The first step in making a good martini is to throw away your vodka. Sorry, but there it is. No self-respecting martini drinker would be caught alive with a so-called “vodka martini” in his hand, a misnomer if there ever was one, since there is no such thing. Martinis are made with gin. Deal with it.
Making a martini is really rather simple (unless, perhaps, you’ve had a couple), but it’s also pretty easy to mess up. But to my mind, when properly made, there’s no more satisfying after-work, pre-dinner drink to be had — clean, medicinal and, best of all, powerful — so follow my instructions closely.
First (OK, second, since you’ve already thrown away the vodka), slap a Dean Martin CD on the stereo. Listen for a while, then turn it off, so you can concentrate. I’ll trust that you have martini glasses and a metal cocktail shaker. If not, stop reading and go to the store now (try Crate and Barrel).
Back? All right, now you need a good gin. Tanqueray and Bombay Sapphire are reliably good — but don’t buy any of their flavored varieties. Ever. The best gin I’ve ever had is Hendrick’s, a small batch Scottish gin, widely available these days, pricey but worth every shot. If that’s over your monthly budget, Trader Joe’s offers an exceptional gin under its own label for less than $10. It’s called Rear Admiral Joseph’s.
The vermouth doesn’t matter a lot; you’re not going to use that much of it anyway. Martini and Rossi is fine. But it must be dry vermouth or just forget the whole blasted thing. Really, people.
Let’s make one martini, for now. Fill the bottom of the shaker with five or six ice cubes (more if they’re small). Use a shot glass with measuring lines, or eyeball it, and pour two ounces of gin over the ice.
The next step is controversial, or maybe just a matter of taste. Martinis are getting drier and drier these days (when they were invented, the ratio of gin to vermouth was as high as 3:2). Some people just look in the general direction of the vermouth bottle. Churchill reportedly preferred this method. (I asked my father for a martini once. He grabbed a bottle of Beefeater’s — yuck — poured it in a glass of ice, and said, “Here.”) I find a 5:1 ratio of gin to vermouth just about right, especially if you follow my subsequent directions. So, anyway, measure out a fifth of two ounces (whatever that is) of vermouth in the shot glass and pour it in over the gin.
Put the lid on the shaker (natch) and shake the devil out of it, up and down, and parallel to the floor, for a good 20 seconds. You actually want the ice cubes to melt a little to add water to the brew. At any rate, the mixture must be bracingly cold in order for the flavors to come together just right. Pour.
Garnishes: I prefer a small cocktail olive (there are gigantor varieties these days) or a small cocktail onion, which, when added, turns your martini, technically speaking, into a Gibson, which is probably even cooler than a martini since Cary Grant drinks one in “North by Northwest.” If you would like to try a “dirty” martini, and why wouldn’t you?, add a drop or two of the olive or onion brine to the mixture before shaking.
As cannot be overemphasized, a martini must be drunk cold, and while cold, so that means you have to drink one pretty quickly. If a guest leaves his sitting around too long, quietly add an ice cube to his glass without being a total snob about it.
Final step: Turn the Dean Martin CD back on.