Calm

Politics are in uproar.

It feels like a full time job just keeping up with the news.

My recommended antidote is a cold, strong one; the silver bullet; the elixir of quietude.

Plus dogs/cats/plants if you have any to hand.

Here is my weekend cure: a classic gin martini with a twist of lemon.

The lemons came from the Co-op which I believe to provide the best store-brand lemons in the country.

They are almost always fresh, shiny, unwaxed and completely bursting with tasty lemon oil when you lightly squeeze the delectable rind.

I also made my own Bombay mix to go with it. I bought some wholewheat noodle nests but loads of bits of them had broken off, so I took all the loose scraps and deep-fried them with some peanuts and cashew nuts I had in the cupboard.

I then wok-fried some mustard seeds and threw in the noodle-nut mixture when the seeds started to pop. I stirred quickly, chucked in some curry leaves, a teaspoon of curry power, a sprinkle of salt and a grind of black pepper then stirred it quickly to mix it all up. I then tipped it onto a plate to cool down.

When it comes to texture, is there anything better than deep frying? Probably not.

There’s also something I find very comforting about South Asian flavours, but you could do this with all sorts of things. Maybe stir in some shredded nori seaweed or furikake at the last minute. Smoked paprika? Sea salt?

Whatever you choose, amid constitutional court rulings, impeachment proceedings and climate change, the resulting moment of peace that accompanied my citrusy martini and snacks was exactly what I needed.

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.

The Beet Up Gibson Martini

This is a very simple variation on the classic Gibson martini


I always found Gibsons to be very visually striking. They are garnished with a small pickled onion or two, and perhaps a teaspoon of the pickle vinegar, instead of the classic olive or lemon twist.


They are bold and simple, with a slightly astringent taste from the vinegar.

The Beet Up Gibson uses pickled baby beetroot instead of pickled onion and is quite striking due to its colour.


Take two small pickled baby beetroot and two teaspoons of the pickle brine (or up to 6 of you really like the vinegar flavour).


Pour a standard martini (you can omit the lemon if you’re pushed for time/very thirsty).


Pour the pickle juice into the glass.


Give it a stir or it will look like a murder scene.


Thread the pickled beetroot onto a skewer or cocktail stick.

Place the beetroot into the glass and serve immediately.


I would also recommend serving a small side dish to place the pickled beetroot when drinking so the garnish doesn’t stain anything.


As an accompanying snack, I am a fan of things that are cured and pickled so I made a salmon ceviche using a Laura Santtini recipe but with an additional tablespoon of beetroot pickle to impart a red colour.


Note that I like to serve the ceviche marinade (leche de tigre) in a shot glass. Not only is it traditional Peruvian practise, it’s also tasty and, if I’m not much mistaken, very healthy (all that vitamin C from the citrus juice!).


The added beetroot makes it all the more striking.


Enjoy!

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…

The Mermaid Inn, NYC 4.5/5

This is one of my favourite places in the world.

Oyster happy hour is a must! 

I’ve previously mentioned how well seafood goes with a martini, especially the simplistically delicate oyster, so a bar/restaurant that specialises in briny goodness was always going to get me excited.

 

However, I’ve got to focus on the martini and not get too ahead of myself.

Using my martini rating scale I award this bar and restaurant very high points: 4.5 out of 5.


I ordered a hot and dirty martini (vodka, olive brine, Tabasco sauce with a crunchy, fresh and bright red peppadew garnish). It was ice cold, salty and fiery – a perfect tongue-tantalising aperitif.


The service was fast, attentive and the staff were passionate about the food and drinks.

The setting was intimate, clean and unpretentious.


And finally, the food is fantastic with a wide variety of seasonal oysters as well as a range of sustainably sourced seafood. It’s ideal for a light bite or a more substantial meal.


The only thing I would recommend to the Mermaid Inn is that the management make more of their martinis on the menu. The restaurant does them so well I think they should promote them more prominently. I really can’t fault them in any other way.


Basically to sum up my experience, If I died suddenly and my life flashed before my eyes I hope I would linger here for just a little while en route to the next level. And I hope the next level has oyster happy hour too.

 

Don’t forget to download their useful app Oysterpedia

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.

The Saffron Martini

This one is a real treat of colour.

 
I have taken the rarest, most expensive spice and infused it into the most elegant of drinks, although note that you can buy very high quality saffron gin ready made here.

