Martini Izakaya Dishes


An Izakaya is essentially a type of Japanese pub that specialises in food to accompany drinks. It’s basically my favourite type of drinks setting. I love the post-work, instantly friendly and relaxed atmosphere, completely free of pretension.


Comparable to Spanish tapas or Turkish meze, the Izakaya-way is healthier than simply guzzling down a bucket of booze before staggering off for some fish and chips or a kebab (yes I’m British, that’s what we do).


Izakaya dining tends to leave out carbohydrates (rice, noodles etc) until the end of the meal for when the customer wants something very filling to soak up the booze before they leave. Otherwise most of the carbohydrates in the meal are obtained from the alcoholic beverages.

 I normally like some sort of carbohydrate with my martinis (crisps or nuts as a particular culprit, including the above Japanese peanut snacks) but there are loads of low-carb alternatives out there and the Izakaya is the master of them. Here are some examples:


It’s fairly standard to start an Izakaya meal with edamame, here boiled in salted water for 4 minutes from frozen, drained, cooled and sprinkled with salt (or some of Laura Santtini’s Umami salt if you fancy it). There are loads of other sauces, dips and condiments you can serve them with. Try experimenting.

   
This is another common Izakaya dish: agedashi-tofu.

It’s deep-fried tofu cubes in simmered dashi stock. I made some here with fried peppers, grated daikon, sliced cucumber, sliced spring onions and sesame seeds. For a recipe I recommend my favourite online cookery show: Cooking With Dog.


Grilled meat and vegetables are also extremely popular. Here are some Yakitori skewers.


Korean-style spinach – Sigeumchi-namul is an easy accompaniment you can make in advance of serving martinis.

Here is some tamago-yaki (fried omelette) with a sweet balsamic vinegar glaze. This is also nice at breakfast by the way.

  
Izakayas are usually more relaxed than formal sushi restaurants and many serve Japanese interpretations of Western cuisine. The above Korokke for example is the commonly served Japanese version of French croquette potatoes, here served on a bed of noodles. Sacré bleu!

  
I produced these asparagus skewers with the Izakaya style in mind, even though they are not traditionally Japanese.


Behold! I think I have managed to insult the culinary traditions of at least three different countries with this one. Nigiri (fingers of sushi rice pressed individually with toppings) here with English mustard (instead of wasabi) Spanish chorizo, Italian prosciutto and salami, with a mayo-mustard-vinegar-honey-and-juniper dip and some Tsukemono on the side.


I won’t stop there. Here is some meat and cheese gyoza, a veritable abomination of traditional Japanese cooking, but it’s very easy to make and appeals to meat and cheese lovers. Similar to a normal gyoza (dumpling) in terms of appearance and preparation, the only difference is the ingredients. Place a spoonful of cheese into the middle of some thinly sliced chorizo or salami, fold the meat over to encapsulate the cheese and crimp it shut. You can serve it like that, or grill it for a minute or so until the meat crisps and the cheese melts. 

  
My brother made something similar by wrapping mozzarella pieces in thin salami slices and frying them. Not so good for the heart, but very good for the belly.


Speaking of bellies, here are some evilly good deep-fried pickled gherkins. A salt ‘n’ vinegar snack I first enjoyed courtesy of the Meat Liquor / Meat Mission guys in London. They’re easy to make. Just dip them in a simple batter and fry them for about 3-4 minutes in about an inch of hot, lightly smoking oil. They go well if you serve them with a soy sauce and balsamic vinegar 50:50 mixture for dipping.

  
That soy-vinegar mixture works well with quite a lot of things. Here I used it as a dipping sauce for wood ear mushrooms. Buy these dried, bring a pan of water to the boil, throw them in, take the pan off the heat, give them a stir, leave them to soak in the water for 30 minutes, drain then serve.


Okay, okay, I know, it’s just crisps. Carbs and not fancy, right? Well Izakayas aren’t pretentious. So all sorts of comfort foods can be served. Crisps will forever be welcome as a tasty martini snack.


This is more authentically Izakaya. Sliced aubergine (egg plant, if you must) stir fried then combined with a light miso sauce, with chopped spring onions sprinkled on top. It can be served hot or cold.


This is some fried spring onion with a soy glaze. Simple, easy and slightly unusual in the West, the recipe is here.

  
This is probably cheating but I served some deep fried squid I bought from a Chinese takeaway restaurant. No one complained. It actually worked very well. I’ve said it before, seafood goes very well with a martini. And if you’re going to dip that seafood in batter and fry it until it’s crunchy then that can only be a good thing. 


