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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Fusion Food: Seaweed Butter for Martini Canapés


Seaweed butter on a cracker with tsukemono cucumber pickles in the background.


I recently enjoyed a discovery taster menu at the beautiful Michelin-starred Greenhouse restaurant in London’s upscale Mayfair area.


I didn’t have any martinis as I didn’t want to spoil my palette before the dining extravaganza but the setting was beautiful, the food utterly inspiring and the service convivial and professional; in-depth but relaxed. What a treat! It certainly set my martini-obsessed brain into overload thinking of new potential ideas and experiments.


The exquisite nine-course menu contained a range of surprising and inspiring combinations, including cauliflower mousse with crab meat and mint jelly; scallop and yuzu tartare; grilled beef and pineapple and even the most gourmet version of cheese on toast I’ve ever heard of.


Did I mention the oyster, abalone and lettuce ravioli in a dashi stock?

Taking me by surprise once again was the fact that one of the most notable dishes we enjoyed was the bread course near the beginning. We were offered a selection of bread types (I chose the Chestnut bread) and two types of butter with a pinch of salt: one standard doux (unsalted) butter and one mixed with Cornish seaweed. I instantly gravitated to the latter and I wasn’t dissatisfied! The salty, umami creaminess was unwordly.


So being the seaweed obsessive that I am, I tried to make my own version of the butter.

I tried to keep it simple as I’m not very skilled but evidently you can make a pretty tasty version without too much effort. Not a patch on the fine work of the Greenhouse but enough for me nonetheless.


It looks a bit gross but bear with me on this one.


I took 300g butter (I chose lighter Lurpak) and mixed it throughly with a generous punch of salt and three crumbled sheets of nori seaweed.


I then put it back into the butter tub and returned it to the fridge. I’m told it will last until the original sell-by date of the butter. Maybe even a little longer because of the salt. You should also be able to freeze it.


After that it’s fairy versatile! The salty-umami combination, served chilled, is highly tantalising on bread, crackers, oatcakes or rice cakes.


It can also be used to top cooked food such as potatoes or fish.

I’m still playing around with other possibilities.


Inspired by a combination of Japanese makizushi rolls and a traditional British snack I made a triple-decker cucumber sandwich using the seaweed butter and a smear of wasabi, then cut it into small squares to serve with some martinis.

New AND retro.

My friends who normally make fun of me for serving what they term “alien food” said they were surprised to find it quite nice.

Thanks for the support guys!


I also had a go using it with scallops…


As well as in sushi. I’ll blog about these later.

Otherwise I’ll keep on experimenting but if I’m honest it’s really nice simply spread on some good quality bread!

Till the next time…

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!

Gin and Tonic advice courtesy of @GinMonkeyUK

This isn’t a standard martini post but the Gin Monkey very kindly gave me some advice on tonic water for those of you who would like some guidance for making G&Ts. I don’t drink G&Ts very frequently anymore but they were my drink of choice before I discovered the simplistic power of a martini.

  • Her basic rule for tonic is to stay away from artificial sugars and slimline at all costs.
  • Make sure it’s cold.
  • Add plenty of ice.

As regards certain brands, it will depend on the gin and your personal preference but Waitrose own brand tonic was recommended, as was Fever Tree and even the classic brand Schweppes.

And on the subject of garnishes it can also depend on the gin. A slice of lemon is more traditional, although some people prefer lime. Both the Gin Monkey and myself are in the lemon camp. Other gins, such as a Hendricks, go with a slice of cucumber. Pink grapefruit can work. Some like Gin Mare go well with rosemary and olive (I MUST try this amazing sounding gin in a martini – it seems made for it) but there are all sorts of possible pairings, often recommended by the gin-makers themselves. I’ve heard rumours about chilli and mangoes and while I’m a bit of a traditionalist I like both of those flavours.

You can see more about G&Ts on the Gin Monkeys site here. I particularly enjoyed the entry on Spain.

The Gin Monkey also provided her thoughts on favourite gins to use in a martini.

She agrees with my personal preferences for Beefeater and Plymouth gins but also recommends Beefeater 24, Tanqueray No. 10 and Martin Millers gin.

Finally, she recommended that I try out Fords Gin as being seriously impressive. So that’s on my to-do list.

Thank you to the Gin Monkey!

Tanqueray in a martini

  
I’ve previously mentioned my penchant for Plymouth Gin which I find smooth and strong on juniper, but tanqueray is another favourite.

  
There has definitely been a bit of a backlash (not a unanimous one though) against some of the more florally extravagant brands of gin to emerge over recent years. I would feel inclined to agree as I like gin to taste of juniper and not be overpowered by other tastes and aromas. The clean taste reminds me of pine forests. The associated smells are so evocative: Christmas trees, freshly cut furniture, long walks in foresty commission property…

  
Nonetheless, some of the more floral botanicals of the gin world, such as the cucumber and rose infused Hendricks, definitely have their place. They go very nicely in a gin and tonic on a summer’s day for example. But when it comes to the botanicals needed for a martini I think that less is more and I drink Hendricks infrequently, usually on special occasions when I am back in Scotland. I also imagine that it’s a favourite drink for Scottish expatriates living around the world, in Dubai, Spain, Singapore or the US for example, a pleasant but distinctive reminder of the civilities of home.