I cannot claim credit for the original recipe. It has been created before at the incomparable martini setting – Dukes Bar, although they made it with vodka. You can see an instructional video by the venerable Toni Miccilota here

My recipe differs ever so slightly (I use gin for a start), but it is essentially very similar.

  
Saffron consists of the styles and stigmas of the saffron crocus.

The tiny little red ‘threads’ have been hand-picked and used in cooking for over three thousand years.

It has a grassy taste, evocative of wheat or hay and the warmth of the late summer harvest. Its strong colour also imparts itself easily to food and drink, making it popular in otherwise pale dishes such as rice.

  
An ancient Grecian harvests the spice.

Originally found in the eastern Mediterranean and wider Middle East the plant has since been cultivated in several warm, dry regions around the world, which thankfully for Brits, include some rare parts of Essex and Wessex in southern England.  

 
I was sent a beautiful batch of English Saffron from a friend who lives in one of the few areas: the town of Saffron Walden, named after its famous produce. Saffron was first harvested in the town in the 1500s.

  

I love the English Saffron packaging, with the gold-coloured metal metal box and a medieval-style wax seal on the plastic container inside.

I added 0.2g of the saffron (which equates to one of the bags from the English Saffron company) to a litre of gin.

  
Give it a good shake then leave it for around two days.

The colour, flavour and aroma transfer very quickly. 

  

Remove the saffron strands. I found it easiest to do this with a pair of chopsticks but you could strain the gin through a sieve as well.

Put the gin into the freezer and leave for at least 8 hours. I left it in there overnight.

  
When it’s time to pour, make it just like a classic martini with vermouth to your taste preference, topped up with the saffron gin.

Stir the drink, then garnish with some additional saffron strands. I tried to be frugal but you can put in quite a lot of you want a really strong flavour. I would recommend around 8 threads.

 And there you go.

A Martini with Crushed Oyster Shell


I drifted into borough market the other day and found myself standing in front of a fishmonger’s counter staring at all the produce. I couldn’t leave empty handed and suddenly felt a craving for salty, briny oysters so I bought a handful.I’ve made a martini with oysters before (you can see the blog post here).

This time, though, I was inspired by a story I’d heard about a martini made with gin shaken up with crushed oyster shells.


There’s something anciently pleasing about oyster shells. We always have a pile of discarded ones in the garden by our kitchen door. It’s like a primordial mark of civility, like our Roman and prehistoric Hebridean forebears.

From a taste perspective, I like the ground, salty and metallic/chalky flavour.


So I got to work. I opened the oysters and ground one of the flat, detached shells with a pestle and mortar.

I poured some chilled gin into a jug with the pulverised shell and stirred I vigorously for about 30 seconds.


I then strained the gin and added it to vermouth in a glass to make a martini.

As with a classic martini, I had rubbed some lemon peel into the glass first as this little citrus touch goes nicely with the oyster flavour.


I then served the martini with the opened oysters on the side.

I liked the sharp, metallic taste that the process gave the martini, although I was really craving something saltier and ended up pouring some of the brine in as well.

In sum total, I would say that crushing the oyster shell was a bit of a faff and ultimately the best part of the flavour simply came from the oyster brine I added at the end.


So I concluded that’s unless you have a lot of time, I would keep it simple. If you’re craving an oyster-themed martini simply serve them on the side of a simple classic martini and pour in some of the brine to taste. You could even tip the whole body of one in for a striking (and tasty) aperitif.

Martini Izakaya Dishes


An Izakaya is essentially a type of Japanese pub that specialises in food to accompany drinks. It’s basically my favourite type of drinks setting. I love the post-work, instantly friendly and relaxed atmosphere, completely free of pretension.


Comparable to Spanish tapas or Turkish meze, the Izakaya-way is healthier than simply guzzling down a bucket of booze before staggering off for some fish and chips or a kebab (yes I’m British, that’s what we do).


Izakaya dining tends to leave out carbohydrates (rice, noodles etc) until the end of the meal for when the customer wants something very filling to soak up the booze before they leave. Otherwise most of the carbohydrates in the meal are obtained from the alcoholic beverages.

