Stirred, Not Shaken: How Stanley Tucci Makes Martinis
In this extract from the actor and cookbook author's forthcoming memoir, he shares the formula for the perfect martini
No one really knows the true origins of the drink that E. B. White called “the elixir of quietude”. Some say a bartender invented it at the end of the 1800s in the town of Martinez, California. Others say other things. Too many people say too many things and I wish they’d stop.
In the end it doesn’t really matter. The only thing that matters is that the Martini exists. And to me it matters a great deal that it exists in its driest form. (The word “Martini” will always be capitalised within these pages.)
Originally Martinis were made with a one-to-two ratio of dry vermouth and gin. (If one were using sweet vermouth this would be known as a “Perfect Martini”.) But over the years Martinis became more and more dry, meaning they used less and less vermouth, to the point where many were made with none at all.
Noel Coward suggested that the cocktail of cocktails be made by “filling a glass with gin and waving it in the general direction of Italy”, and I agree. (I have heard that in England during World War II, Scotch was used as a replacement for vermouth, which, for obvious reasons, was hard to come by. This story may well be apocryphal but I like the resourcefulness of the idea, and having often made a Martini this way, I must say it’s very tasty.)
In my opinion, depending upon the quality and flavour profile of the gin or vodka, little or no vermouth should be used. I also believe that a Martini should be stirred and not shaken, no matter what 007 has told bartenders on screens for the past 60 years.
Yet, at Dukes in London, where Mr Fleming supposedly conjured up the ultimate gentleman spy, Martinis are neither shaken nor stirred, unless requested. Frigid potato vodka is poured directly into an ice-cold glass and garnished with one’s choice of olives or a lemon twist.
Although I pride myself on being able to handle my liquor, due to the absence of ice cubes and their diluting effects on the alcohol, one of these can be enough for me to ask the waiter if he would discreetly remind me of my own name.
I only learned to make a Martini properly, not when I was a bartender at Alfredo’s many years ago, but when I was a customer many years later. It was in a hotel on Majorca near a house I was staying in while filming a project that barely saw the light of day, thank God. I bellied up to the bar one evening after a rousing game of tennis and ordered a very dry Martini.
As usual I watched the bartender like a hawk while he concocted my crepuscular tipple, making sure he had even a vague idea of how to work both shaker and strainer simultaneously. (I have actually been known to talk bartenders through the process very carefully if I see them struggling or ask politely if I can go behind the bar and just make my own.)
Luckily, as it turns out, this bartender, who was Italian, more than knew his way around a bar. Here is what he did, and now, thanks to him, this is what I do.
STANLEY TUCCI'S MARTINI RECIPE
Gin or vodka
Olives or a lemon twist, to garnish
1. Take a glass beaker and fill it with ice.
2. Pour in a half shot of good dry vermouth.
3. Stir it well for about 15 seconds.
4. Let it sit for about 30 seconds.
5. Stir it again.
6. Strain out the vermouth.
7. Pour in 3 to 4 shots of good gin or good vodka.
8. Stir it well for about 30 seconds.
9. Let it sit for about 30 seconds.
10. Stir it again for another 30 seconds.
11. Let it sit for another 30 seconds.
12. Stir it quickly.
13. Strain it into a chilled glass.
14. Garnish with either 1 or 3 olives (never 2) or a lemon twist.
15. Drink it.
16. Become a new person.
I discovered Martinis after graduating college, at a restaurant called Cafe Luxembourg on the Upper West Side of New York. It is an upscale French bistro that has been serving consistently good food for about 40 years and I am happy to say is still extant. I didn’t have much money at the time, but I would often sit at the polished zinc bar, nurse a Martini or two, and partake of the free hard-boiled eggs that were on offer.
A terrible diet, yes, but I was young and this was my right. I was so happy just to be perched at the bar in this kinetic environment reading, writing, or simply observing the well-heeled as they ordered meals and bottles of wine I hoped I could one day afford.
At the time, Martinis were not nearly as fashionable as they are now, nor were there as many brands of gin or vodka on the market as there are today. But as a hopeless romantic who had a penchant for the 1930s and 40s, I drank them in the hope that they might imbue me with the charm and savoir faire of William Powell or the aforementioned master of caustic wit and wisdom Noel Coward. I normally asked for them to be made with Bombay gin, which was a stretch for my rather tight budget but well worth it.
Then around the mid-80s, Bombay released their Sapphire brand. Brilliant marketing caused it to become all the rage, and after tasting it once, I immediately “upgraded” my Martinis despite my meagre earnings.
Since my early days at Cafe Luxembourg, the Martini has been a staple of my diet. In fact, it is not rare for me to sport a portable Martini kit on a film set, which I put to good use at the end of a day of filming when I have settled back into the makeup chair and the “mask” is removed, as we actors pompously say. (Well, not me, but probably someone like Ryan Reynolds would say that.*) I have used this kit or others like it for many years and it gives me great pleasure to mix a Martini for anyone who craves one at wrap as I do.
* Ryan Reynolds is a very dear friend and would never say such words. But Colin Firth probably would.
Extracted with permission from Stanley Tucci’s memoir Taste: My Life Through Food, $45, Penguin Random House