As a chef I am constantly exploring new ways to utilize familiar ingredients. Hmmmm. What would be a courageous (but not ruinous) combination—a chill-thrill on a sweltering summer day when no one wants to turn on the oven to prepare dinner? Hmmmm. How about pairing oysters and a really cold martini with cucumber juice? Yes . . . listen for bells!—there is a marriage happening!—voilà! Cucumber martini sorbet with oysters and red pepper balsamic syrup!
Gin is the majestic ingredient in a real martini. All those vodka folks are faking it! The Dutch doctor who invented gin in the seventeenth century prescribed it for all sorts of internal ailments. The English troops fighting the Spanish discovered gin in Holland, noticed its effects before battle, and dubbed it “Dutch Courage.”
In the eighteenth century, the British government allowed unlicensed gin production. Since this made gin cheaper than other alcohol, it became the favorite tipple of the poor, who drank gin instead of water. (Until the mid-nineteenth century when municipal water purification was introduced, alcoholic beverages in many forms were preferable to polluted fetid water in cities.)
Why “Mother’s Ruin”? Because women were the caretakers of infants and children, so they took the brunt of scorn for the drunken. Hogarth limned their shame in his etching Gin Lane—half-naked women lolling about the streets with infants in high squeal at their breasts.
Mixologists (hateful term!) are using vegetables and fruit to enhance their cocktails. Here is an appetizer fashioned from a frozen veggie martini, graced with an oyster. I suggest using London dry gin, which is derived from juniper berries and other botanicals introduced into the distilling process.
Cucumber Martini Sorbet with Oysters
And Red Pepper Balsamic Syrup
Yield: 12 servings as an appetizer
Special equipment: Blender, measuring cups and spoons, 12 small cocktail glasses, 12 teaspoons
6 tablespoons good quality dry gin like Tanqueray Ten
2 tablespoons dry vermouth
2 cups large, washed, cubed English/hothouse cucumber
2 tablespoons superfine sugar
A few twists freshly ground black pepper to taste
6 mint leaves
2 tablespoons lime juice
12 oysters, shucked, reserved in their liquor
¼ cup white balsamic vinegar
Pinch red pepper flakes
¼ cup granulated sugar
12 small mint leaves
For the sorbet, pour gin, vermouth, and sugar into a blender. Turn the blender onto high speed. Drop cubes of cucumber and mint leaves through feed tube till all is well liquefied.
Add the lime juice.
Place in refrigerator till completely chilled. Churn in ice cream maker and freeze.
For the balsamic syrup, heat vinegar with red pepper flakes. Add sugar, heating to melt. Allow to steep an hour before chilling.
To serve, scoop a tablespoon of sorbet into a chilled cocktail glass. Place one oyster with some liquor over the sorbet. Drizzle with balsamic syrup and garnish with a mint leaf. Serve with a teaspoon.