A Cultured Cosmo Cocktail Called “Martini”

thai basil floating on blood orange cocktail martiniI like a nice cocktail. A perfectly prepared, impeccably presented, cocktail. I like the whole process of a cocktail. The amassing of the very best ingredients. The high-tech gleam of good stainless steel bar tools. The shimmering, sparkling crystal of very good barware.

I like the entire ritual.

Maybe the allure is that certain bit of glamour attached to the ritual. Engulfed in nostalgia. Swank. Stylish. It’s that, yes, but so much more.

This is of course epitomized in the scintillating viscosity a very good martini. Always gin, never vodka.

But I have a confession. I am not that good a bartender. I am not saying I cannot mix a drink. I mix a perfectly respectable cocktail—most of the time.

I am trying to get the finer points of mixology into my lexicon. But I have a feeling an impeccable Perfect Martini can only be mixed by somebody who has the talent bred into his or her DNA.

blood oranges on kitchen counterThere is a very fine distinction between a good stiff belt and a cocktail worthy of that moment of pause. The pause that comes just before you pick up the stem, close your eyes and lift it to your lips. That brief, unconscious pause. The inhalation of the electric current that floats right above, or sits on top the surface of a perfectly mixed beauty.

It’s not like I have not tried.

But in a perfect world there is only THE martini. Never SOME martinis. And unfortunately I never get it right on the first try. Which means I have to try again. And sometimes again. And even if I am ever able to finally produce a Perfect Martini after three tries, I can NEVER remember how I did it the next morning– the hellish next morning. Because if one martini is perfect. And two is dangerous. Then three is downright stupid. I hope to never be that stupid (again).

thai basil steeped in vodkaWhich means I save The Perfect Martini for the lobbies of very good hotels. The bars at a few select restaurants in towns that understand the phrase: “drinking for pleasure”. You can’t find it at Applebees, Red Lobster, or Outback Steakhouse. Dive bars are fun, but stick to beer.

But if you are lucky enough to have a friend or relative with the illusive, recessive Perfect Martini gene then you can enjoy them at home. Just not my home. Sorry…

Nope. When I mix a “martini” at home. It has very little in common with The Perfect Martini I described above. I stick with what I’m good at.

What I am good at is pairing a few interesting flavors in a deft manner. Since the emphasis is on pairing flavors I’ll use most any kind of liquor as long as it suits the pairing. Even vodka.

And since I am so good at this, people always seem to want more than just one. So I make them rather “light” in the alcohol department usually 50-50. This way if the party gets crankin’ and you think you might be able to handle a 3rd or 4th “martini”.  You won’t hate me (so much) in the morning.

My creation, the Thai Basil Blood-Orange Martini, is just such a creature.

It pairs the subtle anise notes in Thai basil with the jammy sweet citrus zing of blood-orange juice. I also use limejuice to lie enough of a sour base to keep the thing from becoming like some exotic flavor of LifeSavers.

thai basil blood orange cocktail martini on plateTo start: juice 2 blood-oranges and 1 lime. Take a big handful of Thai basil and steep it in 4-5 ounces of vodka (for at least 1 hour). This will make 2 cocktails.

Thai basil has a very distinct flavor. But it is enough like sweet basil that you may substitute one for the other. Do not fear the basil in a cocktail. Herby flavored liqueurs are classic.

In this instance I chose vodka because it is very neutral in its flavor. It is the barge charged with the chore of carrying my choice cargo to your chops!

Oh yeah, there is also a big dash of triple sec. Because the combination of lime and triple sec is just too perfect to ignore.

It may seem to you closely related to the over popular Cosmopolitan Cocktail of Sex in The City fame. But I call it a “martini”.

Some may say this libation is unworthy of the label “martini”. I admire them their strict adherence to tradition. And I admit this may not be The One Perfect Martini of my dreams. But it is one perfectly enjoyable “martini”.

SERIOUS FUN FOOD

Greg Henry

SippitySup