This wasn’t cheating but it was a lot more time consuming. It’s some thinly sliced rare beef with spring onions. I rubbed the beef with salt and pepper, cooked it lightly in a pan, chilled it in iced water, patted it dry, sat it in a sweet soy and onion marinade overnight then sliced it thinly and served it with spring onion.


It’s a bit fiddly to make for a canapé but it’s tasty if you can be bothered. The beef also goes well simply served on top of rice (especially sushi rice).


This is izakaya-esque. I just took some konbu (kelp) I had used while making sushi rice and turned it into a salty/umami garnish.


You can roll the konbu up and serve it as an alternative to the classic martini olive.

    

You can also serve konbu with that same soy-vinegar mixture shown above.

Here is some Shime Saba or lightly pickled Japanese mackerel. It’s one of my favourite things to make and eat and it’s very healthy. 

  
One of my friends complains about prawn sandwiches having a “high death-to-bite ratio” but this mussel martini has a “high death to sip ratio”… Much like those of James Bond’s… It’s not the most appetising garnish I ever made but life without experimentation is dull. I simply threaded some pre-cooked mussels on a toothpick and served it on the side of the glass.

  
And who could forget this experimental extravaganza? It’s more seafood, this time in the form of a squid-ink martini with octopus tentacles. Tentacle martini porn is now officially a thing!

  
And finally, as I said before, an Izakaya experience is often finished off with soup and/or noodles. I also think that a martini needs to be finished off with a good meal. You want to fill your stomach with something substantial after all that alcohol and you need something to look forward to. Otherwise you’ll end up just wanting another martini – which can get very dangerous indeed!

 
Above I served noodles in miso soup with dumplings, prawns, seaweed, courgettes and avocado topped with katsuobushi (dried tuna shavings). It’s very easy to throw together – even if you’re two martinis down. In fact, if you’ve got the miso soup, add the boiled noodles then you could just about throw anything in there. Don’t be afraid to experiment.

Kanpai!

Advertisements

The Fiery Ginger Martini

   
Serving a cocktail in a martini glass and adding a -tini suffix to the end of its name does not make it a martini.

   
A real martini should contain a small amount of vermouth and a large amount of gin or vodka. If you start messing around with this too much you no longer have the genuine article.

   
Acceptable variations include the dirty martini, served with olive brine, or the Gibson martini, served with pickled onion instead of lemon or olive. These are very simple alterations to the classic. 

 

The above Rosemary Martini uses no syrups or fruit juice. It is the same alcoholic strength as a classic martini but with a sublime taste and aroma of a rosemary herbaceous border. It’s a little bit more fancy than a classic but I still consider it essentially a martini.

  

I sometimes blog about certain cocktails if they have become accepted into popular martini culture as having a -tini suffix (the Appletini perhaps, the above Espresso Martini or the Breakfast Martini for example).

   
Otherwise though, I like variations to the classic martini which involve only the tiniest, most subtle alterations. Above, the humble caperberry can turn a classic martini into a full blown filthy martini.

  
With this simplistic philosophy in mind, I wanted to make a martini very close to a classic, but which incorporated the sharp and fresh essence of ginger. I subsequently tried scouring the Internet for existent recipes.

  

Indeed, a ginger martini recipe already exists (it’s referred to as the ‘zen-tini’) but I was disappointed to find that it involved quite a lot of preparation, it was far to complicated, and the finished product, using syrup, wasn’t nearly as strong as a classic martini.

  

Such fuss is hardly my idea of ‘zen’.

  

So I had a think, and decided to put together my own recipe.

After much thought, I came up with something very simple, even comparable to a dirty martini.

The crucial difference is that instead of olive brine it’s made with the juice of freshly grated ginger.

  
Grate a thumb-sized piece of ginger then squeeze the pulp to release the liquid.

   
Take a teaspoon of the juice and pour it into a chilled martini glass.
Add vermouth to taste then top up with chilled gin/vodka and stir.

  
Garnish with a slice of ginger with a small wedge cut out so that it slips over the glass.

Serve.

  
The drink is as strong as a normal martini, but with an added fiery kick of spice and warmth. It’s very good in winter.

  
You can also garnish the drink with a slice of Japanese pickled ginger, which looks very delicate and is a little easier on the palate than a raw ginger slice. If you like the taste you might like my Japanese pickled ginger martini.

  
I’m trying to think up a name for the raw ginger martini. The hot and fiery martini comes to mind.

Perhaps I could name it in honour of Jamaica, the residence of martini fan Ian Fleming and a great producer of fiery ginger goodness. The MontegoBayTini perhaps?

  
I wanted to name it after the distinctive and deadly Jamaican Bond girl Grace Jones but sadly a cocktail has already been named in her honour (one of the most expensive in the world no less…).

  
Someone also suggested that the raw ginger garnish looked a little bit like…

  
…one of Russell Tovey’s ears so I could also name it after him. 

