food and beverage pairing

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Practical Pairing: Some Notes for Beginners

Pretty clever, if I do say...

We seem to be running short on pairing tips and tricks, so this seems as good a time as any to expand on that subject. Food and beverage pairing can be intensely intricate and daunting, but it needn't be. Simplicity can, and often does, yield amazing results, so you don't have to be a Master Sommelier or Brewmeister to find a beverage to go with your meal. With a little knowledge, experience and thought, it can be as easy or as complex as you make it. First, when contemplating a beverage pairing I always think in terms of comparative or contrasting flavors. I like to go with contrasting most of the time as it tends to add more interest, unless there is a really special ingredient (read as rare or expensive or both), then I try to go with something understated and complementary to let that ingredient be the star. Complimentary flavors are the easiest to start with. Certain foods will always pair well with certain beverages, but always keep in mind the full ingredient list of the dish and method of cooking when looking for a good pairing. Pork and shellfish, for instance, will go with beer no matter what the method of cooking. It's the other ingredients involved that will determine what you should pair with it. Mussels steamed in white wine can certainly be paired with a beer, but it's a trickier pairing than just going with white wine. The same or similar, maybe even a better quality wine than was used in the cooking process, is a no-brainer as far as pairing for such a dish goes. If you used a $5.00 bottle to steam them, serve them with a $15.00 bottle (especially if you are already familiar with that bottle) and life is easy. Bottom line with the complimentary method is you really only need some basic knowledge of beverages to pull off a successful pairing. The typical flavor profile of the various beer styles and for grape varietals and blends. Intuition often helps immensely here, too. Once you have that vision of the final dish in your head, what you want the end result to taste like, just stand in front of the beer or wine shelf and browse with that in the back of your mind. In any well stocked beverage store I'm sure something will jump out at you. Trust your instincts, and if it doesn't work out the way you wanted it to, ask yourself why. What was the beverage lacking? Was it too heavy or too flat? Did it overpower the food, or vice versa? Once you determine the answer, congratulations! You've just had a learning experience, and that is never a bad thing! This will guide your future selections. The point is, don't take this too seriously. The comparative flavor method is fairly forgiving, and works well enough most of the time. Acidity cuts through fat, is probably the best advice to give to someone who wants to venture into this endeavor. If the dish at hand is rich or has a rich and fatty sauce, go with a beverage that has some acidity. Braised pork, for instance, loves a lager or a white wine with higher than normal acidity. Hard cider is also a valid option since there's a fair amount of acid and apples are a classic pairing with pork. But, as I said, the other ingredients in the dish might scream for something more specific. Curry braised pork? I'd go with a light or medium bodied beer, depending on what sort of curry is used. Jerk braised pork? Would benefit more from a light lager, or maybe even bold white. Of course, if there is a particular beverage used in the construction of the dish, then that beverage is a no-brainer for

New Holland Breweries Mad Hatter being added to a Cheddar-Ale soup. I wonder what I should pair with this?

pairing. Beef Burgundy (Bourguignon) loves a bold red wine, because that's one of the liquids in the braise, and beer poached bratwurst on a summer afternoon cannot and should not be paired with anything other than a good beer! I doubt even Ian, our resident wine guy, would argue that.   Another thing to consider are the ingredients used in the brewing of the beverage before you. This counts more for beer and cider than wine, since wines are nearly always made with grapes alone. Many beer styles incorporate herbs, spices, citrus, even seaweed in the brew kettle. If those adjuncts would pair well with the food on the plate if they were part of the dish, then they will work well when present in your libation. Beer with citrus peel works well with deserts and fish, one with heavy spices like a winter ale will go well when game or curry or jerk seasoning are on the plate, and one with fruit additives will go well with anything that particular fruit would. Chocolate and raspberry, for instance. A classic combination. Chocolate cake and/or ganache loves a raspberry lambic. And lambics are high in acidity, which will cut through the fat and richness chocolate brings to the table, thus washing your palate clean and preparing you for the next mouthful.   So let your intuition, instincts, and sense of adventure guide you. Count failures as learning experiences. Above all, dare to explore your options. Some great pairings can come from unlikely places, and the only way to find out is to try! There is a universal “ah ha!” moment in this endeavor, one that every beverage snob has had. Most people just don't get it until they've experienced it. The synergy that can occur with food and beverage mingling on the tongue, making each other greater than the sum of their parts.   I have a few more ideas in mind for future posts right now, but I'll get back to this subject. Next time I touch on this I'll tackle the not-so-easy pairing ideas of contrasting the potable with the plate.   -Jack

