April 2008
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Day April 20, 2008

The Perfect Manhattan and Other Adventures

It’s been a good (if odd) weekend up here on the island, with snow on Friday and Saturday (though nothing like the convergence zone N. of Seattle where my brother lives), and brilliant sunshine (though cold weather) today. I’ve been working on dissertation stuff this weekend, honing my topic after a bit of a breakthrough last month, and trying to deal with domestic stuff (bills, learning how to maintain/flush/ignore the new septic system, finding a list of tile places to visit in Seattle for my upcoming bathroom remodel).

But I also went to the first farmer’s market of the season, and bought some great stuff. Tonight I’m going to make a roast chicken (currently brining its little juices out in the garage fridge), served with sauteed baby chard from Nootka Rose farm on Waldron Island, and I’m chilling out and reading some Rorty with Rebecca’s radishes from Blue Moon Farm on Waldron as well, along with several olive mixes, my homemade pickled vegetables, and the Perfect Manhattan.  And by the way, Rebecca’s radishes are some of the best I’ve ever had — I’ve never described a radish as sweet and juicy, but these are just dripping with internal juice but still with a good bite.  Dipped into sea salt they’re incredible.

I’ll get to the Manhattan later. First, I have to remember to recommend Vessel in Seattle. I’d hemmed and hawed about going in since it always seemed to be packed, but Madden and I hit the joint on a Monday night last week and immediately went nutty about the selection of rare, interesting, hard-to-find, and homemade items. They make their own bitters! The bartender responded to our boyish enthusiasm by immediately making us taste all the homemade bitters and herbal tinctures, and furthered the process of getting us thoroughly drunk which I’d begun by making Manhattans at the apartment and then having rose champagne and Charmes-Chambertin at Campagne. I recommend proceeding to Vessel at once and asking for anything made with their house-made bitters. Oh, and try the two vodkas from Sub Rosa in Oregon: saffron and tarragon. Madden preferred the saffron and I preferred the tarragon but both were stellar. Not sure they’re available up here commercially yet but I’ll find some.

Yesterday I ran across a bag of key limes at the store, just normal supermarket stuff, and thought, "I should do preserved key limes, like preserved lemons." Madden is making preserved lemon marmalade on the new menu at Steps, and all three of my favorite olive mixes at PFI involve preserved lemons, so the idea of soaking citrus in salt for three weeks is pretty much in my wheelhouse. So I have a big jar of cross-cut key limes soaking in strong brine with bay leaves and black peppercorns. Sometime in early May I’ll figure out a use for these guys….

But the original point of the post was to say that I’d finally perfected the Manhattan, at least from my standpoint. Long, long ago I worked hard on Martini making; in fact, that’s pretty much all I remember about my master’s degree. To this day, I keep a shaker and two glasses in the freezer, since thorough chilling of everything involved keeps the gin (yes, Martinis are made of GIN) from watering down when it hits the ice in the shaker (and a strict 5:1 ratio with good Noilly Prat vermouth or better should be observed).

But I digress. The perfect Manhattan turns out to involve replacing 1/3 or 1/4 of the sweet vermouth (again, Noilly Prat is my favorite, the Italians don’t make good vermouth, at least that we see over here) with a good dark Amaro. Amaros are Italian herbal bitters, the most common of which is Fernet Branca in the States. Fernet is a bit too dark and medicinal for this application, but you can do 1/5th Fernet for the same effect and keep more of the vermouth.

The absolute best Amaro for this job (and for drinking straight) is the Amaro Santa Maria al Monte, which comes into the Seattle area in miniscule quantities that you have to fight restaurants for. It’s gorgeous, herbal, complexly flavored stuff, and it gives the Manhattan a bit of an edge but nothing medicinal. In bars in Seattle, the lighter Amaro Nonino is more popular as a Manhattan addition but I think it’s too sweetly similar to the vermouth to be much use.

Well, it’s almost time to roast a chicken. More later.