There are literally thousands of martini recipes, as well as a considerable body of lore regarding the proper way to mix the drink, and at the same time ongoing experimentation and exploration in search of “the perfect Martini” are intrinsic aspects of the Martini experience. Still, here are some instructions on how to prepare yourself a Martini.
Step 1: Chill your glass
The Martini glass is the first ingredient you need. Remember: no martini glass, no martini. Two main reasons for this. First, it has a stem, that you should hold in order not to warm it up with your hand. Second, the wide opening creates a large surface area for the gin to open up and present its botanical aromas. In addition, style and presentation are significant aspects of the Martini experience, and a proper glass is essential for these.
Martinis should be served as chilled as humanly possible, so your glass must be as cold as you can. You have two ways to do this: either you fill the martini glass it with ice (and maybe top it with water) and let is chill a few minutes before you start preparing the drink, or you simply keep your glasses in the freezer (paying attention to one thing: it can get smelly if stored too closed to frozen food such as fish).
2. Choose the right ingredients
The basic ingredients for your Matruni are three: high quality London dry gin, high quality dry white vermouth, and fresh ice made from good water.
A good gin is the first thing. In the martini its spirit base, gin, is not masked by flavor, so you want to make sure you’re using a high quality gin. I suggest avoiding too flavoured gins, and go for some classic London Dry, such as Beefeater, Tanqueray or Bombay. All these brands produce premium versions, that are normally more alcoholic, and are also a good choice. Plymouth Gin is not a London dry gin, but it makes a damn good Martini. Feel free to experiment with more atypical gins, such as Hendrick’s, which has cucumbers among its botanics, and will not let you down. To explore all the many (really many) gins out there, you can go to this page.
The vermouth is equally important. I suggest you try these dry vermouth out: Noilly Pratt, Martini & Rossi, Cinzano, and Dolin, and you chose your favourite. They are all good vermouths, with different parfumes and personalities. Apart from the brand, you must remember that once opened, vermouth should be kept in the fridge where it will last about three months.
Ice is the third ingredient. While mixing, the ice will partially melt, with the result that the final drink will be up to 1/4 water. This dilution is highly desirable: water is a hidden but essential ingredient in the Martini, serving to smooth and marry the flavors of the gin and vermouth. If the ice is covered with frost, or has picked up flavors from other foods stored in the freezer, or is made from poor quality tap water, the quality of the Martini will be impaired. Also, you should favour large ice cubes, sonce smaller ice dilutes too quickly, watering down your martini too much before it’s chilled.
3. Prepare your garnish
Immediately before mixing, carefully cut a slice from the peel of the lemon, cutting just deeply enough to include a bit of white pith to give the twist some stiffness; avoid cutting into the yellow pulp of the fruit.
Also, prepare some olives of good quality. It is not a coincidence that olives go well with Martinis, since olives and juniper (gin’s key ingredient) pair well together. If you want to put the olive in your glass, that should be also kept in the fridge, or it will act as another element to warm your chilled drink. If left out all day, olives will dissipate their oils into the drink. Another option is to serve olives on the side and save yourself the mission of fishing them out of your glass as you enjoy your cocktail. Tradition dictates that you must use an odd number of olives. One olive is fine, so are three, five is excessive.
4. Mix your drink
Add gin and vermouth to a mixing glass, in the ration you prefer (I suggest you start with a 5 parts gin to 1 vermouth), and then add ice to fill the mixing glass.
Stir until cold, noting that once you have stirred a drink for 20 – 30 seconds, it’s about as cold as it is going to get, and that further stirring will increase the level of dilution, but won’t make the Martini any colder. Stir briskly-but-not-violently, in a conventional circular motion, by twirling the bar spoon between your fingers and moving it up and down in the mixing glass while stirring. Note (without enetering the debate): Martinis should be stirred (and not shaken), so to maintain a silky texture between the vermouth and gin.
Strain into your chilled glass.
Hold the strip of lemon peel horizontally about one inch above the surface of the Martini, yellow “out” side facing downward. Gently but firmly squeeze along its length, expressing the volatile citric oils onto to surface of the drink. If you want a lemon twist as garnish, gently drop the lemon peel into the Martini. If you prefer an olive, it is the time to let it in the glass.
Experiment your Martini
The most straightforward variation is to experiment with the dryness of the Martini. Try using more or less vermouth. And, of course, you can try different brands of gin and vermouth. You might also vary the length of time you stir the Martini, to make more or less diluted. Another simple variation is to try other traditional garnish, such as cocktail onions in lieu of lemon twist or olives, in which case your drink is known a Gibson rather than a Martini (in this case the proper number of onions in a Gibson is two).