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Troy Sidle

The Iconic Olive

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How much is just enough?

With citrus, enough to brighten and balance sweetness is the right amount.

With ice, enough to chill and tame the burn is the right amount.

With bitters, enough to prevent a cloying cocktail and to add aroma is the right amount.

With salt, do we have rules of balance?

What are they?

Why did someone decide to drop that olive in a Martini?

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......maybe because all known higher lifeforms (martini-aficionados) require an electrolyte balance between intercellular and extracellular milieu.

I prefer olives cured with brine-"olive in salamoia".

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I am not sure there is a set rule where salt belongs in cocktails. I do not think that olives belong in martinis. And the nasty olive brine...gag me with a 66cm, Japanese, gold, bar spoon.

I think that a pinch of salt in flips and golden fizzes might be a good idea, hell every type of egg drink might get ramped up a smidge with a pinch of salt. I could see drinks with Cynar benefiting from a pinch. But maybe it should be a saline solution, so it will spread throughout the drink completely. We know simple is the preferred method of using sugar.

Also drinks with infused chilies, sage, cilantro, basil, lemon grass. Well any of those drinks that share ingredients with Thai soups, Pico de Gallo, and marinara could probably absorb a pinch. I know that drinks with cucumber need a few grains. I love mixing salt and sugar for the rims of both Margaritas and side cars. But just a whisper of salt in the sugar for the sidecar, and just a hint of sugar in the salt for the Margarita.

I am all for salt. Hell bring on the MSG, lets really pump up the flavor.

Cheers,

Toby

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Salt has the effect of diminishing bitter flavors. Because of that, with ingredients that are both bitter and sweet, it seems to heighten the sweetness (one easy way to get this effect is to try a piece of grapefruit with nothing on it, then try one with a few grains of salt). So I could see it affecting the balance of drinks with heavy bitter elements.

Given the small amounts of ingredients in cocktails and the fact that with very few exceptions you don't want a salty drink, I'd think that a few grains would be the upper limit.

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Apropos of Toby's Twitter, I was playing around with a bit of sea salt in the bottom of my coffee mug yesterday. I found the minerality to be quite an interesting foil to a touch of cream. I would think a pinch of salt in flips would be an excellent thing.

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Does anyone know the origin of the tradition of martini olives? Did it start with FDR?

A no-olive martini, me.

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I like my martinis with a twist (and orange bitters for that matter), and I tend to take my olives on the side. But my wife likes hers right in the drink. Usually what I'll do is soak a bunch of olives in a few changes of water - that tends to at least get rid of most of the briny taste.

And I've also soaked a whole freshly opened jar of olives in a few changes of water and then just refilled the jar with dry vermouth. Not a perfect solution, but works nicely.

More problematic for me are bartenders who see fit to stick their fingers into their olive holding area and then thread them onto swizzle sticks or toothpicks in full view of the whole bar. That's cringe-worthy.

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bartenders who see fit to stick their fingers into their olive holding area and then thread them onto swizzle sticks or toothpicks in full view of the whole bar. That's cringe-worthy.

Am curious. How else is the olive to be handled?

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How, indeed? If you don't trust your bartender to adhere to the basic level of cleanliness required to safely handle olives then holding jiggers, picking mint, squeezing a lemon wedge or, hell, just putting a straw in a drink seems equally "cringe-worthy".

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Presumably one could retrieve them with tongs or an olive spoon. This actually makes a bit more sense to me. It's not so much that schmutz from the bartender's hand is going to get on your olives. After all, bartenders regularly hold ice cubes in their hands to crack them. But they're using a scoop to get the ice out of the ice bin.

So the issue of using hands to dig olives out of the container is that the schmutz on the bartender's hands is staying in the container with the olives and presumably being increased every time a new finger goes in there.

I like what they do at Pegu and a number of other cocktail bars: olives and cherries are pre-spiked on cocktail picks and stored in the reach-in.

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Am curious. How else is the olive to be handled?

As Sam says, maybe before service, using a spoon or tongs or even...gasp, clean disposable gloves.

The first time I saw a chef I worked for get really pissed was when one of the prep chefs reached into a barrel of Kalamata olives with his hands. Chef basically told him he'd just destroyed the whole barrel of olives by introducing his bacteria-laden hands.

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OK, that makes sense. I like the idea of pre-picking before service in particular, though a problem may arise when customers start specifying how many olives. (Out of curiosity, do places like Pegu do stuffed olives?)

We keep our olives in a small dish with minimal juice in the bowl (so as to keep fingers clean). These are replenished from the large jar several times during a shift using a clean spoon. Under such storage conditions, I have no ethical problem plucking olives from the top of the little pile and jabbing them onto a pick with my fingers.

