Chilled scallop canapés with smoked paprika, seaweed-butter and lime

These sound fancy but they were quite easy to put together and can be made in advance, so they’re easy to serve if you’re having a party.


Get about one scallop per guest (or two if you want to make it a more substantial dish than just a canapé).


I love scallops. My dad was a scallop diver so they’ve never been far away from my consciousness.


Shell and lightly clean them.

Separate the coral. You can cook them at the same time as the white flesh and eat them when you like but don’t include them in the canapé itself.

Put the white flesh into the freezer for about 40 minutes. This will allow it to firm up.


Remove then slice horizontally, so that each scallop produces two or more thin discs of tender flesh.

Dry each piece with a paper towel.


Season both sides with a little salt and some paprika (smoked paprika if you can get it).

Heat some olive oil in a pan on relatively high heat.

Add the scallops and coral (in batches if you have a large amount).


Cook for about 40-50 seconds on one side (or at least until that side starts to brown – as in the above image) then turn over. Cook for about 30-40 seconds on the other side, or again until it starts to brown.

Remove the scallops from the pan and allow to cool to room temperature. Put them in the fridge.


Add a dash of soy sauce, a dash of mirin and half a teaspoon of honey to the pan. Stir and bring to the boil, then take off the heat and pour the sauce into a small dipping bowl.


When the time comes spread some seaweed butter onto a ritz cracker, or better still some miniature blini. Top with a slice of scallop and if you’re serving immediately pour a little of the dipping sauce over the scallop and garnish with a tiny sliver of lime peel. TINY. 


If you’re not serving the canapés immediately save the dipping sauce until right before you serve, cover the canapés and keep them in the fridge.

You can just eat the cooked coral on its own (I did; and I felt no guilt) or you can serve them separately with toothpicks and the dipping sauce.

The fresher the scallops, the better.


And naturally this goes very well with a martini. It’s an exquisite snack for even the most esteemed of guests.

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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!

Asparagus skewers to accompany a martini

  
This is dead easy.

  
Asparagus is tasty and a bit of a luxury so it naturally pairs well with a martini. I love its distinctive flavour, visual appeal and most of all, its satisfying fresh and crunchy texture.

  
My brother and I were having a martini before dinner, but after we had drunk the first one we really just wanted to have another one and postpone the food. Not to miss out on our nutrition (you can’t live on gin and olives…) I decided to take the vegetables we were going to eat and martini-fy them.

  

Inspired by this Izakaya-style spring onion recipe I cut each asparagus spear into three pieces and threaded them onto some bamboo skewers.

   
I added them to boiling water and cooked them for 4.5 minutes.

Meanwhile, melt a knob of butter in a frying pan with about half a tablespoon of soy sauce, half a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar and a pinch of pepper. You could also add a splash of mirin or sweet vermouth. 

  
I then removed the skewers from the water and shook them to discard any excess. I added them to the frying pan with the sauce and simmered them for about 30 seconds, tossing the skewers to coat them in the sauce.

  
Serve and pour over the excess sauce.

  
Reward yourself with another martini, which you can make while the asparagus is boiling and the butter is melting.

The French call the asparagus tips “points d’amour”. Apparently Madame de Pompadour was a fan.

 

She’s also at the top of my list of people I’d like to have a martini with so I hope she would approve of the recipe.
  
Humans have been consuming asparagus for thousands of years. 

Harvesting the plant has been depicted in ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs.

The Romans even had a phrase “quicker than you can prepare asparagus” which serves as a reminder of how rapidly you can create this dish.

  
It’s also been described as an aphrodisiac in the past.

I’m not sure about the science behind that one so I’d recommend sticking to oysters.

  
But let’s be honest, if you’re sharing a martini with your amour you might not need an aphrodisiac at all.

Beef yakitori snacks

  
I had a couple of people round for a catch up (over drinks of course).

I was trying to think of something quick and I easy I could feed them between martini drinking when I came across some beef mince on special offer at the supermarket.

