The Lydia Martini


When someone orders a Gibson Martini, I instantly hold them in high regard.


It’s such a stylish-looking version of the classic martini.


The single white cocktail onion floating solemnly in the glass almost makes it look like a religious offering.


The sharp flavour is also very distinctive.


Furthermore, to know about a Gibson indicates a sophisticated and experienced familiarity with martinis in general, which can only be a good thing.


My friend Lydia expressed a particular liking of both martinis and pickled onions, so much so that she requested extra pickled onions in her Gibson.


Naturally I obliged.


It’s not like we’re suffering an onion shortage or anything like that.

The name Lydia comes from an ancient region of western Anatolia, in modern-day Turkey. 

Classical and evocative with a beautiful climate, it’s an ideal martini location.


Incidentally, a common hangover cure in this part of the world is a drink of pickle juice – šalgam (shalgam) which might be perfect if you partake of too many martinis the night before and you’re a fan of the pickled goodness.


This Gibson recipe variation may have been done before but I couldn’t find any record of it anywhere so I thought I would name it, if for no other reason than for brevity when we’ve got family and friends round.


When everyone is asked “how would you like your martini” it’s far easier to take an order of “a Lydia” rather than “a Gibson but with loads and loads of pickled onions – more than you think are natural”.


The additional pickles also mean that the drink isn’t quite a lethal as a classic martini, making it an even more angelic choice.

So:

  • Pour one measure (to taste) of chilled vermouth into a frozen martini glass.
  • Add anything from 3-10 pickled onions.
  • Pour in a teaspoon of the pickle juice for good measure.
  • Top up with chilled gin or vodka and gently stir.
  • Serve (potentially with salt and vinegar or pickled onion crisps on the side – or perhaps even a glass of šalgam).

And enjoy! Although you might not get to kiss anyone afterwards…

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More martini snacks and canapes

I’m just going to leave this here…

  

What could be easier than olives and cheese-stuffed peppers that you picked up at the shops on the way home? I particularly like the colour contrast of these two. Oh and the taste.

You can’t go wrong with the lemony-buttery taste of Nocellara olive flesh, while the soft creamy cheese paired very indulgently with the sweet piccante crunch of the pepper.

  
This one was also a little bit last minute. I threw together some Bombay mix, prosciutto and olives when a friend popped round unexpectedly. The Bombay mix didn’t really go with the other two, but it’s definitely very nice on its own.

  

Here are some nuts, arranged mindlessly while I stared into space sipping my first drink of the night. Salted pistachio nuts are my favourite, although some nice big fat macadamia nuts would go well with a martini too.

  
Simple, easy, light, savoury, Twiglets are an underrated canapé snack. They are the flavour and texture opposite of the martini. Where a martini is cold, smooth, heady, citrusy and ever so slightly sweet, these are light, crunchy, salty and savoury. They don’t look particularly elegant but the flavour contrast really works. They’re a guaranteed winner for marmite fans.

  
This one is a bit more fancy. Asparagus skewers, blini with taramasalata, maki rolls, sigeumchi-namul, crisps, a martini and candles…

  
A simple but slightly more edgy snack, here are some wasabi peas with a simple classic.

  
Extremely simple, but very tasty, here is some lightly pickled baby beetroot. I’m sure we could create some kind of pink-coloured beetroot Gibson Martini, perhaps similar to the Beet Up Vesper Martini at the Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town bar in central London. 


Sea Aster is a seasonal coastal plant that flowers in the summer but is edible in the spring. Wash and eat raw or lightly boil for a minute or two. I got mine at a fish monger’s in Borough Market.


Mum bought these langoustines from Tobermory Main Street while I picked up the samphire on Oban pier on a trip back from London.


There’s a whole world of tapas-style ingredients and food types you could use. Above you can see chorizo, cold roast pork slices, feta cheese, olives, bread, houmous, oil  and duqqah.


You can turn the nibbles into your whole meal and really take your time with the martini. Above you can see crab open sandwiches, nuts, wood ear mushrooms, Korean-style spinach, roasted vegetables, seaweed, manchego cheese, Bombay mix, olives, bread, oil and houmous all to be slowly munched while you sip your cold gin.


Houmous is a relaxed martini accompaniment to have at home with informal company over a drink.


Here it is served with sliced pitta bread and a variety of mostly Mediterranean snacks.


My kind neighbour made me some lovely Middle Eastern sweets which I included in the meal.

The Arabic element of the food was especially good at soaking up some of the alcohol!


Dim sum was a surprisingly good – if slightly unconventional accompaniment.


Oysters are my favourite.


I also love creamy manchego cheese.


