Calm

Politics are in uproar.

It feels like a full time job just keeping up with the news.

My recommended antidote is a cold, strong one; the silver bullet; the elixir of quietude.

Plus dogs/cats/plants if you have any to hand.

Here is my weekend cure: a classic gin martini with a twist of lemon.

The lemons came from the Co-op which I believe to provide the best store-brand lemons in the country.

They are almost always fresh, shiny, unwaxed and completely bursting with tasty lemon oil when you lightly squeeze the delectable rind.

I also made my own Bombay mix to go with it. I bought some wholewheat noodle nests but loads of bits of them had broken off, so I took all the loose scraps and deep-fried them with some peanuts and cashew nuts I had in the cupboard.

I then wok-fried some mustard seeds and threw in the noodle-nut mixture when the seeds started to pop. I stirred quickly, chucked in some curry leaves, a teaspoon of curry power, a sprinkle of salt and a grind of black pepper then stirred it quickly to mix it all up. I then tipped it onto a plate to cool down.

When it comes to texture, is there anything better than deep frying? Probably not.

There’s also something I find very comforting about South Asian flavours, but you could do this with all sorts of things. Maybe stir in some shredded nori seaweed or furikake at the last minute. Smoked paprika? Sea salt?

Whatever you choose, amid constitutional court rulings, impeachment proceedings and climate change, the resulting moment of peace that accompanied my citrusy martini and snacks was exactly what I needed.

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More recent martinis

Here is a simple selection of some recent martinis I had.


A classic on the balcony.


A classic in the kitchen.


A classic at the barbecue.


More balcony.


Even more on the balcony, this time a dirty martini with olives.


This time with more olives and fewer clouds.


A langoustini.


And finally, a candlelit martini with snacks.

How to make an Old Fashioned Cocktail

This is a slight departure from my normal work, but I’ve got a cold and was craving something less potent and more sweet and fruity than a martini.

  
Enter the Old Fashioned cocktail. 

Apparently emerging in the early 1800s (it might even have evolved towards the late 1700s), this drink is a lot older than a Martini.

It also has a reputation for being a bit of a “fog-cutter” – that is, the sort of drink you choose when you’ve got a hangover, something sweet to try and ease the pain and help you get back on your feet again. The Breakfast Martini can serve a similar purpose.

Such hangover tactics are completely contrary to modern medical advice, but by Jove, if people have been swearing by the technique for over 200 years then who am I to argue?

Recipes for an Old Fashioned today can involve ingredients such as soda water, maraschino cherries and slices of orange but I wanted to create something much more intense, and err… old fashioned.

I like to taste alcohol when I drink alcohol, you see.

I first drank an Old Fashioned in the office after a long, intense day. I think we were in the midst of monitoring the onset of the Arab Spring, a time when Middle Eastern governments tended to collapse on a Friday, leaving us working late into the evening while the rest of London descended unto the pub.

 

 I was told the cocktail was making a comeback because of its portrayal in the US series ‘Mad Men’. My industry might not have encouraged the same sort of working hours drinking habits of Don Draper but booze was a fairly vital commodity once we had finished our work at the end of the day.

Given the supply of various ingredients we routinely kept in our drawers our office was the perfect place for our first tipple. A quick mix and we could relax, chat about work and enjoy a short period of shared workplace quietude before we too joined the masses in the pubs.

The recipe we used in the office involved honey, but my recipe uses demarara sugar.

You will need:

  • Bourbon or Rye
  • Sugar (brown if possible)
  • Bitters (I used Angosturra)
  • An orange (just for the peel)
  • Two glasses (one for prep, one for serving)
  • Ice (I used spherical ice – as it melts slowly and looks good in the right glass)
  • A teaspoon
  • A little bit of water

  

  • Add 2 teaspoons of sugar to the prep glass.
  • Add 2 teaspoons of water.

  

  • Stir well to dissolve (this can take a minute or two).

  

  • If you mix these quite often you might want to make yourself some sugar syrup in advance which means you don’t need to go about dissolving sugar each time you pour a deink.
  • Add 250ml water to a kettle and bring to the boil.
  • Let it cool slightly then add it to a pouring bowl with 300g Demerara sugar.
  • Stir until it dissolves, allow to cool, then pour into a bottle or other container to store until needed.

