Sunday, November 29, 2009

Shrimp and Cocktails For Two

Did I mention I was feeling better last night? Ms. Bic was too. Not just better from the flu, but also fully-recovered from a bland, boring, and heavy Thanksgiving dinner. We were both in the mood for something tasty, fun, and light. We started off with martinis and shrimp cocktail and finished up with a salad of mixed baby greens accompanied with baked herbed goat cheese rounds and a bottle of young red wine. It was a good evening.

Regarding the martinis: real martinis are made with gin and dry vermouth. That's it. OK--ice; and a garnish too. But no chocolate, no strawberries, no cutesy-fartsy fruity liqueurs. These may all be part of a tasty cocktail. Just not part of a martini. Gin and vermouth and usually an olive or two. Simple? Yes. Easy to fuck up? You betcha.

Let's talk about the ingredients one at a time. First, the gin. Of the commonly available brands, I prefer Beefeater, with Bombay Sapphire coming in a close second. Beefeater is a little less flowery than Bombay and that's my preference. Try them both. Lately I've heard good things about Plymouth gin too. Haven't tried it yet. In any case, use good gin. It's the heart of the drink. Nothing will ruin a martini faster than using cheap gin.
Dry vermouth: again, two contenders. Martini and Rossi (Italian), and Noilly Prat (French). I slightly prefer M & R. Again, I find it a little less floral, but that's just me. Do not buy cheap vermouth. It will ruin your martini. Period. And don't forget, vermouth is just flavored wine. It has a very limited shelf life. Buy small bottles and keep it refrigerated. Toss it after two or three months. Would you enjoy a glass of "regular" wine from a bottle that was opened a year ago and has been sitting in someone's warm kitchen cupboard ever since? I didn't think so. Vermouth's no different--it's wine too. Enough said.

The ice: Yes, the ice. With a drink as simple as a martini, the quality of the ice really matters. Or more precisely--the quality of the water the ice was made from really matters. If your tap water tastes shitty, so will your ice and so will your martinis. No point in buying good gin and vermouth and then ruining the whole thing with ice cubes that taste like frozen little chunks of chlorinated swimming-pool water. If your water is bad, filter it or use bottled water for your ice.

The garnish: usually a green olive or two. I like garlic-stuffed Greek green olives the best. Use whatever you like. Sometimes a thin strip of lemon zest removed with a vegetable peeler is used instead of an olive. Once in a while, a tiny bottled cocktail onion. Then the cocktail is technically called a Gibson rather than a martini. But let's not get picky.

Last night we enjoyed ours with a few Maine shrimp that I gently simmered with a little Old Bay seasoning, then chilled and served with some homemade cocktail sauce. It was a delicious combination.

Making your own shrimp cocktail sauce couldn't be easier. Just pour out a couple good glugs of ketchup into a little bowl, and add some prepared horseradish to taste. I start with about a ten to one ketchup to horseradish ratio and add horseradish or ketchup until it tastes just right to me. When it tastes just right to you, add a good squeeze of fresh lemon juice. That's it. Just add some shrimp and a couple of dry martinis and you've got yourself a lovely little cocktail party for two.

I'll tell you about the goat cheese salad a little later.

Anyway, to make two double martinis start with 6 oz. of gin in a measuring cup. Add 1 scant teaspoon dry vermouth. The comfortably-full cap of a 375 ml. bottle of Martini and Rossi vermouth is a perfect measuring device. Shake in a metal cocktail shaker with plenty of ice until the shaker is almost too cold to hold. This accomplishes two things: it chills the booze and also dilutes it. Properly diluted gin is key to a great martini. Remember, imported London dry gin is generally about 94 proof. It can stand up to some melted ice. In fact, it's made to stand up to some melted ice. Once it's well-shaken and good and cold, just strain through the top of the cocktail shaker into two martini glasses. Add an olive or two to each. Serve immediately. Drink while still cold.

Update: Here's a link to the subsequent goat cheese salad post and recipe.

No comments: