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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Asparagus skewers to accompany a martini

  
This is dead easy.

  
Asparagus is tasty and a bit of a luxury so it naturally pairs well with a martini. I love its distinctive flavour, visual appeal and most of all, its satisfying fresh and crunchy texture.

  
My brother and I were having a martini before dinner, but after we had drunk the first one we really just wanted to have another one and postpone the food. Not to miss out on our nutrition (you can’t live on gin and olives…) I decided to take the vegetables we were going to eat and martini-fy them.

  

Inspired by this Izakaya-style spring onion recipe I cut each asparagus spear into three pieces and threaded them onto some bamboo skewers.

   
I added them to boiling water and cooked them for 4.5 minutes.

Meanwhile, melt a knob of butter in a frying pan with about half a tablespoon of soy sauce, half a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar and a pinch of pepper. You could also add a splash of mirin or sweet vermouth. 

  
I then removed the skewers from the water and shook them to discard any excess. I added them to the frying pan with the sauce and simmered them for about 30 seconds, tossing the skewers to coat them in the sauce.

  
Serve and pour over the excess sauce.

  
Reward yourself with another martini, which you can make while the asparagus is boiling and the butter is melting.

The French call the asparagus tips “points d’amour”. Apparently Madame de Pompadour was a fan.

 

She’s also at the top of my list of people I’d like to have a martini with so I hope she would approve of the recipe.
  
Humans have been consuming asparagus for thousands of years. 

Harvesting the plant has been depicted in ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs.

The Romans even had a phrase “quicker than you can prepare asparagus” which serves as a reminder of how rapidly you can create this dish.

  
It’s also been described as an aphrodisiac in the past.

I’m not sure about the science behind that one so I’d recommend sticking to oysters.

  
But let’s be honest, if you’re sharing a martini with your amour you might not need an aphrodisiac at all.

MEATMission in Hoxton

  
A trendy-gritty burger bar with a creative menu and sinful atmosphere. A sister of Meat Liquor, MEATMission excels at ‘the dirty burger’ concept.

Expect greasy, gluttonous, satisfying burgers in good quality buns (or wrapped in lettuce if requested) to the backdrop of dark decor and an imposing musical selection (you might find it too noisy but I enjoyed it).

  

Their drink selection is also impressive. I obviously had to try their “Full English Martini”, a classic (Tanqueray and Lillet Blanc) served with egg and bacon.

  

Some of the non-burger items are also highly recommended. The fried pickles are to die for and given the calorie content it might be a price you have to pay. But still definitely worth it.
  

Make sure you’re hungry before ordering.
And be prepared for it to get messy.  

  

My friends and I ordered a selection of burgers and wings.

  

The diversity of the menu means it’s worth coming with a small group so you can try different dishes, but if you go with too many people you won’t be able to hear one another over the music. 

When my drink arrived the gin was cold (but not frozen) and it was served in a coupe glass rather than a standard martini glass (London needs to address this issue).   

Nonetheless, the martini was clean and crisp. I was also dying to taste the accompanying egg and bacon. It was a quails egg served in a shot glass with crunchy bacon bits and salt. Obviously it was a lot smaller than a full English breakfast but I was not disappointed. The salty/savoury flavour and contrasting textures were a perfect amuse-bouche, a delectable martini accompaniment and really whet my appetite before the food arrived.

The food arrived on retro trays with much needed paper and superb (and undoubtedly unhealthy) sauces.  It was all very tasty and satisfying. The wings were also exquisite. I particularly liked the sambal ones. Om nom nom.

You might need a wash after eating. I would describe the food as satisfying and dirty while the atmosphere was definitely a bit of fun for grown-ups.

 

And if you do like their “raucous, relentless and rowdy” music you can listen online to their radio station MEATtransMISSION.

  
In short, I would recommend visiting this place if you are hungry and in the company of people whom you don’t mind seeing your face covered in grease as you gobble down a giant meat sandwich. 

However, for the martini itself I can only award a 3.5/5. I loved the creativity of the garnish and title while the high quality ingredients (Tanqueray and Lillet Blanc) cannot be faulted. However, I would prefer if MEATMission kept its gin and glasses (martini glasses, not coupe glasses) in the freezer. And that’s it! That’s all that would transform MEATMission into martini greatness.

Oh and if you go, you’ve got to try the fried pickles with blue cheese sauce. The end. 

Korean spinach – Sigeumchi-namul

Annyeonghaseyo.

  

This is a really tasty, easy and even healthy vegetarian dish that you can serve as a vegetable side, a starter or, most importantly of all, as an appetiser to accompany a martini (obviously).

I first ate this delicious dish in Koreatown, Manhattan. Of all the wondrous and unusual dishes I gluttonously consumed that night (my favourite being a gigantic simmered squid, still sizzling in savoury sauce with brown sugar lightly caramelising on top) this spinach starter is the easiest to put together, but with all things simple, it’s often easy to get it wrong.

I have made the following recipe to my own personal taste preferences so you might want to alter it to add more or less garlic, chilli, soy sauce or oil depending on what you like, but you don’t want to drown it, you don’t want it too oily and you don’t want the garlic overpowering the earthy taste of the spinach either. 

Also if a Korean ajumma tells you to make the recipe a different way, just do what she says.

