a martini or an unusual gin and tonic.

Simple, perfect, temperature-dependent, conducive towards mindful introspection… Am I talking about green tea or martinis here?
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I’ve previously made one or two gins infused with tea, such as Earl Grey but I wanted to try it with green tea, something I drink regularly.

While powdered matcha green tea is exquisite for making a cup of tea, I wanted to use something that wasn’t powdered to infuse the gin so that it didn’t leave a lot of sediment, so I picked a high quality sencha green tea, which involves dried green tea leaves that haven’t been ground into a fine powder.

Given that better quality green tea tends to impart it’s flavour very readily the infusion process was simple.

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For every 100ml of gin you want to infuse, use one tablespoon of green tea for a really strong flavour.

Add the tea to a jar, top up with gin, seal it and give it a really good shake – and I mean it: be really rough! In a traditional Japanese tea ceremony the host will use a whisk to stir up the tea and infuse it. You need to partially replicate this process with the jar.

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Once your arm starts to hurt from the shaking, leave the jar to infuse for 10 minutes, giving it a rigorous shake once or twice more. However, don’t leave it too long or it will become bitter.

Strain the liquid and either discard the leaves or use them to make a gin-flavoured cup of tea (although I tried this and it tasted pretty nasty so feel free to leave this stage out). Put the strained green gin into a container and store it in the freezer.

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When it’s time to serve you can make an earthy/grassy green tea gin and tonic. Alternatively serve it as a martini. You can either follow the classic martini recipe and replace the gin with your green tea infusion, or you can do as I do and replace half of the normal gin with your green tea infusion to keep it subtle.

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However, I would like to make a confession: I am not completely satisfied with this whole concept. While the thought of combining green tea and martini works very well in theory, the traditionalist in me simply prefers to have a good cup of hot green tea, followed by a clean, cold classic martini later in the day.

Perhaps we shouldn’t try to improve two separate things which are already simple and perfect in their own right. Or maybe I’m just a traditionalist. You decide.