A Martini with Homemade Roasted Seaweed


I’ve previously mentioned my liking for seaweed so I thought I would make my own to go with a martini.


After a fairly long walk on the Isle of Mull, I was looking around the beach for something edible to forage.


The tide was fairly high but there were several rockpools containing thick gutweed, as above.


This dark-green, grass-like seaweed lives in upper tidal areas, sometimes in pools, sometimes where streams meet the sea.


I harvested a small amount by hand, being careful not to take too much from the same pool. I squeezed them of liquid then put them in a plastic bag and walked home with them. I then rinsed them thoroughly in clean water.


I patted it dry, then added about a tablespoon of oil and around a teaspoon of sea salt and mixed it in thoroughly.


I roasted it on a high heat for about 30 minutes, stirring it once to prevent it from burning on the top level.


I then served it as a messy but tasty and savoury nibble to accompany the evening’s martinis. It tasted like the deep fried seaweed you often get in Chinese restaurants, except that it was actually made from seaweed and was roasted rather than fried.


It also makes a good salty-umami condiment for things like mashed potato or other seafood dishes.


Once cooked it also keeps for a few days but you might want to dry it out thoroughly to make sure it doesn’t become soggy. 

I will definitely be making this again but remember to forage responsibly. Don’t take so much that you harm the ecosystem. Try to stick to clean coastal waters as well and be sure to rinse the seaweed thoroughly before cooking.

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A Martini with Nori Seaweed

  

Our family is probably not alone in this matter: we adore crisps but recognise that they are evil.

  
To my American readers – I’m referring to what you call ‘chips’ or ‘potato chips’.  I could make some cliche comment about how you have abused our language but your people did invent the martini so I have to pay at least some deference to your culture. Nonetheless, I will continue to refer to these things as crisps in my blog and you cannot stop me.

  
Crunchy, tasty, yet body-bendingly unhealthy, these snacks pose a real threat to your life. They are so convenient to pick up at the shops. They can sit in a cupboard, just waiting for their moment to strike. An impromptu visit from a friend, a much-needed drink at the end of a long day, you find them welcomingly waiting to be tipped into a bowl and devoured. And with all their salt, flavouring and fat, they can taste amazing.

  
But they are so unhealthy. It’s almost always a case of “a moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips.” They’re not exactly the sort of thing you would chuck in a smoothie.

So I’ve been looking for things to replace crisps as a martini accompaniment. Martinis themselves aren’t exactly an elixir of healthy living either but at least by cutting out the crisps you can minimise the comprehensive damage you could otherwise be doing to your body.

  
My brother, who is a body-builder and very good at nutrition (most of the time), brought back these snacks from the mainland.

Actually made in South Korea, they are originally a Japanese style of snack made from Nori seaweed.

  
Nori is specifically a type of algae, harvested, shredded, flattened and dried in a preparation technique reminiscent of papyrus but more closely based on Japanese paper production.

It is familiar to most people who have eaten sushi as it is used to wrap maki rolls among other things. It is also similar to a well-known (and highly tasty) dish in Wales – laver.

  
Indeed while seaweed today is usually regarded as a health food from Asia, it actually formed a very traditional part of coastal British diets for centuries. The Welsh have defended its value as a tasty source of nutrition over the years. I am writing this at home in the Hebrides where seaweed was once seen as a staple, especially during times of hardship and poor harvest on the land. As a crop, it is available all year round – so long as you are able to withstand the temperature of the sea.

Luckily it is making a bit of a comeback. Hebrideans are once again turning to our rich, clean waters for sustenance. It still isn’t common but it’s not unknown. 

Please excuse me while I shed a tear of pure joy.

Returning specifically to the history of Nori, I was struck by a fascinating story, involving a remarkable and surprising northern English lady who defied sexism in science and cross-cultural barriers to change the Japanese seaweed industry and our understanding of the food today.