More predictably though, it could also be named after all manner of famous gingers: the Prince Harry martini perhaps, or the Julianne Mooretini.

All suggestions in the comments below will be gratefully received.

A Dirty Martini with lemon olives

This is a very tasty variation on a classic.
  
It’s just a normal dirty martini but with an extra sour-silken touch of citrus.

 
I’ve mentioned previously that Fragata kindly sent me a box of goodies to try out.

I usually eat their olives stuffed with anchovies but now I’m trying out their olives stuffed with lemon.

While I still prefer to eat their anchovy olives on their own, these lemon ones really enhance a martini. 

If you can’t decide if you would prefer your martini with an olive or a twist of lemon then this olive combo is for you.

  
Slightly open the can and pour the brine into a glass. 

 
Open the can more fully and decant the olives into a dish.

 
Take a chilled martini glass and squeeze a freshly peeled strip of lemon rind into it. Rub the peel around the inside of the glass to transfer as much of the lemon oil into it as possible. Keep the strip when finished.

 
Add olive brine to the glass. I recommend between 2-6 teaspoons depending on your preference (I use 4 teaspoons).

 
Take a bamboo skewer and thread on some olives. I think convention dictates that it should be an odd number of olives but it doesn’t make that much of a difference. If you only have toothpicks to hand just thread on one or two olives.

 

Add vermouth to taste (1tsp – 25ml) then top up with gin or vodka (100-120ml). Stir with the strip of lemon (then suck the lemon, just for the joy of it) before discarding it.

Garnish with the olives.

  
You can serve more olives on the side as well, depending on your appetite. It’s especially good for sharing and will stave off your hunger before dinner.

The Tsukemono Gibson Martini

“Tsukemono Gibson sounds like some sort of Bond Girl.”

 
This is a very simple variation on the classic, elegant Gibson Martini. The only difference is that instead of a pickled onion garnish I’m using a gentler, more subtle addition: Japanese Tsukemono pickles.

  
I served a Gibson martini with Tsukemono as an accompaniment once which is what gave me the idea

These pickles are easy to make (recipe here). You can also buy them in Asian cooking shops and some Japanese takeaway restaurants. They’re often coloured red with shiso leaf so the visual effect will be different if you make them at home.

  

Select some pickles.

  
Thread them onto a bamboo skewer. If you’ve only got toothpicks to hand just use those, with only one of the pickles.

Pour the martini using the classic recipe but without lemon:

  • Take a chilled glass from the freezer.
  • Pour a measure (or to taste) of vermouth, usually between 2tsp and 30ml.
  • Top up with around 100-130ml gin or vodka from the freezer.
  • Use the garnish to stir the drink.
  • Chin chin.

The martini goes well with Japanese food, as well as frightfully English cucumber sandwiches.

It also goes well if you make it with some of the more subtly flavoured Polish vodkas (although note that  Żubrówka would be too powerful a flavour for the fragile Tsukemono). It will also work well if you make it with the cucumber-infused Hendricks gin.

I don’t really believe in sake-tinis (you might have noticed their glaring absence on this blog) but yes, if you insist, they might go well with one.

Kanpai!

A Spicy Umami Michelada

A London variation on the classic Mexican drink.

  

As I’ve said before, I don’t always drink martinis. I also like beer and lager, to name but a few alternatives. I recently wrote about the Mexican drink Micheladas and here I’ve come up with another variation.

In its most simple terms, a Michelada contains beer/lager, the juice of a lime, a dash of Worcestershire sauce and a salt rim around the glass. Hot sauce, soy sauce and tequila are also frequently added.

I recently bought one or two Laura Santtini ingredients and thought they would make a good addition for this variation on the recipe. You will need:

  

  • A lime
  • A beer
  • Salt (preferably a good quality sea salt)
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • Soy sauce
  • Tabasco sauce

And the following enhancements:

  • Taste 5 Umami paste
  • Taste 5 Umami Rush condiment

I often rub the umami paste into meat, fish and vegetables before cooking them. However, if you don’t have any to hand, use tomato purée as a substitute and add a little more soy sauce.

The condiment is like a salty umami-citrus pepper. You can use normal salt instead but the condiment adds a zesty, umami buzz to the drink.