Haute Beer?

Beer makers have long brewed merely for dudes that just drink beer, and not with food pairing in mind. While in some cases this still makes for a great beverage to pair with food, a good portion of the time this is not the case. Especially here in the U.S. where brewers tend to take traditional styles and amp them up in some way. A good example of this the classic British style the Pale Ale. Medium bodied with a subtle but pronounced maltiness balanced by a mild hop bite, the benchmark of this style is undisputedly Bass. Enter the American Pale Ale... typically lighter in color, equal in body and malt, but way more hops than their counterparts across the pond, Seirra Nevada is probably the ambassador of this offshoot. Other specimens of this phenomenon abound, from Russian Imperial Stouts that drink like motor oil (Old Rasputin) to IPA's that are little more than alcoholic hop flavored beverages (Two Heart). Don't get me wrong, this is not always a bad thing. I'm quite fond of a lot of these over-the-top American interpretations of classic European styles, and in fact Sierra Nevada's Pale Ale is one of my favorite domestic beers. The fact remains, however, these steroid-jacked iterations are often too much beer to successfully pair with any food outside of the realm of pizza. Fear not, though, foodies of the world, as there seems to be a growing number of breweries that are taking food and beverage pairing into account when formulating recipes. Realizing finally what the French have known for centuries, that a beverage can enhance the food it's paired with, and vice versa, a few breweries across the globe have started to embrace this concept. Chefs as well are starting to notice the potential beer holds as an alternative to wine as a beverage to pair with their creations, adding a new spin, more variety,and deeper complexity to the traditional pairing options. In fact there are a couple world renown Chefs that are joining forces with breweries with this goal in mind. To help the breweries understand what the Chef wants to see, what their food needs as far as pairing is concerned, and to help the Chefs understand how the breweries accomplish this. Ferran Adria, known the world over for his ground breaking mad scientist approach to food with his impossible to get into restaurant in Spain, El Bulli, is one such Chef and probably lead the charge. He brought his sommelier team to Estrella Damm brewery and met with their brewmasters. The result of this alliance was "Inedit". A medium bodied, golden-amber colored beer flavored with orange peel, liquorice, and coriander, it goes well with a vast array of foods. From shellfish to light game to salads and charcuterie, the pairing choices are myriad. The breweries website, and accompanying YouTube videos describe the flavors and proper serving methods better than I could, so I've included a link at the end. The only foods I'd avoid serving with this are those with big flavors, such as red meats, grilled or brasied meats, stronger game like venison and bear, ect. For those items, there is another... The brewers at Rogue combined forces with another titan in the food world, Masaharu Morimoto, to come up with their Morimoto Black Obi Soba Ale. We've enjoyed this at more than one meeting of the Estate and I've touted it's excellence more than once here, so to avoid sounding like a broken record (or obsessed fan-boy) I'll simply include links to those write ups at the end. There are many other chefs that are getting as involved as Ferran Adria and Morimoto. Does the name Thomas Keller ring a bell? Yes, he's been serving beers as the beverage pairing for certain courses at the French Laundry and Per Se for quite some time now, and in fact his chef at Per Se got together with the local team at the Brooklyn Brewery to craft a brown ale to go in a holiday gift basket for their investors and they had plenty left over to go on the menus at Per Se, the French Laundry and other Keller restaurants. It was so successful their will be more to come from that collaboration. It seems my favorite beverage is finally getting the recognition and status it deserves, putting it firmly in the "luxury" category of beverages due to the myriad of craft breweries springing up that take their beer every bit as serious as the vineyards of Bordeaux. As a chef, beer nut, and home-brewer I've been touting the merits of beer as a potential equal to wine as a food pairing beverage for nearly a decade. In my early tenure writing for this site I dedicated a post to it (link below). This follow up was inspired by a meal we had last month featuring several beer and wine pairings. A meal that also inspired my last two posts... yeah... it was pretty epic... It is one of my fondest hopes that more brewhouses hear this call and join the charge, and more chefs see this potential and encourage it. The result will further the development of both disciplines and produce a more open dialog between brewers and chefs. More fine beers listed on menus under "recommended beverages" for each dish, the exploration of new culinary territory, and a greater sense of pride for all involved. Who won't benefit from that? Jack http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2008/05/16/WI5010J81V.DTL http://www.estrelladamminedit.com/en/ferran-adria-beer.html http://rogueestate.com/2010/05/24/beer-review-moromoto-and-bourbon-county/#comments http://rogueestate.com/2010/02/15/beer-the-culinary-underdog/#comments