  

Seaweed yields were falling in post-war Japan when Lancashire scientist Kathleen Mary Drew-Baker stepped in to provide her research on the lifecycle of algae. Armed with this knowledge, Japanese harvesters optimised their techniques to maximise the production process and the industry flourished. 

Every year on the 14th of April a ceremony is dedicated to Dr. Drew-Baker in Osaka. She is referred to as The Mother of the Sea in recognition of her work for the seaweed industry.

So back to martinis…

  
I served some of the nori sheets as a simple snack.

They were slightly large so I lay the slices on top of each other and used scissors to cut them into four pieces so they would fit into my mouth easily.

  
They also make an interesting, if slightly flamboyant garnish.

With salt and sesame oil they were very more-ish and made a nice accompaniment snack. Their slight fishy taste might not appeal to everyone but I am a committed fan of seafood and think it compliments a martini very well.

However, these nori sheets in particular have quite a high fat content so they might not be a million miles better than crisps after all. It might be worth using ordinary sushi nori sheets instead. Cut one or two into bite sized pieces before serving.

Nonetheless, I like these little bites and will be nibbling on them again.

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.

The Sri Lankan Arrack Martini – the Serendipitini

  
I have been working on this concept for a long time. It’s not a true martini, but it aims to serve a similar purpose, especially for those in Sri Lanka, perhaps without access to gin or vermouth.

I resisted pressure to name it the Tamil Tiger Martini (it’s fiery, complex and deadly) as this would feel wholly inappropriate after Sri Lanka’s bitter internal tragedy. Instead I have opted for the Serendipitini.

Serendib was the old Arabic word for Sri Lanka. It means ‘lucky surprise’ and is where the word Serendipity comes from. Sri Lanka is full of lucky surprises, not least its alcoholic delights.

 
Having previously lived in Sri Lanka I developed a strong taste for their national spirit: Arrack.

  
The drink is very distinctive, but then so is its production method.

Very early in the morning, toddy-tappers climb up coconut trees in certain parts of Sri Lanka. They are there to harvest a very special type of sap.

If you cut the flowers in a certain way they produce a light, sweet liquid which the British colloquially referred to as ‘toddy’. With its high sugar content this liquid starts to ferment almost immediately and has become alcoholic by breakfast time.

It can be drunk straight from the bottle, although you might have to scrape ants off the top layer – I’m afraid I’m not kidding.

  
It is totally organic, fresh and tastes heavenly. However, given its cheapness, some Sri Lankans might not approve of foreigners consuming it, depending on who you talk to. It is sometimes seen as a poor-mans drink (because it literally grows on trees) so you might be expected to try something more refined (i.e. produced in a brewery or distillery). However, you must persist and obtain some! It’s a delight to drink at the beach after breakfast. Spend the morning happily sipping it in the sun. However, note that the liquid will start to ferment to unhealthy levels by about 11am. If you drink it after this time, or consume any of the sediment that builds up in your bottle, you could end up with an upset stomach. You should also avoid sealing any containers which carry toddy. As it ferments, the pressure can build up and the container can burst. Don’t shake the liquid either!
So that’s toddy, the wonder drink that has been gifted to mankind.

But what if you don’t want to drink in the morning?

Large quantities of the liquid are extracted each morning and allowed to ferment naturally. This liquid is then distilled to create Arrack.

The beverage has been compared to whisky or rum in flavouring. It can be fiery, but with strong notes of caramel to mellow out the flavour.
During my time in Sri Lanka we would mix it with coca cola, ginger beer (very refreshing), fresh lime juice (with limes gathered from the garden) or we would drink it neat (sometimes referred to as ‘raw’ on the island). Trendy cocktail bars in Colombo (and even London) often pair it with a range of flavours such as mango juice or cinnamon.

However, I always felt that these flavours masked the arrack. I like to channel Marcel Proust; the aroma sniffed from a bottle alone is enough to transport me back to the lush green Hill Country or the transcendent beaches of Trimcomalee.

As such, I wanted to create a drink that enhanced the rich, syrupy arrack character rather than smothering it in a pot pouri other flavours. I also wanted to create a drink that contained elements of the classic martini, such as temperature and powerful subtlety. 

