When the world shut down for COVID nearly three years ago, I had extra time for cocktail experimentation because, well, there wasn’t much else to do. I made some really fun ones, but what seems ironic to me is that the more I experimented with new and unusual spirit ingredients (not to mention bitters and simple syrup infusions), the more I eventually “came home” to the familiar pleasure of a classic gin martini.
As we have inched closer to New Year’s Eve, I reached an impasse with myself about what kind of tipple I might share with you. Would it be another twist on a Manhattan, like the Pom-Pom-Hattan I posted two years ago, featuring pomegranate liqueur and real grenadine? Or maybe a fun riff on an Old Fashioned, like the smoked maple that is my hubby’s all-time favorite? No, this year, I dismissed all the fancy ideas I had for New Year’s Eve in favor of a cocktail that I’ve enjoyed multiple times over the past year. Rather than a wild new drink with hard-to-find ingredients, I bring you this simple but fabulous elevation of the timeless martini cocktail— I call it My Big Fat Olive Martini!
No, it is not named for the size of the olive on the pick (but that is a plus). What makes this drink special is that it leverages a technique called “fat washing,” which is essentially the temporary blending of a spirit ingredient with some kind of fat— be it bacon grease, browned butter or even duck fat. By shaking the spirit with the fat and then chilling it to solidify and strain off the fat, you end up with the essence of that fat ingredient in the drink, but without any actual fat in it. The effect of the fat washing is a luscious, well-rounded mouthfeel in the cocktail that is distinctly different, though the spirit’s own character is still front and center. It’s exquisite!
About a year ago, I became a subscriber to Imbibe magazine, which is intended for pro bartenders (but bored home mixologists can order it, too). In this magazine, as well as its digital counterpart, I’ve learned some new tricks of the trade in a way that puts my home mixology skills a step or two ahead of most cocktail bars in our city. Imbibe presented a version of this cocktail several months ago, and though I could not find the exact gin its creator used to make the drink, I knew I had to try it anyway. Fellow martini lovers, you are going to love this.
The dry vermouth you’ll use for the martini is first “washed” with a good quality, extra virgin olive oil, and the olive variety you choose will lend its specific character to the vermouth, even after it’s strained out after the chill-down. If you like fruity or grassy olive oil, you can expect those notes to carry over into your martini accordingly. Isn’t that fun?
The oil I like best for this is Nocellara, an Italian olive variety known more widely as Castelvetrano. This oil has a mild and creamy, almost artichoke-y flavor, and it is outstanding for washing the vermouth, though other varieties I’ve tried were perfectly acceptable. The big thing that matters here is the quality and purity of the oil. It should be 100% extra virgin and cold-pressed, and you may have to leave the supermarket to find a good one. If you have a specialty oil and vinegar shop in your area, start there.
Combine the vermouth and oil (in a 5:1 ratio) in a wide-mouthed jar and shake it for about 30 seconds. Tuck it into the coldest spot of your fridge for about 24 hours (or up to about three days—after that, it loses something).
The pure olive oil solidifies in the fridge, so it’s usually easy to separate it from the vermouth after washing; I did this by poking the solid oil with a chopstick, then lifting it out and draining the vermouth out from under it into a new jar and then into a small bottle, ready to go for mixing cocktails. If the oil doesn’t solidify, it could be that it isn’t pure extra virgin, or it could be that the alcohol in the protecting the oil a bit. It’s not a lost cause though, just stick the jar in the freezer for a couple of hours and check again.
From that point, make your martini as usual. If you want a little extra olive flavor, go dirty with a little splash of olive brine, too. And of course, garnish it with a gorgeous olive— a big fat one, if you wish. These are castelvetranos, stuffed with a chunk of feta, which pairs perfectly.
Oh, and don’t throw out that solid slab of olive oil. Let it melt and use it in a snazzy vinaigrette dressing!
My Big Fat Olive Martini
A pro technique called 'fat-washing' transforms dry vermouth, putting a luscious twist on a classic cocktail!
- 2 oz. London dry gin (or vodka, if you prefer it for martinis)
- 1/2 oz. olive oil-washed dry vermouth (see below)
- A splash of briny olive brine (optional, for a “dirty” martini)
- Combine gin, dry vermouth and olive brine (if using) in a shaker or mixing glass.
- Add a cup of ice and shake or stir about 30 seconds, until outside of container is frosty. Strain into a chilled martini or coupe glass. Garnish with a big fat olive, or twist of lemon peel (or both).
- 75 ml (2.5 oz.) dry vermouth; I like Dolin brand for this
- 15 ml (1/2 oz.) good quality, extra virgin olive oil
- Combine vermouth and olive oil in a wide-mouthed jar (it’s easier to poke through for straining later).
- Shake vigorously for about 30 seconds, and then place jar in a very cold spot in the fridge, undisturbed, for about 24 hours or up to three days.
- Remove jar from fridge. If the oil is not fully solid on top of the vermouth, place the jar in the freezer for a couple of hours to firm it up more.
- Use a chopstick or small spoon to loosen and lift the solid olive oil disk. Gently drain the vermouth through a fine mesh strainer to remove residual olive oil. Transfer the strained vermouth to a small bottle and keep chilled. This amount is good for five martinis. Scale up as needed.