The Making of a Great Couple

The featured wines of the evening

Ian and his wife Linda recently made a trip to the northern Michigan wine country of Old Mission peninsula and brought back a pirates cache of wines. So, the mission he set before us, should we choose to accept it, would be to construct a menu around four of the wines they brought back. He sent us the list with the tasting notes and pretty much said, "go crazy!" Due to extenuating circumstances I ended up planning most of the meal. It was a huge learning experience on my part, as I'd never really started with the beverages as the impetus for creating a menu. This did not intimidate me, however, I saw it more as a challenge, and challenges are always a learning experience. At our meetings it's usually a given that once a menu is set Ian will bring wine pairings and I'll have beer pairings in tow, but since the focus of the evening was the food/wine interactions, I thought it best to leave it alone and approach the barley derived offerings from a different angle. I used them as intermezzos, rather than to pair with the dishes on the table. My concept was to use them to bridge the gap between courses, and create a flow of interconnected flavors with each dish and it's wine accompaniment.

Little cups of seawater, naturally self contained, needing little to no alteration...

The first course, as requested by Ian, would be oysters to pair with Chateau Chantal's "Tonight". A slightly sweeter than usual sparkler. With a drop or 2 of Tabasco on the Blue Points that were selected to counter the sweetness of the beverage (and because Tabasco on Blue Points just kicks ass) the mollusks and fizzy made a great couple. The brine of the oysters, the acidity and slight kick of the Tabasco countered and complimented the mild acids, sweetness and carbonation of the sparkling wine. Course one down, and a great success.

The first two beers of the evening.