Ideally the flavour of a classic martini should involve a balance of botanical vermouth, with a haze of predominantly juniper from the gin seeping in at the end of each taste. I therefore prefer the plain and subtle tasting gins to their more fancy counterparts.

  
Tanqueray was one of the many vices of the late beautiful Amy Winehouse (whom I actually once met in Edinburgh, when her hair was long and loose, not up in a High Barnet). I find that this brand of gin has a dominant juniper flavour, but one that is soft and mellow nonetheless, making it an excellent complement to vermouth in a martini.

 
So I mixed some with a little vermouth and drank it down. And they lived happily ever after. 

The end.

The Laura Santtini Umami Martini

Laura Santtini is a London-based chef with a recipe book that changed the way I looked at food. She describes herself as the genetic equivalent of a Molotov cocktail: half Italian, quarter Persian, pinch of Sephardic and then an English-Irish mix. Her recipe book is full of things you can prepare in a matter of minutes (ie before your friends get to your home via the tube after work) yet you can present them with a simplistic yet explosive flair that says “oh it’s just something I threw together before you got here” but looks and tastes like restaurant quality cuisine.

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Laura Santtini’s book “Flash Cooking” gave me the confidence to entertain guests at home. Which has had a profound impact on this blog, because it means I can give people martinis, then serve them dinner when they are no longer able to use their legs to walk to a restaurant. Well done Laura, and thank you.

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Ms. Santtini has also produced a very fine condiment: Taste 5 Umami Paste. I usually rub it on food items to marinade them, although one of my friends likes to just eat the stuff for the flavour itself. Praise indeed.

Having previously added Worcestershire Sauce to a martini for a taste of salty umami I thought I might try the same with the Taste 5 Umami paste, not least as an experiment that my aforementioned friend might like. I took a pea-sized globule of the paste and muddled it into a measure of vermouth, then topped it up with gin and stirred.

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I didn’t use a garnish this time round but I could suggest the following as good pairings for the umami flavour:

A twist of lemon
An olive stuffed with garlic
An olive stuffed with anchovy (for double, nay triple umami)
A sprig of Rosemary
Watercress
A slice of cucumber

Disclaimer: the following photograph contains no martini.

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Be sure to rub the sauce on some meat or fish to marinade before you fry it.

The Raitini (cucumber raita martini)

What kind of martini should you serve before a curry? This one.

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Indian summer? No, just a British one.

As much as I love a classic gin martini, sometimes it can leave your mouth just a little too raw before you eat a fiery dish, so I started to contemplate an alternative, something with less alcohol but more flavour to compliment the curry.

Of course, South Asia presents us with a wonderful array of flavours to play with, but at risk of creating something some people in the region might consider ‘insipid’ I choose fairly mild flavours to create a cooling and refreshing martini, based on mint and cucumber yoghurt raita, but without the yoghurt. Imagine a salt lassi with alcohol instead of dairy products.

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The Raitini is born.

To serve two of these, take half a cucumber and grate it. I use a plastic Japanese grater I found on the internet. I have seen people use it for grating daikon/mooli but it’s perfect for this task as well.

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Separate the juice from the pulp. Pour the juice into a glass and put the pulp into a bowl.

Next, peel a knob of ginger.

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I was taught this peeling technique by a Sri Lankan friend. Use a teaspoon to scrape off the skin. It’s really fast and easy and you barely lose any of the juicy flesh underneath.

Next, grate the ginger in the same way as the cucumber. Really squeeze the ginger pulp to get as much juice out as possible, then discard the pulp. Pour the juice into the same glass as the cucumber juice. This adds a little bit of fire to the martini. If you really want to give it some kick you could grate in some chilli as well but personally I would save your spice for the meal itself. The drink should be cooling so as to contrast it.

Take a handful of mint leaves and chop then finely then add them to the cucumber and ginger juice. If you don’t have mint leaves you can substitute this with a teaspoon of mint sauce.

With the cucumber pulp that you separated earlier, you can now make an actual raita to serve with your curry.

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Mix it with a few tablespoons of natural yoghurt and add a generous handful of chopped mint leaves (or a teaspoon or two or mint sauce) and you’re good to go.

Back to the martini, take a martini glass, add 1 – 1.5 parts vermouth, then 2 parts of the cucumber juice and stir. Top up with gin (about 2 parts), stir again and garnish with a slice of cucumber.

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Fit for Aishwarya ‘Raitini’ Rai perhaps?

You can also use vodka for this recipe but I would recommend gin for those sentimental over the days of the British Raj. Bombay Sapphire would be a good choice for obvious reasons. Hendricks gin also goes very well with cucumber.

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I predictably served these latest martinis with Bombay mix and pistachio nuts but there is an array of bites that could accompany these drinks: bhajis, samosa and poppadoms are easy to get hold of but there are loads of possibilities. I would be interested to hear other people’s suggestions.

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And here’s the curry I served afterwards: marinated tandoori chicken with salad and grilled broccoli and a generous side helping of cooling raita made with the pulp of the grated cucumber.