A Harris Gin Martini


On the day that one of the worst things ever associated with the Hebrides is inaugurated as president of the United States of America, I thought I would highlight one of the loveliest things to arise from this part of the world.


Harris Gin is so easy for me to blog about. Introduced to me by my generous cousin from Stornoway, it’s exceptional in many ways. The smooth, mellow cleanliness of the finish, the understated yet distinctive botanicals and its striking branding make it a real breakout character in the myriad of today’s craft gin explosion.


From a martini perspective it is distinctive enough to warrant a different preparation technique to other gins.


The first impression you have of this gin is its distinctive glassware. I normally prefer my bottles plain, simple and functional, but in a very competitive market the evocative watery swirls of the Harris bottle stand out well from the competition.

Made to order in Europe, they actually suffered a (non-Brexit-related) shortage of the bottles in 2016 which almost sparked panic but otherwise hopefully only made the heart grow fonder of this unique drink. I’m told that you can take your empty bottles back to the distillery and have them refilled at a reduced tat. What a wonderful idea – and great for the local population.


The company emphasises it’s community involvement, something important to me, many islanders, and increasingly the discerning consumers of the world who want to purchase sustainable, considerately-made products. I’ve also heard that their community gin-tasting events can be quite a night…


In terms of the taste, I usually say that I prefer my martinis to lead with juniper, followed by mellow citrus notes. Harris gin captures this perfectly, but with the unusual use of bitter orange, lime and grapefruit rather than the more traditional lemon. This subtle variation means that it is not my standard gin of choice.


Instead, it is an exotic alternative for when you want something excellent, and slightly different from the norm. It is for special occasions and esteemed guests, not just any old Friday.


Notably, one of the main botanicals is sugar kelp, harvested in Hebridean waters so as to impart a soft and clean oceanic umami.


The distillers recommend serving it on ice with a little sugar kelp aromatic water, although it can also be served with a slice of grapefruit or lime.


For a martini, the gin should be stored in the freezer for several hours.

I would recommend serving it dry, even if you normally like your martinis medium or sweet. The gin is smooth enough and has very little fire so you don’t need much vermouth to calm it down.

Naturally it should be stirred in the glass and never shaken. You don’t want the drink agitated or – heaven forbid – watered down.


Glass, gin and drink should be chilled and still, with a minimal garnish only. Olives and citrus peel could crowd out the gin’s delicate flavours.


Indeed you could serve it zen-like and sans-garnish. The only thing garnishing the martini above is the ice stalactite which formed on the glass when it was in the freezer. You don’t want to mask the botanicals which are well-preserved and easily appreciated with the drink’s smooth finish.


A dash of the sugar kelt aromatic water might be a nice addition to the martini, although I haven’t tried it yet. Consider it added to my to-do list.


As an alternative garnish to evoke the gin’s coastal botanicals you could serve it with a sliver of kelp.


If you can’t find your own on the beach (to thoroughly rinse, lightly boil then cut) you can buy konbu kelp from an Asian supermarket.

Wipe a sheet with a damp cloth then soak it for an hour or two.

Cut it into garnish-sized pieces, then serve as a sliver or rolled on a toothpick.


This should evoke the sea, its fresh produce and island life.

Apparently Hebidean children used to chew raw kelp as a snack. These were the days before chocolate and haribo but I can assure you it would have been an excellent source of iodine and other nutrients, even in he dark winter months.


Naturally a Harris martini would work well paired with seafood. The cold, bountiful waters of a North Atlantic bathed in the Gulf Stream provide the Hebrides with some of the best seafood in the world.


If you’re in the islands, a friend or relative in the fishing industry must always be rewarded for providing fruit-du-mer in a plastic bag as is the norm. A healthy round or two of martinis could work as payment, for example. Deprived mainlanders will have to make do with a fish mongers.

A Hume Country Clothing image.

Harris, home of Harris tweed (illustrated above), has firmly established itself as a brand associated with good quality. This will only be enhanced by the gin, which I am told has secured the sort of funding which should ensure its success and much-earned endurance in the long term.


Having only visited the island when I was below legal drinking age I have not had a chance to sample it’s alcoholic delights in-situ, but with beautiful beaches and rapturous sunsets I think it’s time for a revisit.


You can find out more about the gin here. They deliver all over the world.

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Even more Izakaya food

If you’re wondering about what snacks to serve with a martini, you will find endless inspiration in the world of Izakaya.


Izakaya can be roughly described as relaxed and usually low-cost Japanese gastro-pubs. I have written about them quite a bit before, mainly because of their warm atmosphere and inspiring array of tasty menu items that go very well with a martini.


Quite a lot of these dishes, such as this hot edamame with salt and soy sauce, were snapped in Yumi, Soho, one of a handful of Izakaya in London.


These olives and edamame I did at home though. They’re easy.


Here is some kimchi and cold broccoli with sesame sauce. Simple but effective. Also in Yumi.


Kimchi is a Korean dish consisting mostly of pickled cabbage with chillies.


Pungent and served cold, it can be an acquired taste to some in the West, but I love it. It has even been inscribed by UNESCO on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, which is reason enough to give it a try at least.


This is some homemade lightly pickled mackerel (shime saba) with tsukemono pickles, spring onions, sesame seeds, cooked beetroot, soy sauce, grated ginger and lemon slices.


I think the strong taste of shime-saba pairs well with a bold martini.


It goes very well with a fiery ginger martini.


Here is some Yumi chicken yakitori with raw egg dipping sauce. Absolutely amazing.


Yakitori skewers are a common feature in Izakaya menus.


They’re a delicious and fairly substantial snack.


