In the chaotic orbit of the internet, it’s hard to predict what will go viral. But when Emily Ziemski, food editor of the culinary lifestyle website Food52, created a dirty martini-inspired salad dressing recipe earlier this year, she and her colleagues suspected it might strike a chord with readers. “There’s something about this, people are going to glom onto it,” she remembers them saying.
As it turns out, they were right. In its first week of publication, the recipe received 60 times more traffic than comparable pages on the site, says Ziemski. An accompanying Instagram Reel has been seen by 2.7 million users and liked 17,000 times. “I’ve officially been pegged as the dirty martini girl,” she says, laughing.
Hers isn’t the only edible dirty martini capturing hearts, minds and clicks. That same month, Rachael Ray’s culinary director published a recipe for dirty martini chicken. Then, on May 11, Emily Eggers, who uses the handle @legallyhealthyblonde on TikTok, created a dirty martini pasta that was liked nearly 30,000 times in 10 days.
Haters might be inclined to dismiss these cocktail-inspired dishes as gimmicks, but dirty martini-inspired foods actually make a lot of sense. Not only do they put pantry ingredients like olive brine to good use, they’re also part of a long history of drinks-adjacent cooking, which spans classical French pastries to homespun, cocktail-flavored candies.
Besides, it takes more than catchy names and well-produced Instagrams to break through the digital noise. Like most trends, these recipes provide windows into our cravings in the kitchen, the cocktail bar and beyond. If we consider them cultural expressions rather than dismissing them as stunts, we might be able to figure out why olive brine is suddenly seemingly everywhere.
dirty martini pasta recipe below: **measurements are approx. measure with ur heart!** * 1 clove garlic, minced * 1-2 tbsp olive oil * 5-7 pitted Castelvetrano olives, smashed and chopped lightly * pasta of choice * lemon zest * 1-2 tbsp olive brine * 2 tbsp Gin or Vodka * 1 tbsp butter * salt, pepper * Fresh parsley * crumbled blue cheese (optional) instructions: – add olive oil to a pot over med heat. add garlic and stir. – add lemon zest and olive and sauté until fragrant and garlic is lightly toasted – add gin to hot pot and stir until it is almost evaporated. – add olive brine. – Add butter and stir continuously to emulsify butter until fully melted. – add cooked pasta and combine. season with salt and pepper to taste – serve hot and garnish with olives, lemon zest, fresh parsley, and blue cheese crumbles.
At the heart of the dirty martini culinary boom lies the popularity of the drink itself. According to Nielsen data, in late 2022, the traditional dirty martini ousted Moscow Mules to become Americans’ second-favorite cocktail. They currently rank just below margaritas, a perennial fan favorite that has also spawned all sorts of edible iterations.
For many people, dirty martinis are more approachable than their non-dirty forebears because they’re less booze-forward, says Dave Arnold, author of Liquid Intelligence. He compares the widespread appeal of dirty martinis to- pickle backs, or the practice of chasing a shot of whiskey with pickle juice. “It’s the kind of thing where, once you’re hooked on that salty, briny flavor, it covers up the alcohol a little bit,” he says.
That certainly seems to be true at Chez Zou, a buzzy bar in Manhattan’s Hudson Yards. Its Dirty Zou, a dirty martini-esque item that features carafes of olive-oil-washed vodka and grape leaf brine, “is absolutely one of our most popular drinks,” says Joey Smith, the bar director. He credits some of its appeal to its adaptability: When you order a Dirty Zou, you control how much brine mingles with your vodka.
The martini, dirty or otherwise, lends itself to this kind of tinkering. It’s one of the few cocktails where bartenders and drinkers commonly play with the ratios of ingredients to order. A dry martini fan might order their drink with a “whisper” of vermouth, while someone else might request theirs be “filthy” with olive brine.
“You’re already beating up a martini a little bit when you’re doing the dirtiness to it,” says Arnold. Because the drink is generally customizable, culinary experimentation seems like less of an aberration than an offshoot.
Dirty martinis certainly aren’t the first cocktails to spawn edible iterations. In the aughts and 2010s, as the Negroni’s popularity soared, chefs created Negroni-glazed madeleines, creamsicles and deconstructed Negroni ice cream sundaes garnished with Campari-flavored jellies. Last year, the owners of Baba au Rum, an award-winning cocktail bar in Athens, Greece, opened a cafe called In Love Again that serves cocktail-inspired sweets like Zombie profiteroles and Mai Tai citrus tarts.
But unlike other cocktails that tend toward the sweeter end of the spectrum, “the dirty martini is one of the most savory beverages that exists,” says Brian Warrener, assistant professor and the director of the Center for Beverage Education at Johnson & Wales University. Gin and vermouth provide botanical and herbal notes, while olive brine is, well, briny.
“It provides a great complement to neutral-flavored foods like lettuce, pasta, bread, soft cheeses, nuts and hummus,” says Warrener. He compares the versatility of dirty martinis to similarly complex and popular flavoring agents like Trader Joe’s Everything But the Bagel or Everything But the Elote spice blends.
Dirty martinis’ popularity coincides with the similarly ascendant espresso martini, another martini variant that’s veered into culinary territory. (Parmesan espresso martini, anyone?) Ziemski thinks people might be drawn to these sorts of big, boldly flavored drinks in the aftermath of the Covid-19 outbreak in 2020. “Just give us every flavor. We want to experience it all,” she muses.
By that logic, deeply savory, dirty martini-inspired dishes might be trending because the last three years have been so numbingly difficult for many of us. In the wake of a traumatic global event, which was defined by an illness that impairs taste and smell perception, maybe we collectively want to grab life by its briniest bits.
It’s just a theory. At the very least, it’s something new to argue about on the internet.
Published: May 30, 2023