A cold drink is extremely welcome after a hot day in Sri Lanka so I keep the arrack in the freezer for a day before serving. If it’s good quality it shouldn’t freeze solid.

I also wanted to embrace the martini concept of simplicity so I decided to pair the arrack with only one other flavour.

A classic gin martini is very much enhanced by the citrus flavouring of lemon oil, squeezed from a strip of peel. Arrack is also enhanced by citrus so I decided to play around with the concept of lime-cello. This is essentially limoncello but made with limes instead.

  
Limes, known in Sinhala as ‘dehi’ are widely available and consumed in Sri Lanka. A Sri Lankan garden can often resemble an overgrown forest from a distance, but upon closer inspection you will find that most contain a veritable cacophony of consumable fruits. If you can harvest your own for this recipe I’m sure it will taste much better.
  

  • Wash and zest 6 limes
  • Put the peel in a jar and add 400ml vodka

  

  • Seal the jar and leave it to infuse for 3 weeks
  • Give it a shake every couple of days

  

  • Strain the vodka and discard the zest (squeeze it out as much as you can first)
  • Dissolve 4 tablespoons of sugar in 100ml freshly boiled water
  • Not all of it will dissolve but don’t worry. Once the mixture has cooled down give it a shake  and add it to the infused vodka.
  • That’s it. It’s very easy, you just have to wait a few weeks for it to infuse.
  • Like the arrack, I like to keep it in the freezer for at least 24 hours before serving.
  • When it’s time to pour, take a strip of lime peel and squeeze it into a chilled martini glass, then rub it around the glass to transfer as much of the citrus oil as possible.
  • Add the lime-cello to taste (around 40ml) then top up with arrack (around 110ml)
  • Stir well using the lime peel (which you can then use as a garnish).
  • Serve

Be warned, it’s slightly bitter and very strong. Nonetheless, it’s definitely a nice way to end a day of working in Colombo, going on Safari in the country’s many beautiful nature reserves, hiking around the country’s rich architectural heritage or just spending the day at the beach.

In terms of selecting arrack I usually drank Very Special mark in Sri Lanka but i would generally get just what I could get my hands on.

A very good friend from Colombo brought me back some Ceylon Arrack. In a beautiful bottle and probably the most commonly seen in a cocktail bar I would describe the arrack as light, smooth and pure – a really refined taste and certainly the best one I’ve encountered for an Arrack-Virgin. Otherwise you may find some of the others to be a bit more viscous and/or fiery.
  
Note that in Sri Lankan drinking culture it’s almost sacrilegious to drink without eating something at the same time. There is an array of bites you could serve with this. Devilled prawns or cuttlefish spring to mind, or a simple bite mix    (usually referred to internationally as Bombay Mix).

  

It may not be Kandy, but this is as close as I will get to the island of Serendipity. Otherwise try Sekara in Victoria for authentic Sinhalese cooking, and a range of restaurants in Tooting and Croydon for good Tamil food.

The Espresso Martini

Make me something that wakes me up and then f#*€s me up.”  

 I’ve wanted to make this one for a long time but given its chemical stimulant potency I found myself putting it off until a suitable situation arose.

The origin of most cocktails is blurry (a testament to their effectiveness) but it is believed that the espresso martini was created in a bar in London when a model entered the premises and asked the bartender to make her a drink in the manner quoted at the top of this post. Class in a glass? Perhaps not. But the drink has quickly earned its place in the cocktail hall of fame, which is quite a feat considering how relatively young the drink is in comparison to some of its competitors.

  
Very simple, an espresso martini combines coffee liqueur, vodka and fresh espresso, all chilled and served in an appropriate glass.

