Martinis and Seafood

Seafood goes well with a martini. The salty freshness compliments the sharp but oily astringency of a cold martini. Seafood also has an air of simplistic luxury, thus making it a natural pairing for the drink.

I’ve put together a couple of examples of things I’ve made/served or otherwise eaten with a martini over recent months. While some of these things have been in London, lots have come from my original homeland in the Hebridean islands.

  
Here are some croustades filled with fish roe topped with thin strips of lemon peel. They’re savoury and bite sized, with interesting textures (mainly the crunch of the croustade and the fresh bursting of the eggs in your mouth).

  
Scallops are one of my favourites. Our very kind neighbours gave us a huge tub of them the other day and mum fried them briefly in bacon fat from the morning’s breakfast. This combination involves quite a high concentration of cholesterol so don’t eat them all yourself. Consume in moderation and share them with friends or family.

  
Here are some miniature blini with hot smoked salmon and sour cream.

  
Squid is good.
  
I like oysters even more than scallops.

  
Maki rolls are nice, healthy and diverse, although I wouldn’t normally eat high quality sushi at exactly the same time as a martini as the intense gin flavour could overpower the subtle tastes of things like sashimi. I would rather have a martini with some kind of salty, more robust appetiser first then eat the sushi with tea or beer as a more gentle accompaniment.   

 I’m not going to say no if you twist my arm though. Here’s a martini served with some salmon sashimi on shredded cucumber with flaked bits of crunchy salmon skin sprinkled on top, alongside gari, soy sauce and a daikon relish. 

 
Grilled lobster is nice for special occasions although it can be a bit fiddly to eat while you balance your martini glass. Once in a while though…
  
Here are some more croustades containing fish roe (garnished with dill and small strips of lemon peel), as well as some Japanese seaweed crackers.

  
Here is some very simple roasted salmon skin. Not everyone seems to like the skin… but I definitely do.

  
You can get all sorts of goodies in Borough Market if you’re in London.

  
Or if you happen to live in the Hebrides you might have some generous fishing neighbours who occasionally drop off a bucket of some oceanic harvest. Langoustines (here donated by a very kind cousin) are excellent for communal eating and drinking.

  

They even work as a garnish.

  

While not technically a ‘seafood’ Samphire Grass is collected from the seashore and can usually be purchased in a fishmongers around June. It makes a tasty, crunchy, briny and fresh accompaniment to a martini and even an unusual garnish.
  
This is a Scandinavian-style platter I put together for some friends at mid-summer last year. It’s also good for communal eating and drinking.

  
This one was dead easy. It’s prawns in a coriander and honey dressing, on this occasion served with a coriander martini. 

 
Here are some more scallops, this time pan fried in butter with pancetta.

  
These are salmon tartare canapés. They’re a bit more fiddly but I love the sharp citrus tang of the oily smooth salmon on a crunchy cracker. It does seem to lend itself to a martini. There also seems to be a seductive element of risk involved in eating raw flesh which I think lends itself beautifully to the stark danger of drinking one or two martinis.

  
And finally, the dead easy but exotic Latin American treat: a Ceviché and Leche de Tigre martini. This variation recipe is one of my favourites.

  I was lucky enough to be introduced to seafood at an extremely early age by my dad, who was a scallop diver working off the west coast of Scotland at the time. I will think of him every time I eat it for the rest of my life. 

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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.

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!