I bought a kilogram and decided to make yakitori, a type of Japanese skewer kebab, inspired by izakaya/yakitori-bar type food.

I made the following recipe:

  

  • Soak several bamboo skewers in water overnight.
  • Peel and finely chop a thumb-sized piece of ginger and add it to a large bowl.
  • Finely chop 8 spring onions and add them to the bowl.
  • I added a splodge of garlic paste.
  • I then added 4 eggs and stirred them lightly with a fork to break them up.
  • I then added a tablespoon of plain flour and a teaspoon of cornflour.
  • Next, I tipped in the mince and mixed it all up with my hands.  This is both a hugely satisfying task but also horrifically messy.  Thoroughly wash your hands both before and after.

  

  • I made the mince mixture into little balls, around 3.5cm in diameter.

  

  • I then threaded them onto the bamboo skewers. I put three on each but this will depend on the size of your skewers.

  

I then mixed a glaze:

  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 4 tsp mirin
  • 2 tsp runny honey
  • 1 tsp vinegar from the pickled ginger jar (balsamic or even ordinary vinegar would be fine as well I’m sure)
  • A dash or Worcestershire sauce
  • Stir in the ingredients in a bowl then microwave for 20 seconds.
  • I then put the grill on 200 degrees C and threw in the yakitori for about 8 minutes.

  

  • Remove the yakitori from the grill.
  • Use a pastry brush to coat the top layer with the glaze.
  • Gently turn the yakitori over so that the less-cooked side is facing upwards.
  • Coat the newly exposed sides and put back into the oven for about 8 more minutes or until thoroughly cooked.

I served them immediately with a simple dipping sauce (2 parts soy sauce 1 part rice vinegar).

You can sprinkle over some more chopped spring onions if you can be bothered. It adds a nice contrasting colour.

Otherwise best consumed when tipsy. It would go particularly nicely with a Pickled Ginger Martini.

    The Lorena-san Michelada

    This is my Japanese variation of a classic Mexican drink – the Michelada. I have named my version after my friend from Mexico City who introduced me to the concept. It’s not a martini but hey – I can’t drink martinis ALL the time! Plus, summer is coming and this is a great summer drink.

    It’s very similar to a standard Mexican Michelada, which is essentially beer, lime juice and some additional savoury and/or spicy sauces served in a salt-rimmed glass. The drink is comparable to a Bloody Mary and very good for a hangover or alcoholic rehydration on a hot day. However, the mixture for the glass rim in my version is heavily influenced by Japanese ingredients. If you can’t get hold of them, I recommend you try a more standard recipe with beer, Worcestershire sauce, lime and salt at the very least, so you can experience this wonderful drink. The ingredient combination might sound unusual, alien and even unpalatable to some of you but trust me, I’ve had lots of experience.

    You might ask me why I would combine a Mexican recipe with a Japanese tang. Well, it’s mainly because I tried this and it worked. Otherwise though, Japan and Mexico have more in common than might meet the eye. Obviously both countries feature heavily in the Kill Bill franchise. Both countries also have extensive experience of earthquakes. If there’s ever a rumble and a shake of the earth your Mexican and Japanese friends will be the first to jump under a table – fact! However, most importantly for the sake of this blog, the cultures of both countries hold flavours and cuisine in extremely high regard.

    Both Japan and Mexico are blessed with climatic diversity, which in turn has led to very distinct regional variations in things like agricultural produce and other forms of naturally available food. This in turn has led to the evolution of a rich assortment of cuisine specialities.

    In the case of Mexico I think that the highly sophisticated cuisines do not receive enough international acclaim. I love Japanese food and I am very glad that it has received a lot of global recognition, evidenced not least by the multitude of Michelin stars awarded to Tokyo.