Inspired by the Yumi selection I made some grilled courgette skewers at home. They were dead easy. 


Rolling cut some courgettes into bite-sized chunks, grill them with some oil and soy sauce for about 20-30 mins, let them cool then thread them onto some skewers.

I put 9 pieces on each and fed them to some willing members of my family.


This is a Thai snack skewer, made of dried and seasoned fish. It has a sweet/umami/spicy taste and a texture like beef jerky.


More pre-packaged and possibly unhealthy snack food, but still tasty. Japanese peanuts coated in a squid-flavoured crunchy coating. It went well with a martini.


Here are some mussels in a garlic-cream sauce with chunky hunks of bread.


They can be slightly difficult to eat with a martini in one hand. It might be easier if you thread the mussels onto skewers first but that’s a bit of a faff.


It’s probably best to have a martini, eat the mussels, then have another martini.


You can see the recipe for these chilled scallops with paprika, seaweed-butter and lime canapés here.


You can probably guess that I love oysters.


I usually like them served as simple as they come.


Their rich oceanic flavour reminds me of being on the beach in the Hebrides when I was little. 


Living in central London it has to be a very evocative flavour to transport me over 500 miles and three decades in just one mouthful…


Anyway, back to Izakaya, sushi is also often served at these establishments. Here are some rough-hewn sushi rolls I put together.


This is a rather large uramaki (inside-out sushi roll) and not exactly the neatest you ever saw…


Loosely based on a California roll recipe, mine contained crab sticks, cucumber, avocado and wasabi.


(These aren’t mine)


I also spread some of my seemingly ubiquitous seaweed butter on the nori instead of using the more conventional mayonnaise.


I also made some smaller cucumber maki, also with seaweed butter.

Cucumber maki have a simple taste and a satisfying texture combining crisp nori, soft rice and the crunch of fresh cucumber.


They also go well with Hendricks gin, which is flavoured with cucumber and rose.


If you make your own rolls the ingredient variations are endless so try some out for yourself. 

Homemade sashimi is fairly easy to assemble.


Buy top grade fresh fish, gently but thoroughly rinse it in cold water. Pat dry then place in the freezer for about 45 minutes then slice into bite-size pieces and serve immediately with soy sauce, wasabi and pickled ginger.


Homemade sashimi might not resemble the expertly sliced morsels you’ll find in a proper sushi restaurant.


However, if the fish is good quality  it should stil be very tasty.


I served some tuna sashimi on sushi rice with omelette and pickles. Simplicity is the key. 

One of the nice aspects of Japanese Izakaya is the more relaxed, informal nature of the service and food.


Home-made style cooking is very popular at Izakaya, putting the emphasis on cosy comfort, relaxation and intimate care.


It’s more like being in someone’s warm, welcoming house rather than an intense fine dining experience, making it a very comfortable environment for a martini.


So if you’re lucky enough to be in Japan or a city with Izakaya venues be sure to check them out.


Otherwise, if you’re having a martini at home and fancy trying some more unusual snacks and appetisers have a go at some of these.


Itadakimasu!

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.

Fusion Food: Seaweed Butter for Martini Canapés


Seaweed butter on a cracker with tsukemono cucumber pickles in the background.


I recently enjoyed a discovery taster menu at the beautiful Michelin-starred Greenhouse restaurant in London’s upscale Mayfair area.


I didn’t have any martinis as I didn’t want to spoil my palette before the dining extravaganza but the setting was beautiful, the food utterly inspiring and the service convivial and professional; in-depth but relaxed. What a treat! It certainly set my martini-obsessed brain into overload thinking of new potential ideas and experiments.


The exquisite nine-course menu contained a range of surprising and inspiring combinations, including cauliflower mousse with crab meat and mint jelly; scallop and yuzu tartare; grilled beef and pineapple and even the most gourmet version of cheese on toast I’ve ever heard of.


Did I mention the oyster, abalone and lettuce ravioli in a dashi stock?

Taking me by surprise once again was the fact that one of the most notable dishes we enjoyed was the bread course near the beginning. We were offered a selection of bread types (I chose the Chestnut bread) and two types of butter with a pinch of salt: one standard doux (unsalted) butter and one mixed with Cornish seaweed. I instantly gravitated to the latter and I wasn’t dissatisfied! The salty, umami creaminess was unwordly.


So being the seaweed obsessive that I am, I tried to make my own version of the butter.

I tried to keep it simple as I’m not very skilled but evidently you can make a pretty tasty version without too much effort. Not a patch on the fine work of the Greenhouse but enough for me nonetheless.


It looks a bit gross but bear with me on this one.


I took 300g butter (I chose lighter Lurpak) and mixed it throughly with a generous punch of salt and three crumbled sheets of nori seaweed.


I then put it back into the butter tub and returned it to the fridge. I’m told it will last until the original sell-by date of the butter. Maybe even a little longer because of the salt. You should also be able to freeze it.


After that it’s fairy versatile! The salty-umami combination, served chilled, is highly tantalising on bread, crackers, oatcakes or rice cakes.


It can also be used to top cooked food such as potatoes or fish.

I’m still playing around with other possibilities.


Inspired by a combination of Japanese makizushi rolls and a traditional British snack I made a triple-decker cucumber sandwich using the seaweed butter and a smear of wasabi, then cut it into small squares to serve with some martinis.

New AND retro.

My friends who normally make fun of me for serving what they term “alien food” said they were surprised to find it quite nice.

Thanks for the support guys!


I also had a go using it with scallops…


As well as in sushi. I’ll blog about these later.

Otherwise I’ll keep on experimenting but if I’m honest it’s really nice simply spread on some good quality bread!

Till the next time…

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 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.

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.