  

As a liqueur I used Kahlúa. Created in the mountains of Veracruz, on the Caribbean coast of Mexico, the drink combines arabica beans with sugar cane to create a rich, sweet liqueur. There are several other coffee liqueurs out there but this I would say is the standard. The etymology of the word Kahlúa comes from the indigenous Nahuatl language, meaning ‘the house of the Acolhua people’. The Hispanisisation of the word can be found in the name San Juan de Ulùa, known in my family as being the location of a very difficult naval conflict between the Spanish navy and a fleet commanded by one of my ancestors. Symbolic indeed. The magnitude of the maritime battle was matched only by the hangover I experienced upon drinking too many of these drinks. Let that be a lesson to you all.

Kahlúa also contains rum. You might like to add a dash of dark rum to an espresso martini to give it even more of a kick and flavour. I would recommend a darker rum for this.

  
The family favourite is Wood’s Rum – not least because of its naval associations.

For me, the basic trick of the espresso martini is to balance the sweetness of the liqueur with the savoury coffee and neutral-but-strong vodka. Too much liqueur and you overpower the coffee and find yourself with a sickly-sweet drink. Not enough liqueur and the drink becomes overpowering to the palate.

I normally like my martinis stirred and not shaken but with this drink you need to shake it like a Polaroid picture – well enough to produce a healthy froth. I also recommend that you keep the vodka and the martini glass in the freezer so that it’s all nice and cold.

  

There – a nice and frosty martini glass. I’ve seen these served in coupe glasses as well which works nicely too. 

When to drink them

The alcohol-caffeine combination of an espresso martini would not make a good aperitif and certainly wouldn’t be suitable as a night cap. I would therefore recommend it after a meal, but ahead of a late night.

  

The opportunity for me to drink one recently presented itself whilst I took part in our local Highland Games. The day sees traditional pipe band music, dancing and fitness competitions, such as tossing the caber, throwing the hammer, kilt races and other fun pursuits, not to mention a healthy amount of alcohol consumption. What else would you expect when a horde of Hebrideans get together – some travelling from other islands, the mainland and even abroad to catch up with family and friends for the annual event.

Anyway I volunteered to help behind the bar (it’s obviously my spiritual home) during the daytime. After a day of serving booze but not drinking any, followed by a quick meal at home, it was time for me to prepare for the night of festivities ahead. There is usually much drinking and merriment in local pubs, followed by a traditional ceilidh dance in the town hall so I was going to need some stamina, or at the very least, stamina’s distant relatives: booze and caffeine.

  

Using my Mum’s trusty coffee machine I made myself an espresso.

  

Taking a vintage silver-plated cocktail shaker, I added about 4 ice cubes and poured over the coffee. If you don’t have a cocktail shaker you can do this with a large jar. It works almost as well.

  • Add 20ml coffee liqueur (or to taste – more for a sweeter drink, less for a stronger, more bitter punch-in-the-face type imbibement.
  • Add 120ml chilled vodka.

Shake it all up very vigorously. The harder you shake, the thicker the foam (la crema) you will get on top of the drink. A nice, firm foam is more attractive to look at, adds a textural smoothness to the drink and is perfect for a nice garnish or coffee beans.

Pour the drink into the glass. If you used a jar to shake it up, try to hold back the ice cubes.

  
If you don’t have a good foam it will look a bit like this. The texture isn’t so nice and it doesn’t look anywhere near as attractive.

  
It should look thick, rich and creamy on top, with a dark dangerous looking underside. Garnish with some coffee beans.

  

I took them out from the top of mum’s machine. I like to use three pointing out from the middle of the glass, with the seam of the bean facing upwards.
  

And serve!

But be warned, normally there is a two martini rule. For this drink, however, I would recommend that you only have one on a night out. Anymore and you will be drunk and wide awake until dawn. Although perhaps that’s your goal. In which case go right ahead, but you have been warned!

  

Time to choose…

If you drink a martini with someone you have around 30-40 minutes to relax and sink into gradual inebriation with that person, bonding with them whilst having the opportunity to share some conversation, ranging from light laughs to some potentially profound life stories. It is a crucial, perhaps pivotal aspect of the drink. Picking your company can therefore be as important as selecting the brand of gin you use. 

