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!

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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!

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 Hot and Dirty Martini

Grrrrrrrrrrr

  
This is a very simple variation on the classic martini, and its obviously got a very arresting name.
  
I first had a hot and dirty martini at the Mermaid Inn in New York. It’s an excellent aperitif as it really gets your digestive juices churning. It’s perfect before a special dinner, whether it’s Sunday lunch, seafood, a romantic meal for two or otherwise.

  
I have been sent a selection of goodies by the wonderful people at Fragata, a traditional Spanish firm specialising in olives, peppers, caperberries and other tasty goods.

  
I regularly eat their olives stuffed with anchovies. I think I’ve mentioned that a few times… I used these for brine.

  
I’m also a big fan of hot and spicy food and drinks so Tabasco sauce definitely features.

  
Tabasco Sauce has been officially appointed as a preferred supplier by Her Majesty the Queen. I really hope she would like this recipe.

  
Another delectable treat sent to me by Fragata was a jar of handpicked pimiento piquillo peppers.

These sweet members of the chilli family aren’t actually that spicy but they taste amazing.

  
Peeled then roasted over embers, they make a delicious sweet yet also savoury canapé/appetiser/tapas on their own.

But in a martini, they add texture, deep flavour and beautiful colour.

  

  • Add vermouth to taste to a chilled martini glass (usually between 1 tsp and 30ml depending on your preference).
  • Add brine from the tinned olives stuffed with anchovies. I would recommend between 2-6 teaspoons (I go for 4).
  • Add Tabasco sauce to taste (I like 5 drops).
  • Stir with one of the peppers and drop it in as a garnish.
  • Serve additional peppers as accompanying nibbles.

Make sure you’ve got a tasty dinner to enjoy afterwards!

A Timeless Martini Accompaniment

In my opinion, one of the nicest, most simplistic nibbles to accompany a martini is… 

  
the humble oyster.

This mollusc has been consumed for millennia. Sometimes seen as a food for the poor, its reduction in availability over recent decades has led to its rise as a more exclusive culinary luxury. Nonetheless, whatever it’s historically fleeting association with status, I see it as a timeless and simplistic treat, emblematic of the sea and evocative of coastal living. 

Of course, oysters might not be to everyone’s taste, so I’m willing to concede that other nibbles might be preferable to some members of the public. Indeed, I think they go nicely with plain salted crisps to provide a crunchy carbohydrate counter-balance to their silken briny protein. However, the rest of this post is for the oyster lovers of the world.

 
I am currently in the Hebrides. We may not have the best weather, but we do have amazing seafood.

  
My parents returned from a trip to the hugely underrated town of Oban, one of the principle ports on the mainland for taking a ferry to the islands. A Victorian seaside destination, the place has developed a reputation for being a little bit rough over recent decades. Nonetheless, having worked in a bank branch in the town for several months I had the opportunity to meet lots of locals and I found that there is a strong community feeling and lots of interesting places to eat and drink.

  
There are some beautiful buildings on the waterfront and a striking folly on the hilltop. The town is also sublimely situated.

  
Facing westwards out towards the Hebridean islands with a beautiful bay, Oban has absolutely stunning sunsets. It is the perfect location for a martini bar. I might very well set up my own one here some day…

  
Anyway I digress. My parents brought back a bag of oysters from Watts – a family run fishmongers located in a very small building just off the main Caledonian MacBrayne pier. I always buy fish from here when I’m heading back to the islands. We thought the oysters would make a perfect accompaniment to a martini.

 
Get yourself a shucking knife (above), a tea-towel and a solid surface to work on. Have a plate nearby to place the opened oysters onto as well.

  
Wrap the towel around the oyster to hold it still. Have the flat side of the oyster shell facing upwards. Use the shucking knife in the other hand and insert it into a gap between the two shells near the hinge of the oyster. Press it in carefully but firmly until you feel the faint ‘pop’ of the hinge tendon being severed.

Slowly prize open the shell and use the knife to cut and scrape the oyster flesh away from the top, flat shell, allowing it to collect with the brine in the cup-shaped lower shell. Remove the flat shell completely and discard.

  
Arrange the oysters on a plate. If you have crushed ice to hand you could put this on the plate and place the oysters on top to keep them cool.

You could also add garnishes and sauces. However, my family are purists and we like oysters because they taste of the sea. If pushed, I might be tempted to squeeze a wedge of lemon over one or two oysters but otherwise I prefer the simple flavour of the brine.

  
The saltiness goes very well with a martini, especially a classic martini with a generous squeeze of lemon oil in the glass (see here for further lemony detail).

  
A raw oyster even makes an interesting garnish. Not for the squeamish, it created a briny alternative variation on the dirty martini recipe. 

As an additional note, it has been argued that eating raw oysters is not cruel because they do not have a central nervous system and are not subjected to any pain in the process, so you can enjoy this ancient luxury guilt free. Phew!

And you too could find yourself with a significantly reduced central nervous system if you drink enough martinis. Enjoy!

Another selection of recent martinis

Here are some I made earlier…

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A frosty classic.
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A lemon drop martini with foam.

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An earl grey martini LINK with foam.

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A spicy Sriracha martini LINK

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A dirty Mr. Gibson (combining this with this)

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A tribute to the God of dirty martinis.

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A frosty classic with mixed nuts.

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A Gibson with olives and sliced pickled gherkins.

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Here’s a classic martini I made for my grandmother at Christmas.

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A dirty martini by the fireside.

Supersize my Dirty Martini

I recently posted about getting myself larger than normal toothpicks.

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I thought I would use them to make a larger than normal dirty martini, using this recipe.

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I am happy with the result.

Recipe:
1 measure vermouth (I use sweet vermouth)
1 measure olive brine
4-5 measures gin or vodka
Lots of olives