Otherwise, you will need the following ingredients per person:

  • 200g fresh spinach leaves (around 7oz)
  • 1 tsp soy sauce
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 tsp sesame seeds
  • A clove of garlic

(Simply multiply the above for the number of people you are preparing for).

  
Prepare the garlic first by peeling the number of cloves you want to use.

Here’s a tip: take the cloves you need and put them in the microwave on full heat for 2 seconds. No more! 

 

You’re not cooking the garlic in the microwave, you’re simply loosening the hard peel from the flesh. If you slice off the end now, you will find it much easier to peel.
Thinly slice then chop the garlic into fine pieces.


Here’s another tip: to wash off the garlic smell simply hang your hand loosely under a running tap of cold water so that the water runs down your fingertips and off the ends. Hold it there for about 20 seconds or so. This seems to wash off the garlic. It’s particularly effective if you have a stainless steel sink that you can rub your fingers on as well. 

Bring water to the boil in a large pan. Add the spinach and blanch for about 20-30 seconds.

It should turn a bright green. The volume of the spinach will also reduce significantly. If you are making this for a lot of people you might need to cook the spinach in batches.

When cooked, transfer immediately to a sieve and run under cold water to cool it thoroughly.

Leave it to drain.  

While the spinach is draining, mix the sauce by combining the garlic, soy sauce and sesame oil. 
Gently squeeze the spinach to remove excess water then transfer it to a chopping board and cut it up.
Transfer it to a large bowl (or you could reuse the pot that you cooked the spinach in if you’ve wiped it dry).

  
Add the sauce and mix it into the spinach (you can do this by hand but I used a teaspoon).

You can either serve it immediately or put it in the fridge to serve chilled later.

When serving, sprinkle sesame seeds on top. It is also common to add sliced spring onion as a garnish on top as well.

If you want to bulk it up with some nutritious umami I sometimes put a handful of dried wakame seaweed into a glass of water to soak for 5-10 minutes while making this dish. When you are about to chop up the spinach drain the seaweed and squeeze out the excess moisture and add it to the spinach to be chopped up with it.

If you want to be über nutritious lightly grind the sesame seeds in a mortar and pestle before sprinkling them over. If they are slightly broken it makes them more digestible and allows your body to absorb more of their nutrients.


Obviously don’t forget to pour yourself a martini (or some soju) when you serve this. Make sure you pour a large measure for any long suffering ajummas in your company as well. They deserve it!

 환호!

The Beet Up Vesper Martini at the Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town 4/5

Behold, the oddest blog title I have ever produced! But you will see what I’m talking about in the bar review below. 

 

I award the above-mentioned cocktail bar 4/5 for its variation on the classic Vesper Martini. Given the strict criteria of my Martini Ratings I could only offer full points upon trying a proper classic martini but if I offer my review in word form rather than numbers I would say that I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and the drink at this bar.

I went with a friend to the Breakfast Club near Spittalfields Market / Liverpool Street Station in London. I have wanted to try out the semi-hipster burger bar for ages but the queues on a weekend morning have normally been devastatingly long. This time, it was a Tuesday night. The service was fast, the burgers were tasty and the atmosphere was fun.

However, we had heard the rumours that a secret cocktail bar existed somewhere on the premises. To gain access you must utter a special code. After a little bit of intelligence gathering (Google and Foursquare) we deduced that we had to say “can I please see the Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town?” in order to gain access. 

We uttered the words and the waitress said that one her colleagues would be right with us.

  

A few moments later, to our surprise, the fridge standing next to the bar opened up and a man stepped out of it. He asked us to join him, so we followed him back into the fridge, through a secret door into a hidden stairway, which led down to a dark, secluded bar with a surprisingly large number of drinkers and a very interesting cocktail menu. 

Obviously I ordered their martini variation on sight. 

It consisted of Tanqueray gin infused with beetroot (I am a fan of savoury infused spirits), as well as vodka, Cointreau, Lillet blanc and a red current garnish. It was a far cry from my normal classic martini but I liked it nonetheless.

Nice and cold, beautifully presented, tasty, with good, friendly service and with a lot of effort put into the venue I award the bar/diner with 4/5.  

From an objective martini-fascist perspective I would award 5/5 if they offered a classic martini with the gin and glasses kept in the freezer, a strip of lemon peel and maybe a small bowl of olives. However, you can do that at home! 
 Otherwise, come out to play, try out the food upstairs and the range of cocktails downstairs… but no heavy petting!

Bamboo Charcoal Peanuts

  

I think I’ve previously mentioned my interest in black-coloured food, prompted by the 1989 Peter Greenaway film “The cook, the thief, his wife and her lover” in which the chef declares that he charges double the price for black-coloured items on the menu because they resemble death. To eat death is therefore to cheat death, thus giving the diner an additional sense of pleasure and defiance than when eating any other colour of food.  

So naturally, when I saw black-coloured peanuts for sale in a shop in China Town I instantly bought them as a possible martini accompaniment. A recipe attributed to Taiwan, they are made with the ash of bamboo burnt at high temperatures.

 

An unusual combination of savoury and slightly sweet, with a peculiar outer texture I definitely like them. The ash coating wasn’t at all distasteful as some people might expect. I would definitely recommend trying them.

They make an unusual nibble to accompany a martini, as well as a conversational piece. They go nicely with tea as well.

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…)