    Mexican cuisine however, does not seem to have had the same international recognition. It appears to have been hijacked by numerous profit-making rip-off versions, selling a business model rather than genuine Mexican food. Of course, there are exceptions, particularly in the United States (and there are a handful in London) but it is far easier to find an authentic Japanese restaurant than it is to find an authentic Mexican one. I hope that in the future Mexican cuisine will be given the acclaim it deserves.

    But I digress… here is my recipe.

    Run a tall beer glass under a tap and place it in the freezer for at least 20 minutes (preferably longer).

      
    Grind a pinch of sea salt, a pinch of furikake (a salty-umami Japanese seasoning), a pinch of caster sugar, a pinch of chilli powder and a pinch of sesame seeds with a pestle and mortar. 

    Slice a lime or yuzu fruit. Rub one half over the rim of the glass. 

     
    Rim the glass with the ground mixture. Save any leftover mixture for later. You will need the lime/yuzu as well.

    Add the following to the glass:

    The juice of 2 limes or yuzu fruit

    A dash of hot sauce (I used Sriracha)

    A dash of soy sauce

    A dash of Worcestireshire sauce

    And last but not least… A light beer!

    You can add an ice cube or two to cool it down, or even better, use frozen lime or lemon slices.

     

    Serve with the leftover salt/chilli/sesame/furikake mixture in a side dish. Lick your finger and dab it in to taste, as you would with some salt with a tequila.

    Serve with a wedge or two of lime/yuzu as well.

    And it will go with a wide range of izakaya-style snacks too.

    ¡Salud!

    乾杯!

    Y muchas gracias Lorena-san!


    More snacks and nibbles to accompany martinis

    Here is another selection of savoury snacks I’ve recently served and eaten with martinis.

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    Roasted and salted soy beans.

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    Prawns on lettuce with Peking duck sauce and fried spicy broad beans.

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    You can get a lot of good stuff in IKEA.

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    Fish roe goes well in Swedish croustades.

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    Here are some of the filled croustades, as well as some Japanese nuts and seaweed snacks.

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    Here are some more croustades with a smidgen of Sås senap and dill (a type of sweet Swedish mustard) topped up with Tångkorn (a salty seaweed extract) with a fleck of lemon peel to garnish.

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    I like to keep a selection of things like peanuts, pistachio nuts, Bombay mix etc just in case you need an emergency martini (it happens).

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    A simple favourite: Bombay mix and olives stuffed with anchovies.

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    MUM’S ROAST BEEF!

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    Sushi.

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    Sage leaves fried in butter with garlic and walnuts (see here for the recipe).

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    Steak. After you cook it, let it rest for about 5 minutes then slice it thinly.

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    Scrumptious pieces of grilled Parma ham.

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    Olives and squid.

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    Elk and pork sausage.


    Fried salmon skin.

    Fried sage leaves again, but this time with no additions of garlic or nuts.

    Ceviche.

    Pistachio nuts.

     And finally, happiness is finding an olive (or three) at the bottom of your martini when you’re hungry, said a very wise man.

    Roka Bar could rock my world with one small adjustment: 4/5

    Roka: 4/5
    Roka is a lovely Japanese bar/restaurant with a couple of branches in London.

    I’m not here to review the food, I’m here to review the martini. They had a beautiful array of sakes, shochu and cocktails but with a very slight nudge their martinis could make this place out of this world:

    They don’t keep the gin/vodka and glasses in the freezer. That’s all Roka needs to do in order to hit martini greatness. Given that sake drinkers often take pains to warm or chill their tipple surely a bar such as this could do the same with its gin. Dear Roka, please make this change to achieve martini greatness. All you need is a bit of room in your freezer.

    Otherwise Roka had a beautiful selection of nibbles. The menu was excellent and we were served spicy edamame without even asking. This is a big win in my books, especially if you compare it to other central London bars. The service was highly attentive. The decor was soft, wooden amber-lit and adorned with brewing sake infusions of pineapple and yuzu. Overall it was a lovely experience. However, without the gin or glasses in the freezer, you might want to stick to Kirin for now.