I love martinis, and I love lemon, so this should be a no-brainer, right? But like any popular cocktail there are so many subtle variations out there that I naturally had to try them all and concoct my own multiple variations that involved lots of taste testing. The basic recipe is almost always the same, and this one is pretty much what I do. It’s almost always 4 ingredients: a high quality vodka (preferably lemon infused), orange liqueur (most use Cointreau, but I use Grand Marnier), fresh squeezed lemon juice and sugar or simple syrup. So let’s break it down and make it seem a lot more complicated than it really is, or just TL;DR to the recipe at the bottom and avoid my long-ass description that follows:
Before you actually start, it’s a good idea to set yourself up for the presentation. Put your martini glasses in the freezer so that when you actually pour the drink the glass will be all frosty and will help keep the drink cold. Ideally you will also have your vodka in the freezer for an hour or two as well. Also you’ll want to sprinkle some sugar in a ring the size of the rim of your glasses on a plate for dipping before you start. You can mix in the zest when you cut the lemons, or do them separately on two plates, dipping in the sugar first then the zest. Remember to zest BEFORE you cut the lemons, otherwise it’s a pain in the ass. Here’s a breakdown of the importance of each of the 4 ingredients:
- Lemon Vodka: I typically use one of my favorite citrus flavored vodkas like those made by Grey Goose, Belvedere, Hangar one or Crop Organic. However, the best lemon vodka is the one I make myself. I simply take a 1 quart mason jar and fill it with my favorite mid-grade vodka, such as Luksusowa which is a polish potato vodka, or something like Tito’s or Svedka. For the lemon flavor, just use a vegetable peeler to carefully peel the yellow part off of a lemon or two, being careful not to get too much of the white pulpy part (the pith) and drop the pieces of skin into the jar of vodka. Then all you need to do is put it in the fridge for a few days to a week or so and then strain out the lemon rinds. It beats any of the pre-packaged flavored vodka from the liquor store, but make sure you store it in the fridge, or better yet the freezer. There’s nothing like ice cold vodka to make a martini special.
- Orange Liqueur: This is where you get to experiment and make the cocktail your own. The orange adds a sweeter citrus complement to the sourness of the lemon. Traditionally the recipes call for Cointreau but I like Grand Marnier better since it is made with cognac and is a bit heavier and sweeter and more flavorful in my opinion. Here’s a little article about the differences between the two in case you give a shit. You can also use any old boring Triple Sec if you’re a cheap bastard, but I don’t recommend it unless it’s high quality, but I’m somewhat of a snob. I’ve also enjoyed using Limoncello if I really want a more pure lemony sweetness, or St. Germain for a more floral nose… Yeah, like I know what that fucking means… Just try any goddam flavored liqueur that you like, but don’t you dare use anything by “Puckers”! Bleah!
- Sugar: Not everyone likes to put sugar in their cocktails, but you need at least a little bit in this one to cut the sourness. Make no mistake, it’ll still be plenty sour, but if you like it sweet just double the amount of sweetener to 1 oz. If you are lazy and don’t know what “superfine” sugar is, just add a ½ teaspoon of any sugar or agave syrup to sweeten. If you are adventurous and want something special that adds a lemony zest, then make yourself some lemon infused simple syrup. All you need is equal parts water and sugar (I did ½ cup of each) with some lemon zest and heat it up while stirring on low heat on the stove like so:
Next just pour into a small jar while straining out the zest so you have a perfectly clear yellow/brown lemony syrup: It only take about 2 minutes to do and you can store it in the fridge for a long time for use in a variety of things, like flavored seltzer or various other cocktails that call for simple syrup where lemon would complement the other flavors, which is most cocktails.
- Fresh Squeezed Lemon: Don’t use shortcuts. Nothing from a bottle. Cut a fucking lemon and spend the $5 on a lemon squeezer and while you’re at it get a zester with a scoring blade so you can make the fancy twisted lemon spirals for a garnish. Generally speaking ½ a lemon yields ½ oz. of juice.
1 ½ – 2 oz. vodka (use a high quality lemon infused vodka – see above)
½ oz. orange liqueur (Grand Marnier, Cointreau, Triple Sec, etc.) OR Limencello OR St. Germain OR any fucking fancy liqueur.
½ oz. Simple syrup (lemon zest infused – see above) OR ½ teaspoon superfine sugar OR agave syrup
½ oz. freshly-squeezed lemon juice
superfine or powdered sugar and lemon zest for dipping glass.
Twisted peel of lemon or lemon wheel for garnish
Read the process above for more details, but the short version is chill your martini glass in the freezer for 10 minutes, rub rim with lemon rind that you already squeezed, dip in sugar/zest, shake all ingredients with ice for 15-30 seconds, strain and pour, repeat with a new variation! Yum!