  

  • Back to the mixing: add 2-3 dashes of bitters to the dissolved sugar (or equivalent of syrup) and stir.
  • Add 60ml bourbon or rye and stir a bit more.

  

  • Peel a strip of orange rind. 

  

  • Twist it over the serving glass to spray in the natural oil. Squeeze it, crush it slightly and rub it all round the inside of the glass to transfer as much of the oil as possible, then discard the piece (I actually just ate it outright, mainly for the vitamin C).
  • Peel a second strip of orange rind, twist it over the glass to release a bit more oil but try not to damage it.

  

  • Trim the strip of peel and put aside.

  

  • Add the ice to the serving glass.

   

  • Pour over the mixture from the other glass and swirl it around.
  • If you like bitters you can add in another dash now and watch it permeate through the drink.
  • Use the trimmed orange peel to stir, then drop it into the drink as well.

  

  • Serve in a nice setting with good company.

I picked the garden with the whippet puppies but indoor settings are more common; somewhere with dim lighting, leather furniture and perhaps some cigars would definitely work.

Because of its sweetness I don’t think this drink goes especially well with nibbles.

It could, however, be served both before or after a meal.

Indeed the drink’s versatility means that it could be served at a variety of times in a range of environments and settings.

Here, for example, is a perfect setting: a bar cabaret performance by the talented Cat Loud and Finn Anderson.

  

It also works well during more intense and strategic pursuits.

A Martini on the Rocks

Die-hard martini fans, look away now…

  

This sounds like a very glamorous, American thing to order at a bar: “I’ll take a martini on the rocks“. 

Conversely, it is a very uncommon thing to say in the United Kingdom.

Us Brits tend not to say “on the rocks” for fear of sounding affected. With the exception of obvious drinks such as spirits and mixers (which normally come with ice as standard), we will otherwise simply ask for a drink then ask the bar tender to put ice in it. Our eloquence may know no bounds in our literature, but when it comes to alcohol we tend to prefer clear concision and direct instruction; no bullshit – and certainly no risk of ballsing up the drinks order with potentially confusing idioms.

If I asked for “a martini on the rocks” I would also be very concerned that I might receive a glass of straight vermouth topped up with ice cubes. This has definitely happened in the past, and while not necessarily unpleasant for many people, it would likely disappoint a gin-fiend waiting for their martini fix (you know who you are – and we’re all friends here).

This kind of vermouth calamity can sometimes happen simply when you order a martini without any mention of it being on the rocks – continental Europe take note! Presumably the bar tender merely thought you were referring to the Martini brand of vermouth, rather than the life-altering, semi-spiritual cocktail that we have all come to love.

  

But back to this martini variation – the one with ice cubes.

The two main points that separate a martini on the rocks from a classic martini are obvious but fundamental: temperature and texture. Yes it’s just ice we’re adding, but it changes everything.

I have frequently discussed the importance of temperature when making a martini.

If the gin or vodka has been stored in the freezer it shouldn’t be necessary to add ice to the drink at any stage of its production. I don’t shake or stir my martinis with ice if the alcohol has been sufficiently chilled already. This makes it very easy to rustle up a couple of them at very short notice and they taste – in my humble opinion – the best.

The other crucial aspect of a martini is texture. A martini made with gin from the freezer has an almost irreplaceable texture – like cold, almost crystallised oil.

A normal martini stirred with ice is lighter, not usually as cold, but still smooth.

A martini shaken with ice – perhaps the most famous variation – is also lighter, fresher even, sometimes with tiny flecks of ice that gradually melt as you sip. However, I don’t think it’s as magically intoxicating (in a literary sense as well as a chemical one) as a martini made with freezer-gin.

One surprise is that a martini on the rocks made by pouring room temperature vermouth and gin into a glass then topping it up with ice does not taste as whole-heartedly appalling as it might sound to a die-hard martini fan. It was somewhat refreshing, if an ultimate disappointment when compared to the real-deal.

It’s therefore preferable to use vermouth from the fridge and gin from the freezer if possible – but it’s not essential.

Otherwise I would recommend that you use the same vermouth-to-gin ratio that you’re used to (guidance here).

