Category Archives: History of haute cuisine

The dry martini cocktail

The green olive properly speared / noilly prat.com

The green olive properly speared / noilly prat.com

The history of this cocktail is not without incident. It is a potentially lethal mixture of a raw spirit – gin – with a distillation of the vine, and you were always taught never to combine the two in one glass. The invention was American, perhaps taking place during the years of prohibition and after, again perhaps in New York City, where the Three Martini Lunch soon became fashionable, though it never really disturbed the good American tradition of hard work and commercial success. Manhattan spies tell me it first appeared in either the Algonquin hotel, or the St. Regis, both ultra fashionable with what used to be termed ‘The Upper Class’ US citizen, usually male.

There are many receipts for the making of this explosive sip. Ben Schott says it is Dry Vermouth one third, two-thirds Dry Gin, shaken, garnished and served on or off the rocks. Professional barmen will disagree with the words in italics. ‘Ginger’ Taylor, for half his life chief barman at the Connaught Hotel in Carlos Place, W.I. Had a different method: Half fill your cocktail shaker with fresh ice cubes; pour gently over the ice either Gordon’s or Beefeater’s best gin while you count four seconds out loud: then pour Dry Vermouth just as gently, also counting four seconds. Close the coctelera and shake vigorously as if you are playing the marracas; pour into a special martini-glass (see illustration) and add an unstoned green olive speared with a wood toothpick (or you may own your own pure silver implement). The ice cubes must be prevented from entering the glass by a special filter in the top of the shaker. Sip slowly and do not smoke while sipping, as the tobacco spoils the unique taste.

Shaker with detachable, filtered top / stepoffthecliff.com

Shaker with detachable, filtered top / stepoffthecliff.com

On the market there are many shapes and sizes of Martini glasses. Edith Sitwell had her own glass at her ladies only club in London. According to Gore Vidal, the glass was a small goldfish bowl, which meant that poetess and eccentric Edith would have to be helped a little later into her dining chair to enjoy her ‘Red Luncheon’ – lobster, strawberries and a bottle of red Burgundy.

Some restaurants cheat by employing those horrid bowl-like glasses into which champagne should never be poured. This wine must be served in tall, thin tulip glasses, or those wonderful bubbles escape and the taste is lost. As I was saying, some eating houses cannot be bothered with proper martini glasses. If so, you should withdraw your custom.

Should you feel a bit like James Bond, you will prefer the Vodka Martini, also shaken not stirred, and made with Smirnov vodka. In fact Smirnov is not Russian at all, it is made in America, to a recipe by a Russian. The cocktail is made in exactly the same way, though some like a Maraschino cherry in the glass instead of a green olive. On the subject of olives, do not use one stuffed with anchovy, for obvious reasons or taste and good manners.

One last word: actually they were the last words spoken by Humphrey Bogart the film actor, who was born into an upper-upper-class American family, and spent his working life playing growling bum gangsters. It is said on good authority that when ‘Bogey’ was dying, he whispered, “I knew I should not have changed from whisky to dry martinis”.

Let us above be politically correct . . .

Some years ago one of those correct persons who infest modern life pointed out to a bottling company that the label on one of their jams was politically incorrect. The label included an illustration of a ‘dark-skinned’ puppet popular for more than a century called a ‘Gollywog’. The lobbies moved in, the righteous demonstrated, normally sleepy MPs awoke to the horror of it all and made clanging speeches. The Robertson Company had to remove the offensive Gollywog from labels and advertising. Political correctitude had won again. Continue reading

Great sauces: Hollandaise

Here is a marvellous sauce for purists in this matter. It goes with salmon, asparagus, almost any vegetable, entrées and most fish dishes.

   Now one may ask why I say ‘for purists in this matter’? The reason is that purists state rather firmly that the only true Hollandaise Sauce consists of nothing but unsalted butter, egg yolks and lemon juice. My problem with this is that I find Hollandaise made this way is rather insipid. I reckon Hollandaise should start with a preliminary reduction of some good white wine, as one does in the making of Béarnaise (q.v.). The flavour is so much better. Forget about the lemon, as it disintegrates the sauce too easily, and you will end up shooting yourself because you have used up twenty fresh eggs and still got no Hollandaise. Continue reading

Great Sauces: Bolognese

Take chicken or calves’ liver or some raw minced beefsteak, one large onion, olive oil, one level tablespoon of white flour, one third of a litre of recently made stock, a bouquet garni consisting of your favourite herbs, one teaspoon of tomato purée (or if you prefer raw tomato pulp with no skin), two large cloves of garlic (you don’t like garlic? Oh dear, what shall we do? Stop cooking? Live at the North Pole? No: FORGET the Mediterranean diet), and one table spoon of dry sherry. Continue reading

Great Sauces: Béarnaise

This sauce goes marvellously well with any good cut of red meat, such as fillet, sirloin, entrecôte, rump and T-bone. But it is also superb with rich kinds of grilled (not boiled) fish, such as turbot or salmon. Some people like it with shell-fish. I don’t. It is similar to Hollandaise, but considerably thicker and sharper in taste. Here is how you make it: Continue reading