The Christmas list - what to have in
If you’re thinking of making aperitif drinking a regular part of your life, you may well be wondering how much it’s all going to cost. Well, you can spend as much as you’ve got, obviously. I often dream of that Euromillions lottery win that would finance the acquisition of a dozen Baccarat Champagne coupes, a bespoke cocktail cabinet and buying trips to Oporto, Epernay and Beaune. Sadly, we must live in the real world, so here are some thoughts on a few versatile bits and pieces you can get started with.
I’ll write next time about some fun cocktails to try out with your festivities and, after that, post something on aperitifs to go with more formal dining. In this post, though, I want to focus on the most versatile aperitif drinks to have in, the stuff you can just reach for when you’re too tired to think or have been taken unawares by an old friend on a surprise visit.
|A gin fizz with friends|
First and foremost, London Dry gin. Flavoured gins are popular just now, and many of them are delicious, but London Dry suits more palates and is the base of thousands of cocktails. Christmas isn’t the time for rare or expensive spirits, so have a quickstep down the aisle of your local Lidl or Aldi and get yourself a couple of bottles of something clean and clear. Spend a little more on tonic if you can, though, and buy boxes of small bottles or cans. No-one wants a flat G&T.
Secondly, Madeira. I know many people associate Christmas with sweet sherry, but Madeira keeps better. As I mentioned in my last post, this makes it perfect to have in at this time, when you need to be ready for unannounced visitors. Buy medium dry styles like Boal or Verdelho, to appeal to the largest number of visitors.
Thirdly, fizz. Whether your taste is for Prosecco, Champagne or Welsh sparkling (yes, you can get that, and it’s delicious), buy at least two more bottles than you think you’ll need. Nothing feels more festive, more extravagant, than fizzy wine, and you’re going to have extra visitors one night or an extra party to attend, so you’ll need to crack open more than you’ve planned. If Champagne is your drink, check out the Veuve Monsigny at Aldi for great value fizz at £11.50 a bottle.
When I was a kid, my Mum kept tinned ham and salmon at the back of the kitchen cupboard for when the family called. I have learnt to follow her example, but now my staples are olives, nuts and preserved fish. The easiest nibbles you can provide are those that you just need to open and tip into a bowl, so stock up on small tins of stuffed olives, bags of salted almonds, pecans or pistacchios and jars of cheese-in-oil. Nice crisps are always welcome, too. I’m not into gin-flavoured or truffled ones; just batch-cooked, salted or salt & pepper ones. They’ll go with virtually anything.
Tinned smoked oysters or mussels can very quickly be turned into fancy-looking canapés if you’ve got a part-baked baguette in. (Slice the bread into rounds before you bake it, then top each slice with an oyster and a sliver of lemon.) Pâtés, potted meats and fish pastes are useful and can all be bought in jars, but remember to “dolly” them a bit before you serve.
Cured meats are a godsend. If you can, buy a couple of sausages (chorizo or saucisson) to slice yourself, rather than packets of sliced meats, which dry out more readily. For a really flashy addition to your kitchen, you can get a lump of jamon serrano on a stand for about £20 and carve it yourself. Shown a little care and respect, it’ll easily keep a fortnight in a cool larder and will always be ready to take a few slices from.
Small wine glasses and hi-ball tumblers are the most versatile glasses you own. Have plenty of them ready for the festive season, and avoid buying anything new for now. We'll look at "aperitif essentials" in a post in January, so if you feel like treating yourself, I may have some ideas.
What I’ve written about this week is how to make the best use of a few practical things. Nothing I’ve written here should be taken to imply I think you should refuse fabulous or fancy gifts. If they’re offered, have the crystal Martini glasses, the hand-made charcuterie board, the expensive spirit and anything else that you like. There is no reason not to: storage space in your home is the only limit.
If you’re buying for another person, buy them something lovely that they wouldn’t buy themselves: good quality glasses, Boston cups, fancy glass stirrers, a couple of interesting plates or a rare cocktail ingredient they might enjoy.
Next time: festive cocktail recipes and a few canapés to go with them.