Finally though, the most classical martini snack will always remain the pitted green olive. If it’s all you have, you’ll be fine. And you won’t spoil your appetite for dinner.

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.

A martini with sage

This is a very simple recipe for a snack that may or may not taste like fragrant Pringles made for the Gods…

 

While coriander is my favourite herb (controversial, I know), I also love sage.

I previously made a sage-infused gin which goes nicely in a gin and tonic. 

  

However, this sage recipe is very easy and infinitely faster than making an infusion.

  

Instructions

  • Pick around 8 sage leaves per person (or more if they’re small or if you want to eat a lot).
  • Fry them (potentially in batches) in salted butter on a high heat for about 2-3 minutes.
  • The butter should be foaming but be careful not to burn it (remove it from the heat if this starts to happen).
  • The leaves are ready when they’re crispy with tinges of brown colouring.
  • Serve immediately and eat with your fingers (although you can use a fork or chopsticks if you prefer).
  • Save the leftover butter to pour over food (like potatoes), perhaps if you have a meal after your martini and snack.

  
And there you go. It’s like eating fragrant, salty, crunchy air that slides over your tongue. It’s particularly satisfying if you’ve grown the herbs yourself.

  
And obviously these delicious, simple but slightly unusual snacks go very well with a martini…

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…

The Parmesan Cheese Martini

“Sweet dreams are made of cheese.” 

Before you think “that sounds gross” I would recommend giving this one a try.

This martini idea genuinely came to me in a dream. I woke up with a clear memory of shaking up a cheese martini and decided to google whether or not such a thing existed. It turns out that at least two recipes are out there in the interwebs, such as the Grilled Cheese Martini, so I decided to have a go at my own variation. 

I used a tablespoon of Parmesan cheese for every 100ml of vodka I wanted to infuse (when it comes to flavour – go big or go home).  

 

Put it all in a clean jar and give it a good shake, then leave it in a cool, dark place (i.e. not like in the above photo – but doesn’t London look good?). 

Continue to shake it every now and then, just when you remember – maybe one a day or so, maybe more if you’re enthusiastic and impatient for CHEESE FLAVOUR. Do this over the course of around four days. 

Get yourself some plain cheesecloth. Strain the vodka infusion through it so as to remove much of the cheese goo.

Pour the strained liquid into a jar and place in the freezer for at least 6 hours.

Then, when it’s time to serve, add some vermouth to a martini glass and top up with the infused vodka, as per these instructions and measurements, i.e. 2tsp – 30ml vermouth (to taste) and around 130ml vodka).

Before you pour the drink, the www.parmesan.com blog suggests rubbing a little honey around the rim of the glass and dusting it with Parmesan powder. This sounds delicious but in this instance I really wanted to taste the Parmesan in the alcohol itself to test how effective the infusion process had been, so I left the glass un-rimmed.

Next, stir the drink and garnish it. You could choose all sorts of things for this: 

Grapes for example;

A simple pickle perhaps;

Or some prosciutto.

Olives stuffed with cheese would be a good alternative. Asparagus spears, perhaps trimmed so that they fit into the glass without towering over it, would also work. A basil leaf or two, or maybe some cherry tomatoes, would also compliment the Parmesan flavour.

 

And as for accompanying nibbles you could serve it with all of the above garnishes. Figs, walnuts, fried sage leaves and of course, cheese and biscuits, will all work well.

If you still think it sounds like a weird concoction I promise you it’s a nice, savoury/umami flavour that REALLY whet my appetite before my meal. If you make some of these for guests at a dinner party it will no doubt be a talking point.

An early Christmas present of olives

On the twelfth day of Christmas my true love gave to me…

…Nine million olives and an EU fishing quota’s worth of anchovies.

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When it comes to serving olives with martinis I have two favourites:

Nocellara olives, which I describe here or Manzanillas, especially ones which have been stuffed with anchovies and tinned in brine.

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I would never normally order anchovies but the first time I ate these olives I didn’t know what was in them. I was so taken by the taste that I asked what was in them and was highly surprised. If you don’t think you’re an anchovy fan I would recommend giving these olives a go nonetheless.

I first had them in Duke’s Bar in London but I have since found them stocked in supermarkets all over the place so hopefully you won’t have too much difficulty finding them.

I have bought a large supply to take home for Christmas (you can’t get them where my family live).

The festive season is an ideal time for martinis as you’ve got your family as company. It’s either the perfect time to get together and talk, or it’s the only time you ever see them and you’ll feel it necessary to get very drunk.

Merry Christmas!

(Several days later and we have barely dented this stockpile…)