  
Putting aside any family or current circle of friends you might enjoy, if you could share a martini with a celebrity, historical figure or fictional character who would you chose?
Winston Churchill? Joan Rivers? Prince Harry? Bill Murray? Roger Moore? Bette Davis? David Bowie? Hillary Clinton? That blonde dragon queen woman from Game of Thrones? Frank Sinatra? Greta Garbo? Brian from Family Guy? Queen Elizabeth I?

There are so many possibilities to choose from but I would love to hear who different people would like to share their tipple with. I have already asked one or two friends and relatives and already the vast number of possibilities and preferences have tickled me greatly.

Please feel free to suggest more than one person by commenting on this post or tweeting with the hashtag #MartiniWithACelebrity

I will collate the list very soon.

Martinis y tapas

  
Having spent an amazing weekend in Madrid I thought I would write about the drinking culture in the city and see what inspiration I could draw from a martini perspective.

  

Los Madrileños know how to have fun – without feeling guilty, without getting stressed and without getting post-apocalyptically drunk. If you feel like having a drink or having something to eat then do so. If you feel like having a nap then do so. The time of day is irrelevant. You shouldn’t feel bad for doing what your body is telling you to do. Eating, drinking and sleeping when you please might sound unhealthy but these people certainly don’t look unhealthy!

  
Another conclusion is that alcohol is much better when accompanied by food.

Tapas or pinchos/pintxos (pronounced peen-chose) are small bites of food that accompany your drink. The adage “eating’s cheating” has few followers in Madrid and I am a faithful convert to the city’s attitude towards eating with booze. I always serve nibbles with my martinis but maybe we should be serving food with all alcohol. It’s not the most radical concept – it’s common practise in many countries (Sri Lanka for example).

If you are unconvinced about eating with your drinks then perhaps I can persuade you with some examples of the sorts of things you could enjoy with your booze.

   

Here is a mind-blowingly tasty assortment of morcilla (a spanish variation of black pudding) with apple, balsamic vinegar glaze and fried potato straws, accompanied with octopus and whole grain mustard ice cream. Yes. Mustard ice cream. Yes.

  
However, if this is too fancy just order your drink (such as a caños of beer which isn’t as much as a full pint) with something as simple as a piece of bread with a topping. Drink, taste and relax. It’s not a race to finish your drink in order to buy the next round.

  

Fried calamari is common. Ham, cheese and olives also feature highly.

  

There are many expert voices on the subject of tapas so this amateur is not going to bluff you, but of the stories that surround its history I have a favourite. According to my friend, at a point in its history Spain was undergoing a drought and food production was low. The people resorted to drinking more alcohol to make up for their lost calories, but this led to widespread malaise and drunkenness. A troubled king, seeking a solution, ordered establishments to serve simple bread and toppings over the top of alcohol glasses (the word tapas comes from the Spanish verb tapar – to cover). When eaten this would soak up some of the alcohol, reduce drunkenness and help feed the population. A cultural trend was born. 

Like martinis, there are several competing stories surrounding the historical origins of tapas. Without a time machine to verify which version is accurate the only thing you can do is believe in your favourite.

 Whatever the true origins of tapas there have been an infinite multitude of variations since its creation. Tapas now even extends to airline food, as demonstrated above.

For me, the most important concept is that the sharing of tapas is very sociable.

  It can be fairly hands-on; you might be called upon to mash your own guacamole.

 
It can also be very simple. Above is a delicious dish of peppers fried with salt. 
So what can we take from this fine Spanish contribution to human culture to try and improve the martini experience?

Snacks, bites and nibbles are a very important part of a martini so tapas can provide a wealth of inspiration for anyone looking to serve theirs with some added Latin panache.

The main point, however, is about relaxing and sharing good flavours, drinks and conversation with friends, family, lovers etc.

  

If you can get that right then everything else should fall into place – ojala.

 
But as a word of warning, don’t drink so much you end up naked on the ground in Plaza de Colón in the middle of the day, although evidently if you do you won’t be the first…