To lead us into the next course I chose a beer from the Rogue brewery. Their Chipotle Ale, a light beer in Mexican style with mild smoke from the peppers and almost unnoticeable heat. The spice tied into the Tabasco used on the oysters and the smokiness was a crescendo into the curry used in the next food/wine selection. The next offering may have been the star of the meal. An Asian style soup, leaning heavily on Thai influences, that included pork loin, madras curry, a carefully selected small variety of vegetables, and coconut milk. Garnished with fresh cilantro, Bosc pear battons, crushed toasted cashews, and thinly sliced scallions, it met the wine chosen (Brys Estate Gewurztraminer) and it was love at first bite. The wine is a semi-sweet, so I used lime zest in the recipe, rather than juice, since the wine had it's own balance already. So I knew adding the lime juice, and all the acid that comes with it, to the soup could possibly over power the mild acidity of the wine. Lemongrass would be another option, and equally well suited, but I didn't see any when I hit the market. The sweetness of the pears and the brightness of the cilantro made the semi-sweet wine dance on the tongue, while the curry played well with the nose and mild dryness. The toasted cashews did their fair share, too, in bringing out the minute hint of oak in the wine that might otherwise have gotten lost in the melee. Without ever tasting the wine ahead of time, I'm happy to say I nailed this one! Everything about the pairing came together better than I could have hoped for! (Recipe for this soup here) The beer chosen to flow us into the next course was again a brew from Rogue. The Morimoto Black Obi Soba ale. Since I've already reviewed this one, I'll spare you the details, just click that link for tasting notes. It did it's job in tying the curry and pork into the next course. The mild notes of roasted nuts and caramel did well to tie the curry in the soup to the glaze on the roasted leg of lamb, the maple on the squash, and the cranberries in the risotto. (Review of this beer here) This was the main event. Mustard/Plum glazed roasted leg of Lamb, risotto of barley with Michigan cheddar and cranberries, and maple roasted spaghetti squash. This plate was built around the wine 2 Lads Cabernet Franc. While I would suggest using a smaller cut of lamb than a whole leg since not every bite gave the caramelized plum glaze that was the key to the pairing for the lamb and the wine, it still, by no means, sucked! Ian discovered this the hard way, as he went straight for the interior of the leg. Missing out on the glaze, he commented that the lamb wasn't matching the wine very well. Though, he recanted after scooping up some of the glaze in the bottom of the roasting pan, lamenting his decision to go solely for the less done cuts. Can't really say that I blame him though. Duck would be a great pairing as well, if done in a similar style. All that aside, the plate and the wine went together quite nicely. Not as well as the other courses, but by no means a failure. The fruit and berry in the nose and pallet of the wine mingled well with the plums, and cranberries on the plate, while the mustard and maple interacted with the mild tannins in the wine.

After the Lamb, and before dessert.

The next course was a beer chosen to be a pallet cleanser, leading into dessert. This was the wild card, as I had no clue what dessert would entail at this point, but I knew what to look for toward those ends. I was looking for something that was light, acidic, and possibly had some citrus related ingredients. I settled on Dogfish Head's Namaste. I had never had this one before, but by the label it seemed to fit the bill. A lighter beer brewed with coriander, orange peel, and lemongrass, it seemed only appropriate given all the Asian influences of the meal. Not nearly as 'over the top' as most offerings from that brewery, and as a palette cleanser, it did it's job well. By the time i finished a small glass of it I could no longer taste the lamb. Our resident baker, sadly, could not attend this time out, so dessert was a last minute purchase of apple-caramel crumb cake. "Anathema!" you might be screaming right now, especially if you've been following this site AT ALL! Even the best laid plans can fail, however... While not ideal, it did manage to play with the 45 North Peach Cremant well enough (though the spongy texture of the cake was very 'Twinkiesque'). 45 North's Peach Cremant is a light sparkler with white peach juice, so it paired with the apple and caramel sufficiently. Though, by the end of the meal we were almost on overload so the simplicity was probably a good thing. To be honest, I was really hoping to completely miss the mark at least once. Insane, say you? Why would I possibly want to disappoint THIS crowd?! It would have taught me what NOT to do in food/wine pairing, which can sometimes be a more valuable lesson than getting it right. It is my hope that this post gives you a better understanding of the intricacies of food and beverage pairings. Many factors need to be carefully considered to find that perfect match, if such a thing exists. Oak, acid, specific fruits, specific nut, specific berry, and even "dust" flavors are all terms that have been used in wine tasting notes, so the foods paired with them need to ebb and flow with the beverages. Even cooking technique needs to be considered. Coffee and peach? Might sound like an odd pair, but not if you grill the peaches! As we did this summer on our pizza night with a grilled peach turnover and vanilla ice cream paired with a coffee stout. The coffee amped up the vanilla and grilled flavors to a "punch in the mouth" level and the sweetness of the stout put the caramelized peaches on a pedestal. So here's to learning experiences! I hope you have a few of your own in the kitchen. Jack... (Click here for the full photo gallery of this meal) Chateau Chantal Rogue Chipotle Ale Brys Estate Morimoto Black Obi Soba Ale 2 Lads Cab Franc Dogfish Head Namaste 45 North Peach Cremant