 I normally like some sort of carbohydrate with my martinis (crisps or nuts as a particular culprit, including the above Japanese peanut snacks) but there are loads of low-carb alternatives out there and the Izakaya is the master of them. Here are some examples:


It’s fairly standard to start an Izakaya meal with edamame, here boiled in salted water for 4 minutes from frozen, drained, cooled and sprinkled with salt (or some of Laura Santtini’s Umami salt if you fancy it). There are loads of other sauces, dips and condiments you can serve them with. Try experimenting.

   
This is another common Izakaya dish: agedashi-tofu.

It’s deep-fried tofu cubes in simmered dashi stock. I made some here with fried peppers, grated daikon, sliced cucumber, sliced spring onions and sesame seeds. For a recipe I recommend my favourite online cookery show: Cooking With Dog.


Grilled meat and vegetables are also extremely popular. Here are some Yakitori skewers.


Korean-style spinach – Sigeumchi-namul is an easy accompaniment you can make in advance of serving martinis.

Here is some tamago-yaki (fried omelette) with a sweet balsamic vinegar glaze. This is also nice at breakfast by the way.

  
Izakayas are usually more relaxed than formal sushi restaurants and many serve Japanese interpretations of Western cuisine. The above Korokke for example is the commonly served Japanese version of French croquette potatoes, here served on a bed of noodles. Sacré bleu!

  
I produced these asparagus skewers with the Izakaya style in mind, even though they are not traditionally Japanese.


Behold! I think I have managed to insult the culinary traditions of at least three different countries with this one. Nigiri (fingers of sushi rice pressed individually with toppings) here with English mustard (instead of wasabi) Spanish chorizo, Italian prosciutto and salami, with a mayo-mustard-vinegar-honey-and-juniper dip and some Tsukemono on the side.


I won’t stop there. Here is some meat and cheese gyoza, a veritable abomination of traditional Japanese cooking, but it’s very easy to make and appeals to meat and cheese lovers. Similar to a normal gyoza (dumpling) in terms of appearance and preparation, the only difference is the ingredients. Place a spoonful of cheese into the middle of some thinly sliced chorizo or salami, fold the meat over to encapsulate the cheese and crimp it shut. You can serve it like that, or grill it for a minute or so until the meat crisps and the cheese melts. 

  
My brother made something similar by wrapping mozzarella pieces in thin salami slices and frying them. Not so good for the heart, but very good for the belly.


Speaking of bellies, here are some evilly good deep-fried pickled gherkins. A salt ‘n’ vinegar snack I first enjoyed courtesy of the Meat Liquor / Meat Mission guys in London. They’re easy to make. Just dip them in a simple batter and fry them for about 3-4 minutes in about an inch of hot, lightly smoking oil. They go well if you serve them with a soy sauce and balsamic vinegar 50:50 mixture for dipping.

  
That soy-vinegar mixture works well with quite a lot of things. Here I used it as a dipping sauce for wood ear mushrooms. Buy these dried, bring a pan of water to the boil, throw them in, take the pan off the heat, give them a stir, leave them to soak in the water for 30 minutes, drain then serve.


Okay, okay, I know, it’s just crisps. Carbs and not fancy, right? Well Izakayas aren’t pretentious. So all sorts of comfort foods can be served. Crisps will forever be welcome as a tasty martini snack.


This is more authentically Izakaya. Sliced aubergine (egg plant, if you must) stir fried then combined with a light miso sauce, with chopped spring onions sprinkled on top. It can be served hot or cold.


This is some fried spring onion with a soy glaze. Simple, easy and slightly unusual in the West, the recipe is here.

  
This is probably cheating but I served some deep fried squid I bought from a Chinese takeaway restaurant. No one complained. It actually worked very well. I’ve said it before, seafood goes very well with a martini. And if you’re going to dip that seafood in batter and fry it until it’s crunchy then that can only be a good thing. 


This wasn’t cheating but it was a lot more time consuming. It’s some thinly sliced rare beef with spring onions. I rubbed the beef with salt and pepper, cooked it lightly in a pan, chilled it in iced water, patted it dry, sat it in a sweet soy and onion marinade overnight then sliced it thinly and served it with spring onion.


It’s a bit fiddly to make for a canapé but it’s tasty if you can be bothered. The beef also goes well simply served on top of rice (especially sushi rice).


This is izakaya-esque. I just took some konbu (kelp) I had used while making sushi rice and turned it into a salty/umami garnish.


You can roll the konbu up and serve it as an alternative to the classic martini olive.

    

You can also serve konbu with that same soy-vinegar mixture shown above.

