You don’t have to know me well to know that I love martinis. Dirty, gin, extra olives. Over the years, the finer details have swayed back and forth, like birds or branches or birds on branches. Sometimes I grab a coupe. Most times, a rocks glass. Maybe an ice cube will tag along, to melt and mellow the mood. Maybe the olives will be Castelvetrano—or pimiento-stuffed—but never blue cheese. These days, the gin-to-vermouth ratio is slowly but surely becoming more and more lopsided, leaning away from the classic 2:1, toward a Julia Child–esque “upside-down,” where that number flip-flops.
But the more martinis I drank, the more I realized that I had a problem. Let’s call it, The Olive Problem. Here’s what happened. If you want your kitchen to be martini-ready, you only need a few items on hand: gin, dry vermouth, olives, and olive brine. The last two are supposedly the most obvious—a two-in-one, score!—but here’s the catch. Pimiento-stuffed olives live in olive brine—less like fish in the sea, more like fish in an overcrowded tank, where there’s no room to swim.
Come martini time, you snag a couple olives, splash a little brine, shake, shake, shake, done. This is all well and good for the first few. But fast-forward a couple weeks and, boom, it’s: The Olive Problem. By the time you use up all the brine, you still have a ton of olives. This led to a few emergency pickle brine martinis, which are actually quite good.
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But, anyway, not for every night. The Olive Problem becomes even worse if you just happen to fall in love with Castelvetranos (it just happened, who knows how?). Their brine is too watery and sweet for martinis, so now you’re buying Castelvetrano olives for the olives and pimiento-stuffed olives for the brine, which you’re always running out of.
There has to be a better way, right? There always is. One day, I was wandering Whole Foods (you know when you go in for one thing, then walk out with seven?) and I stumbled upon bottled olive brine. Like, without the olives. You can find this in other stores—or, just order online. I like to buy a few at once—one in the fridge, extras in the pantry. Olive Problem: solved.
What’s your favorite recipe that uses olives (or olive brine!)? Tell us about it in the comments.
Emma is a writer and recipe developer at Food52. Before this, she worked a lot of odd jobs, all at the same time. Think: stir-frying noodles "on the fly," baking dozens of pastries at 3 a.m., reviewing restaurants, and writing articles about everything from how to use leftover mashed potatoes to the history of pies in North Carolina. Now she lives in Maplewood, New Jersey with her husband and their cat, Butter. Stay tuned every Tuesday for Emma's cooking column, Big Little Recipes, all about big flavor and little ingredient lists. And see what she's up to on Instagram and Twitter at @emmalaperruque.