I would also recommend adding a generous slice of lemon, rather than a lemon twist or an olive. The latter two are too astringent or savoury for this drink.

If you’re in a bit of a pickle, you don’t even need a proper V-shaped martini glass for this variation (although they are always better).

However, with the ice cubes and lemon bobbing around in the glass this version cannot rival a smooth, tranquil, classic martini. 

  

I would recommend it only in times of emergency, when you haven’t had the chance to chill your gin in advance. Under such circumstances, it could prove a life-saving variation on the classic drink, especially at the end of the day in a hot country. Here’s looking at you, Brazil, Australia, India, the Mediterranean and others.

Otherwise, why not just have a gin and tonic? You read more about those here.

The Filthy Martini

Gird your loins and lock up your daughters – and sons, for that matter.

  

Martinis cause a lot of confusion. There are many myths out there over things like how to prepare them, how to drink them, who said what about them and where they originally come from.

 
Of course, a drink that contains 6 units of alcohol was always likely to foment disarray, but hopefully this blog is helping cut through the fog. And oh haven’t there been some foggy days putting it together (all that painstaking ‘research’ etc). 

Anyway, the filthy martini seems to cause quite a lot of confusion on its own, with many people, including those at well-known gin brands mistakenly believing it to be a dirty martini with extra olive juice.

 
This is incorrect.

In fact, the filthy martini is the creation of the above, humble caperberry.

Another delectable gift from Fragata, these berries are the matured form of capers (caper buds), endemic to many parts of the world with a Mediterranean or semi-arid climate. They are often pickled and regularly served with seafood or in salads. The pickled caper bud is a well-known constituent of tartare sauce.

The caperberry is juicer but still delightfully tart and was even once thought to have been an aphrodisiac (please see asparagus and oysters).

The berries are frequently pickled in brine for consumption in countries where they don’t grow naturally (such as in Northern Europe), which allows us to create this martini variation. The pickling process also seems to bring out a savoury mustard-like aroma in the berries which cuts in very well to the clean juniper of a classic martini.

I also love their texture, firm and fleshy on the outside, with satisfying crunchy seeds inside that pop, almost like a vegetarian form of Japanese tobiko (flying fish roe).

  

Anyway, here’s how to make the drink:

  • Take a strip of lemon peel and squeeze and rub it into a chilled martini glass to transfer the lemon oil.
  • Add caperberry brine to taste (usually between 2-6tsp).
  • Add vermouth to taste (usually between 2tsp to 30ml depending on your preferences and the size of your glass).
  • Top up with gin/vodka (usually around 90-130ml depending on the size of your glass).
  • Stir with the lemon peel (which you can then discard).
  • Drop a single caperberry into the drink.
  • Serve.

  

 
I would recommend serving more caperberries on the side, potentially with some other nibbles as well if you’re particularly hungry.

  
This martini works particularly well as an aperitif before some good seafood, particularly any kind of fish served fried in batter, from cod to calamari.

Enjoy.

  
#FILTH!

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.

A Martin Miller’s Gin martini

I first collected a bottle of this gin in Madrid airport duty free. The unusual branding caught my eye. Made with pure Icelandic water with a traditional English gin technique, it sits in a tall, proud-looking bottle with straight lines and clean imagery. There are strong maritime tones to the bottles appearance.

  
The gin has a crisp, dry flavour that you can lose in a gin and tonic (make sure you choose a tonic that does the gin justice). In a martini, however, I thought it went very well.

It has a smokey-smooth character, not too strong on juniper, or indeed any botanicals, which helped make a subtle but simultaneously bold martini.

  
To hark to its Nordic links you could drink it around mid-summer (midsommar), or mid-winter, but to be honest it would work at any time of year. Like most classic martinis it will go well with seafood but there’s something about this gin which makes me want to pair it with smoked things in particular – fish or meat. 

  
It also went down very nicely in the smokey air as we waited for steaks to cook on our fire pit. Despite the beautiful sunset it was freezing up in the Hebrides when we drank this, but we kept warm with the strong spirits inside us as we stood around the fire. 

  
Feeling a little bit merry, I went for a nice wander in the trees shortly after. A lovely end to the day.