Here is some Shime Saba or lightly pickled Japanese mackerel. It’s one of my favourite things to make and eat and it’s very healthy. 

  
One of my friends complains about prawn sandwiches having a “high death-to-bite ratio” but this mussel martini has a “high death to sip ratio”… Much like those of James Bond’s… It’s not the most appetising garnish I ever made but life without experimentation is dull. I simply threaded some pre-cooked mussels on a toothpick and served it on the side of the glass.

  
And who could forget this experimental extravaganza? It’s more seafood, this time in the form of a squid-ink martini with octopus tentacles. Tentacle martini porn is now officially a thing!

  
And finally, as I said before, an Izakaya experience is often finished off with soup and/or noodles. I also think that a martini needs to be finished off with a good meal. You want to fill your stomach with something substantial after all that alcohol and you need something to look forward to. Otherwise you’ll end up just wanting another martini – which can get very dangerous indeed!

 
Above I served noodles in miso soup with dumplings, prawns, seaweed, courgettes and avocado topped with katsuobushi (dried tuna shavings). It’s very easy to throw together – even if you’re two martinis down. In fact, if you’ve got the miso soup, add the boiled noodles then you could just about throw anything in there. Don’t be afraid to experiment.

Kanpai!

The Fiery Ginger Martini

   
Serving a cocktail in a martini glass and adding a -tini suffix to the end of its name does not make it a martini.

   
A real martini should contain a small amount of vermouth and a large amount of gin or vodka. If you start messing around with this too much you no longer have the genuine article.

   
Acceptable variations include the dirty martini, served with olive brine, or the Gibson martini, served with pickled onion instead of lemon or olive. These are very simple alterations to the classic. 

 

The above Rosemary Martini uses no syrups or fruit juice. It is the same alcoholic strength as a classic martini but with a sublime taste and aroma of a rosemary herbaceous border. It’s a little bit more fancy than a classic but I still consider it essentially a martini.

  

I sometimes blog about certain cocktails if they have become accepted into popular martini culture as having a -tini suffix (the Appletini perhaps, the above Espresso Martini or the Breakfast Martini for example).

   
Otherwise though, I like variations to the classic martini which involve only the tiniest, most subtle alterations. Above, the humble caperberry can turn a classic martini into a full blown filthy martini.

  
With this simplistic philosophy in mind, I wanted to make a martini very close to a classic, but which incorporated the sharp and fresh essence of ginger. I subsequently tried scouring the Internet for existent recipes.

  

Indeed, a ginger martini recipe already exists (it’s referred to as the ‘zen-tini’) but I was disappointed to find that it involved quite a lot of preparation, it was far to complicated, and the finished product, using syrup, wasn’t nearly as strong as a classic martini.

  

Such fuss is hardly my idea of ‘zen’.

  

So I had a think, and decided to put together my own recipe.

After much thought, I came up with something very simple, even comparable to a dirty martini.

The crucial difference is that instead of olive brine it’s made with the juice of freshly grated ginger.

  
Grate a thumb-sized piece of ginger then squeeze the pulp to release the liquid.

   
Take a teaspoon of the juice and pour it into a chilled martini glass.
Add vermouth to taste then top up with chilled gin/vodka and stir.

  
Garnish with a slice of ginger with a small wedge cut out so that it slips over the glass.

Serve.

  
The drink is as strong as a normal martini, but with an added fiery kick of spice and warmth. It’s very good in winter.

  
You can also garnish the drink with a slice of Japanese pickled ginger, which looks very delicate and is a little easier on the palate than a raw ginger slice. If you like the taste you might like my Japanese pickled ginger martini.

  
I’m trying to think up a name for the raw ginger martini. The hot and fiery martini comes to mind.

Perhaps I could name it in honour of Jamaica, the residence of martini fan Ian Fleming and a great producer of fiery ginger goodness. The MontegoBayTini perhaps?

  
I wanted to name it after the distinctive and deadly Jamaican Bond girl Grace Jones but sadly a cocktail has already been named in her honour (one of the most expensive in the world no less…).

  
Someone also suggested that the raw ginger garnish looked a little bit like…

  
…one of Russell Tovey’s ears so I could also name it after him. 

More predictably though, it could also be named after all manner of famous gingers: the Prince Harry martini perhaps, or the Julianne Mooretini.

All suggestions in the comments below will be gratefully received.