There’s no doubt about it. Christmas and Hanukkah are all about great food. We simply revel in it. However, when New Year’s Eve rolls around, most of us are focusing on our favorite cocktails. Sure, appetizers, including fanciful canapés, are an essential part of the party. We might even begin the evening with a beautiful meal. After all, you can’t drink on an empty stomach. But let’s face it, when the ball drops in Times Square and everyone is wishing everyone the best for the year to come, most of us will have a glass in hand. Champagne is always in order, especially when the clock strikes at the midnight hour. Some like it brutally brut, or dry. I like mine sweet. Sometimes I’ll even drop a sugar cube in the glass, as most Italians are wont to do. Champagne cocktails are nice, as well. Very 1930’s retro and all. It seems that Champagne symbolizes good luck for so many of us. We toast brides and grooms with it, and will pop a cork during our birthday and anniversary celebrations as well. It just makes sense to usher in the New Year with a glass of the old bubbly. I approve whole heartedly.
However, more robust concoctions are usually sought after as the New Year’s Eve festivities begin. For me, it’s the Martini. I learned to enjoy this classic from my Dad. Till this day, I believe he makes the best darn Martini in the state of New York. Well, in the city of Brooklyn, anyway. As for Gin or Vodka, we’re equal opportunity imbibers. It depends on our mood. One thing I will say. There’s always Vermouth and olives in the picture when Dad and I get to stirring or shaking. (To be honest, I don’t think it really makes a difference whether you shake or stir. I can’t imagine you’re in danger of bruising anything. Use only the finest ingredients and you’ll always be happy with the results.) Yes, Dad and I are what you might call your more traditional Martini kind of guys. Dry, perhaps. But always a drop of Vermouth. None of this “pour the vodka and just wave the Vermouth bottle over the glass” kind of stuff. We’ve tried the onion and even a twist of lemon peel. No dice. The olive reigns supreme in our Martinis. Hey, we even go “dirty” every once in a while. You can actually purchase olive juice when you run out. Be careful, though. There’s a fine line between a Dirty Martini and a salty mess. In any event, when prepared with love a perfectly chilled and delicious Martini is my poison of choice at most celebratory occasions. Especially the Eve. Now that’s just me. I mean, who am I to tell people what to drink, right? But I’m not a purist like so many of those strictly Scotch, Whiskey and Bourbon folks. I like to sample. And hey, there’s an army of mixologists out there who will introduce you to more cocktail creations than you can shake a plastic stirrer at. I’m all for that – always game for what they come up with next. We’ve all been treated to a vast array of different flavored “Martinis” with cute names like “Apple-tini” and “Choco-tini” for years now. They’re always delectable and lots of fun. Recently I’ve been trying more elaborate inventions using everything from melon flavored liquors to pepper infused tequilas. There’s no better time than New Year’s Eve to indulge in these creative drinks. There are lots of recipes on line, so check them out. Or if you’re partying out that night, be sure to ask the bartender what he or she recommends. You might start a tradition of your own. Whatever your plans for New Year’s Eve, remember to drink responsibly and have fun. Bill, Phyllis and I wish you a New Year filled with the very best. Cheers!
And now, if Victor has inspired you to raise a toast with the classic martini, here’s a little backstory and the perfect recipe:
Savored at the Commodore Club on the Queen Mary II or in the hand of Fred Astaire in a toast to his newest venture, the simple, icy cold martini has long been considered the quintessential American cocktail. It is sleek and elegant and even the conical shape of the martini glass evokes sophistication.
Much has been written about the origin and history of the martini. Perhaps the most well documented is its first appearance at the old Knickerbocker Hotel in New York in 1910, the creation of its head bartender Martini di Arma de Taggia. Its first imbiber is reported to have been John D. Rockefeller. A British journalist, John Doxat, having made an exhaustive study of martini history, asserts also, that the mix at that time was half gin and half dry vermouth.
The concoction became highly popular and other bartenders began to invent their own versions of the drink. Its evolution saw drier and drier combinations until today, the popular mix seems to be 5 parts gin to 1 part dry vermouth. There are those who, preferring the “driest” martini, are cimply content to whisper the word “martini” across the glass. Winston Churchill used to simply bow in the direction of France when he made his martini. True aficionados, however, insist upon at least a modicum of dry vermouth.
In addition to Winston Churchill, many favous historical and fictional figures are associated with the martini—Ernest Hemingway, Jl Robert Oppenheimer, Cary Grant, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Truman Capote and the list goes on. Clearly the most famous fictional character to prefer the martini is James Bond, whose martini was not a martini at all, but was made with vodka and “shaken, not stirred,” in the movies, anyway, although not in Ian Fleming’s books. Purists would call this a “vodkatini.”
What is the proper way to make a martini? First of all, chill the martini glass and the mixing glass. Fill the glass with ice cubes, never crushed ice. Pour in 2 ½ oz. gin and ½ oz. dry vermouth. Stir at least 30 seconds. Strain into martini glass and add a high quality green olive or a twist of lemon peel.
This is my no means the definitive classic martini. As I mentioned, some like it shaken, some like it drier or wetter, and then there are the many newer, sometimes neon-colored variations sporting fruit juices, liqueurs and aperitifs. Whatever your preference, raise your glass and enjoy! Cheers!
Photographer Bill Brady http://bit.ly/9wFYxm
Food Stylist Brian Preston Campbell
Written by Victor Ribaudo
Recipe and martini commentary by Phyllis Kirigin, aka sweetpaprika
Food Stylist Brian Preston Campbell
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