His Majesty's Martini Recipe

The Ol' Silver Bullet

A dry martini is like a bed: Even though you might never want to, you might, sooner or later, be called upon to make one. As a public service, therefore, I impart to you the wisdom of the world's leading expert on the production and consumption of dry martinis: me.

Cocktail hour (for me, about 9:00 or 9:30 in the evening) is an appointment I never miss. Putting away a large, ice-cold martini before dinner is as important to me (and probably about as indispensable to my health) as taking a whiz first thing in the morning.

Every martini-drinker has his or her own ideas on how to make a martini. It's a very personal matter, and on many points, reasonable people can differ. For instance, loud arguments can be heard as to how much vermouth a proper martini should contain. At one end of the spectrum are those who advocate four parts gin to one part vermouth; at the other are those who say that the word "vermouth" should merely be mentioned loudly enough to make the gin cringe.

Another debate of great import concerns the garnish. A green olive is the standard of one camp; that of the other is a twist of lemon peel. A tiny minority prefers a pickled onion, which, if used, makes the drink not a martini, but a Gibson (and I'll tell you why later).

Some say that a martini should be shaken with ice; some say it should be stirred. A few prefer a martini on the rocks; most prefer to strain it into a chilled glass.

Still, trust me on this: My way is the best way.

In a pinch, you may drink a martini out of any kind of glass. But if you can get your hands on a set of real, delicate, long-stemmed, wide-mouthed martini glasses, do so. A martini served in the proper glass tastes immeasurably better than the same liquid served in, say, a wineglass.

Long before you propose to drink a martini, you should have rinsed your martini glass in cold tap water, shaken off the excess, and put the glass into your freezer. I keep at least two martini glasses in the freezer at all times. If you're caught short, you can chill a martini glass by filling it with cracked ice and water and letting it sit for a few minutes.

Pour four ounces of gin and about a tablespoonful of dry vermouth into a cocktail shaker. Take four or five ice cubes, one after the other. Holding each cube in the palm of your hand, bash it a good one with the back of a heavy tablespoon, to crack it into chunks. Drop the ice chunks into the cocktail shaker. (Don't use crushed ice: It'll melt too fast, and make your martini too watery. A martini should contain some melted ice, but not much.)

Put the lid on the shaker and shake it good and hard, with serious back-and-forth action, for 10 seconds (count them!).

(If you stir, as opposed to shaking, your martini will simply not be cold enough. There are many ways to destroy a martini, but none surer than by not serving it just short of frozen. Anyone who tells you that shaking a martini "bruises the gin" is probably also capable of talking about "bending air." It's true that shaking the mixture will make it slightly cloudy, but in my opinion it looks better that way.)

Take the glass out of the freezer and strain the liquid into it, discarding the ice. With luck, the glass should be filled just short of the rim.

Take a lemon and shave off a two-inch strip of peel, taking GREAT care not to cut into the fruit. (The least suggestion of lemon juice will utterly ruin a martini.) Take the piece of lemon peel and twist it over the drink, allowing the lemon oil to congeal in droplets on the surface, then drop it into the glass.

Some people prefer to take the initial sip while standing in the kitchen; others prefer to carry the glass--carefully--into the living room and sit down before reverentially starting in on it. In either case, the Rite of the Martini is concluded by taking that first sip, and sighing in helpless ecstasy, "Ohhh, CHRIST, is that good!"

(You can always spot a martini-drinker: He's the guy with a partially-peeled lemon in a ziplock bag in his fridge. I don't use an olive, partly because I don't want anything salty in the drink, and partly because an olive displaces too much gin.)

Some heretics believe a martini can be made with vodka instead of gin. While it is true that you can follow the above recipe, substituting vodka for gin, and produce a liquid that a few people will drink, it is not a martini, not no way, not no how. A "vodka martini" is fit only for sissies. Period.

I like Bombay gin the best. It's a very fragrant, spicy gin with a lot of character. DON'T use "Bombay Sapphire," the so-called "premium" brand. Its higher alcohol content destroys the subtlety and complexity of the beverage.

Oh, yes: Why does a martini become a Gibson when garnished with a pickled onion? Well, many years ago, there lived an American diplomat named Gibson who was a teetotaller, but who didn't want people to feel uncomfortable about drinking in his presence. (How polite of him! and such a change from today, when some folks feel that it's proper to insult people who indulge their minor vices!) So, at parties, he would drink water in a martini glass, with a pickled onion floating in it. Everyone assumed it was his own exotic variation on a dry martini. And today, it is!

Josephus Rex Imperator