I am not informed on the topic of cocktails, being mostly a wine and beer drinker. I am pretty much of an ignormamus about those too, now that I think about it. Though I am definitely enthusiastic about wine drinking, in a greedy and unconnoisseurish way.
Apart from Pimm's in the summer, and the occasional gin and tonic, I don't generally take to cocktails, martinis, highballs, manhattans, daquiris, and the like. For some reason, though, I was drawn to this one in the NY Times last year (under a different name, which I have forgotten, except that it had to do with Spain and was somehow nautical. I went with "Three Ships", for Columbus, but that's not it.)
Anyway, I tried it and have grown attached, I think because, despite the alcohol, it feels like having a light starter, along with your drink. Quite simple, it is Fino sherry and Clamato juice, with a squirt and slice of lemon. The ratio is up to you. I also like to sprinkle it with smoked spanish paprika. Tapas and fino in one, it goes nicely with nibbles of the olive and salted almond order.
This cocktail has not been universally adored. One person said something like, "Hey, there's something fishy in my drink." And it was true. The salted almonds, however, brook no argument. They are prepared according to the instructions given by Elizabeth David for salted almonds as made by Suleiman, who was her Sudanese cook, when she lived in Egypt.
I was attracted to this recipe, because of my fascination with the magic of toasting nuts. I find it amazing that there is such a dramatic enhancement of flavor in a freshly toasted nut, and always try to toast nuts first, when I am baking with them. It is, of course, ridiculous to paraphrase Ms. David, the mistress of perfect simplicity in food and words. I do recommend reading the original. If you do, you will not be sorry.
To make 8 oz. of these little treats, you will, of course, need half a pound of whole almonds, blanched, and some time at home. If, like me, you have a bunch of nice fresh whole almonds, but they still have their skins on, you will need to blanch them. As Ms. David points out, this is very easy, but it does take considerably longer than the "minute" she estimates. It is, nonetheless, less fiddly than I feared.
You just boil a pasta pot (with strainer basket) full of unsalted water, and drop in the almonds. Bring back to a boil, strain, and run a little cold water over the almonds, so you can touch them without screaming in pain and raising blisters. While they are still a little bit warm, slip the skins off. They pop off quite easily, and there you are. This part, and only this part, can be done ahead.
As to the rest of the process, you need to start about 6 or seven hours before you want to eat the almonds. Preheat your oven to 250F. For 8 oz of almonds, you need only a tiny bit of oil or butter- a tbsp at most. Ms. David suggests getting sweet almond oil from the "chemist". As I am quite sure none of the chain drugstores around here offer this product, I used tasteless and nonburning grapeseed oil, from the heathfood store, in a spray. I sprayed the baking sheet with the oil, spread out the nuts, sprayed the top lightly, and baked them for 45 minutes, until they were the color of light toast.
I then spread them on a sheet of parchment which I had sprinkled with coarse gray french sea salt from Penzey's. (Ms David says that regular free pouring table salt will not do.) I swished the almonds around in the salt, and then pulled up the 4 corners of the parchment, and twisted them into a little closed packet, which I tucked away in a dark cupboard for 5 hours- the optimal time for the salt/almond relationship to develop, as I understand it. This does give the feeling of a magical trick, but really, says Ms. David, serves a primary function of giving the almonds time to mix nicely with the salt while cooling. It also serves the secondary important function of keeping passers by-including the cook-from eating all the almonds before it is time to serve them. When you are ready to put them out, it is a good idea to dust off a bit of the extra salt and sprinkle them with a meagre amount of your favorite ground chili. I like to use a bit of ground chipotle.
There is nothing fishy about these almonds. The slow ritual makes a dandy treat evey time. They beat out the vacuum packed sort by a mile, in my view. I make these with the jordan type almonds I find around here. I'd like to try it with the delicious Marcona almonds I enjoyed in Spain. These are not easy to find in Pittsburgh, though.
Have some with your drink and a few olives if you like.