  • Run a tall glass under a tap and leave it in the freezer for at least 20 minutes (but preferably several hours)
  • Sprinkle salt and the Umami Rush condiment on a plate
  • Remove the glass from the freezer, cut the lime and rub half of it around the rim of the glass

  

  • Rim the glass in the salt and Umami Rush mixture to create a reddish crust
  • Juice the lime and add it to a jug
  • Add a dash of Worcestershire sauce and a dash of soy sauce.
  • Add a few drops of Tabasco sauce (to taste)
  • Add a smudge of Taste 5 Umami paste
  • Add some of the beer and stir the mixture
  • Pour the mixture into the rimmed glass then top up with more beer
  • Add ice and stir gently before serving. Try not to get the salt rim wet during this process.
  • Instead of ice I use lime segments that I store in the freezer (these are good for gin and tonics as well)

It’s perfect for a hot day. It’s also good for a… err… hangover.

Soooo… ¡Salud!

  

Korean spinach – Sigeumchi-namul

Annyeonghaseyo.

  

This is a really tasty, easy and even healthy vegetarian dish that you can serve as a vegetable side, a starter or, most importantly of all, as an appetiser to accompany a martini (obviously).

I first ate this delicious dish in Koreatown, Manhattan. Of all the wondrous and unusual dishes I gluttonously consumed that night (my favourite being a gigantic simmered squid, still sizzling in savoury sauce with brown sugar lightly caramelising on top) this spinach starter is the easiest to put together, but with all things simple, it’s often easy to get it wrong.

I have made the following recipe to my own personal taste preferences so you might want to alter it to add more or less garlic, chilli, soy sauce or oil depending on what you like, but you don’t want to drown it, you don’t want it too oily and you don’t want the garlic overpowering the earthy taste of the spinach either. 

Also if a Korean ajumma tells you to make the recipe a different way, just do what she says.

Otherwise, you will need the following ingredients per person:

  • 200g fresh spinach leaves (around 7oz)
  • 1 tsp soy sauce
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 tsp sesame seeds
  • A clove of garlic

(Simply multiply the above for the number of people you are preparing for).

  
Prepare the garlic first by peeling the number of cloves you want to use.

Here’s a tip: take the cloves you need and put them in the microwave on full heat for 2 seconds. No more! 

 

You’re not cooking the garlic in the microwave, you’re simply loosening the hard peel from the flesh. If you slice off the end now, you will find it much easier to peel.
Thinly slice then chop the garlic into fine pieces.


Here’s another tip: to wash off the garlic smell simply hang your hand loosely under a running tap of cold water so that the water runs down your fingertips and off the ends. Hold it there for about 20 seconds or so. This seems to wash off the garlic. It’s particularly effective if you have a stainless steel sink that you can rub your fingers on as well. 

Bring water to the boil in a large pan. Add the spinach and blanch for about 20-30 seconds.

It should turn a bright green. The volume of the spinach will also reduce significantly. If you are making this for a lot of people you might need to cook the spinach in batches.

When cooked, transfer immediately to a sieve and run under cold water to cool it thoroughly.

Leave it to drain.  

While the spinach is draining, mix the sauce by combining the garlic, soy sauce and sesame oil. 
Gently squeeze the spinach to remove excess water then transfer it to a chopping board and cut it up.
Transfer it to a large bowl (or you could reuse the pot that you cooked the spinach in if you’ve wiped it dry).

  
Add the sauce and mix it into the spinach (you can do this by hand but I used a teaspoon).

You can either serve it immediately or put it in the fridge to serve chilled later.

When serving, sprinkle sesame seeds on top. It is also common to add sliced spring onion as a garnish on top as well.

If you want to bulk it up with some nutritious umami I sometimes put a handful of dried wakame seaweed into a glass of water to soak for 5-10 minutes while making this dish. When you are about to chop up the spinach drain the seaweed and squeeze out the excess moisture and add it to the spinach to be chopped up with it.

If you want to be über nutritious lightly grind the sesame seeds in a mortar and pestle before sprinkling them over. If they are slightly broken it makes them more digestible and allows your body to absorb more of their nutrients.


Obviously don’t forget to pour yourself a martini (or some soju) when you serve this. Make sure you pour a large measure for any long suffering ajummas in your company as well. They deserve it!

 환호!

A Martini with Samphire

  
This is a very simple variation on the classic martini. The only thing I have changed is the garnish.

  
Marsh Samphire is one of my favourite foods. Harvested in the summer months from coastal rocky areas it is comparable to asparagus, but with a saltier and less pungent aftertaste. It’s very simple to prepare but it’s fleshy, crunchy freshness makes for a lovely seasonal martini accompaniment.

  
Grab it while it’s in season (it can turn a little bit woody later on). You can usually find it in fish mongers in July/August. For this martini accompaniment, I returned to my trusty fish dealer – Watt’s on the pier in Oban.

  
Boil it in lightly salted water for around 2 minutes.

  
Drain it.

  
Add some butter and pepper to taste.

  
Serve it as a light bite on its own, as a starter or as part of a full meal.

  
And it makes a nice garnish for a Classic Martini.