Martinis have been around for a hundred years or so, but it’s only in the last couple of decades that they’ve been “genericized” to the point that cocktail newcomers don’t really know what the heck a Martini is. These days, when you open up a cocktail menu at an upscale restaurant or lounge, you’re likely to discover that anything served straight up (that’s without ice, kids) in one of those signature-shaped glasses, is called a Martini. Appletinis, Chocolatinis, Espresso Martinis, etc., can really confuse the neophyte and have him flipping back to the beer list and ordering a draft. Phew! That was close.
A Martini is a venerable cocktail, one long enjoyed by hard-working gents and ladies at the end of a stressful day at the forefront of moving and shaking the world. Well, sometimes in the middle of the day, too, at one of those client lunches. In any case, the Martini has been around this long because it is a beautiful creation, a wonderful design, the epitome of strength, balance and a certain frosty simplicity that appeals to those whose lives may be way too complicated in other areas.
Born and raised as gin drinks, there are still many who feel that this is the only legitimate liquor to use in the wondrous concoction. I respect that opinion, and prefer gin myself — but making a case for gin-only is a little like wishing men still wore hats. If you plan to set up a decent Martini bar for your date or guests, you must be ready to make vodka Martinis, too, as that ship has sailed.
Next, you’ll need some dry vermouth, and you should buy the smallest bottle you can find. Vermouth is a fortified wine, and will not sit on your shelf forever without acquiring a skunky, stale taste and ruining your Martini. Do you have such a bottle on your bar already? Toss it. Fortunately, the inexpensive brands of vermouth are widely available and are perfectly fine for any Martini. Once you crack your bottle of vermouth, please keep it in the refrigerator.
Garnishes are the next bone of contention in the Martini world, and again, there will be those who rail against one or the other or swear a manly Martini should have none at all. Screw those guys. Who wants a smart cocktail without an attractive garnish? So here are your choices: olives, lemon peels, or cocktail onions. Please have all three on the bar.
Now for the equipment: first, you’ll need a shaker. There are two basic kinds, cobbler and Boston. In my experience, only bartenders and mixologists know these terms, so don’t worry about them. A cobbler shaker is the kind most people have on their home bar; it has a big cup for the ice and liquor, a strainer top that fits right onto the cup, and a cap that fits over the strainer to keep everything inside until you’re ready to pour. This is also called a three-part shaker. If you’ve never shaken a cocktail, I recommend this type of shaker. Don’t buy a cheap one, though; get something that’s not plastic, and preferably made by OXO. If, however, you’ve bartended before and know how to use a Boston shaker, you’ll look pretty suave. It’s comprised of a big mixing glass and a metal cup (or two metal cups) that are smacked together for shaking and then “broken” apart. The drink is then poured through a strainer and into the glass. Sometimes it’s hard to get the two pieces to come apart; pouring can be messy. If you opt for the Boston shaker, do some practicing.
You’ll need a bar measure to measure your liquor. I like precision, especially with Martinis as everyone has a different preference for their level of “dryness.” I recommend a shot measuring cup that measures down to the quarter-ounce. OXO makes an excellent two-ounce measure that comes in both clear plastic and stainless steel; I have both.
Next, some Martini glasses. I buy old ones at flea markets and thrift stores. New ones are expensive and usually way too big; a seven-ounce Martini will lead to a short and possibly embarrassing evening. Look for a smaller glass.
Everything else you’ll need is probably in your kitchen already. A paring knife for the lemon peels, some spoons to fish olives and onions out of jars or bowls, some toothpicks for garnishes.
You’re set. Now how do we mix this thing?
Dry Martini – Basic Recipe
To an ice-filled shaker, add:
2 ounces gin or vodka
1/2 ounce dry vermouth
Shake vigorously; give the drink time to emulsify and get really cold. Don’t worry about “bruising” your ingredients; a good Martini must contain a little water in the form of melted ice. Strain into a chilled Martini glass. Add an olive that has been speared on a toothpick, so that the drinker can retrieve it handily. Alternately, take a wee strip of lemon peel, twist it over the drink, expressing the lemon oil onto the surface in a fragrant cascade of citrusy goodness, and drop it in. Your third option is to add a cocktail onion, which will make your Martini a Gibson.
This is a 4-to-1 Dry Martini. Likely some frat boy somewhere is screaming that he likes his Martinis “dry,” but this IS dry. If you want it dryer, go with a quarter-ounce of dry vermouth. Beyond that, have a glass of gin and stop being silly.
Martinis are the most sophisticatedly simple of cocktails, a pure and potent reward for those who work and play hard. FDR drank them; Winston Churchill drank them. If you choose to drink them as you contemplate your next battle, I hope this helps you to make them delicious.
by High Priestess Peggy Nadramia