I wonder if a pick is even necessary. Or pitted olives, for that matter (unpitted would eliminate calls for blue-cheese stuffed olives, for one thing). I like olives in Japan which are often unpitted, and you get one on the tip of a metal pin. Very classy. I also like the idea of serving them on the side and letting guests add as they wish.

Nothing ruins the ritual of a martini for me like adding olives or brine to it. Just makes me sad. If I had my druthers, I'd serve a few olives in brine in a little shot glass on the side, and let them ruin the drink as they saw fit.

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And if you're using picks, why can't the olive just be stabbed with the pick?

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I like what they do at Pegu and a number of other cocktail bars: olives and cherries are pre-spiked on cocktail picks and stored in the reach-in.

How do they get on those spikes? Is the seeing someone handle the olive thats the problem, rather than the actual handling?

Is it because someone prepping a large number in advance is presumably working cleaner than someone who's been handling a large number of bottles, a bar rag, etc?

I have this mental image of someone with an olive that's rolling around in the bowl of a spoon, and they are chasing it with a toothpick, trying to stab it, and then somehow they try to work it a bit up from the very tip of the toothpick. Its a very keystone kops picture good for a laugh to brighten the afternoon, but doesnt do much to get garnishes ready.

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Is it because someone prepping a large number in advance is presumably working cleaner than someone who's been handling a large number of bottles, a bar rag, etc?

I would certainly think so.

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I like what they do at Pegu and a number of other cocktail bars: olives and cherries are pre-spiked on cocktail picks and stored in the reach-in.

How do they get on those spikes? Is the seeing someone handle the olive thats the problem, rather than the actual handling?

They use their (clean) hands, I imagine. But, more to the point, when it's done all at once, there is a limited chance for schmutz to transfer from the worker's hands onto the olives. Whereas when you have a guy sticking his fingers into a bowl of olives and brine 50 times a night, with his hands re-dirtied each time, there's a lot of opportunity for all kinds of stuff getting in there. Which brings me to...

Is it because someone prepping a large number in advance is presumably working cleaner than someone who's been handling a large number of bottles, a bar rag, etc?

Even if the worker's hands are equally dirty in both conditions, the transfer of bacteria, etc. is much less when they are all prepped at once. One set of dirty hands into the olive pile is cleaner than 50 sets of dirty hands into the olive pile. Because every time the working bartender handles the olive bowl, it might as well be a new person doing it. So, ask yourself. Would you want to eat an olive that one guy had handled with his bare hands, or an olive where 50 guys had stuck a finger into the olive bowl?

I have this mental image of someone with an olive that's rolling around in the bowl of a spoon, and they are chasing it with a toothpick, trying to stab it, and then somehow they try to work it a bit up from the very tip of the toothpick.

What you want is something like this.

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I like my martinis both with orange bitters and a twist, and also with an olive. Recently i have been putting a strip of salt preserved lemon rind, it is really tasty.

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Maks from Beta Cocktails made me a Growing Old And Dying Happy is a Hope, Not an Inevitability the other night at The Counting Room. I was astonished. It's a cocktail with just a pinch of salt and heavy on the Cynar.

The addition of salt makes sense and is really well balanced. It seems to take the edge off the bitterness in a way that sweetness alone doesn't accomplish.

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Recently i have been putting a strip of salt preserved lemon rind, it is really tasty.

My favorite -- the best of both worlds. Sometimes I rinse the rind first, sometimes I don't.

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The Beta Cocktails' Search for Delicious also contains a pinch of salt and Cynar. They say it's supposed to be like an artichoke with caramelized endive and lemon. Sort of does. Great drink, although you have to be very light with the salt. Nicely low alcohol too, for when that's handy.

As for balance, I found that there is an abrupt transition from "yum - enough" to "yuck - must fight welling emesis". The first time I made this drink, I ended up doubling the other ingredients to dilute my "maybe needs a touch more salt" addition. I would guess that in a busy bar, this would be a tricky drink to make.

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Maks from Beta Cocktails made me a Growing Old And Dying Happy is a Hope, Not an Inevitability the other night at The Counting Room. I was astonished. It's a cocktail with just a pinch of salt and heavy on the Cynar.

The addition of salt makes sense and is really well balanced. It seems to take the edge off the bitterness in a way that sweetness alone doesn't accomplish.

Nice. This seems to confirm Janet's earlier supposition:

Salt has the effect of diminishing bitter flavors. Because of that, with ingredients that are both bitter and sweet, it seems to heighten the sweetness (one easy way to get this effect is to try a piece of grapefruit with nothing on it, then try one with a few grains of salt). So I could see it affecting the balance of drinks with heavy bitter elements.

Given the small amounts of ingredients in cocktails and the fact that with very few exceptions you don't want a salty drink, I'd think that a few grains would be the upper limit.

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