Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Pairing Wine with Cajun Food

By Liza B. Zimmerman


Visitors to New Orleans often fall in love with the local Sazeracs and love to walk the streets with Tiki drinks in hand. The truth is Cajun food is pretty challenging to pair with wine.

“The profile of Cajun food ranges from salty, fatty, spicy too very sweet when it comes to some of our desserts and pastries,” says chef Nathan Richard of the restaurant Kingfish. Those are all challenging flavors that can overwhelm many wonderful wines.

“Generally, I like to pair a Champagne (prosecco or cava goes well too) with a heavy chicken sausage gumbo because it pairs well with the salt and fat,” adds the chef. Champagnes—such as Gosset or the Italian sparkler Paolo Palumbo Lettere—a blend from Southern Italy—would all be great choices.

What to Do with Spice
Cajun food can have consistent notes of spice that can pair well with off-dry wines. “Something on the spicier side, like [the pork sausage] Boudain, would go well with a Riesling that has moderate alcohol [level],” chef notes. Cool-climate Riesling such as Covey Run from Washington State or Cave Spring Estate in Ontario are lively and refreshing.

Higher alcohol levels won’t complement the flavors of Cajun food. It is that, “crisp, acidic qualities that helps cleanse the palate and make you want another bite,” concludes Richard. 

The salty, savory flavors of cured meats present another challenge. And New Orleans is under the spell of charcuterie as much as the rest of us. “Charcuterie is so varied in flavor and texture; salty, sweet, gamey, mild, silky, dry, fatty, chunky, chewy, melty. Lambrusco works for me on this,” says chef. The bubbles will cut through the salt and cleanse your palate. Lini is a great example of this Central Italian wine.

Richard also likes the zesty acidity in Albariño. The Spanish make the classic examples of this wine, such as Do Zoe Rias Baixas from Northern Spain. Some domestic regions in California and the Pacific Northwest are making good examples.

Bigger plates of meat also figure in Cajun cooking, especially wild game. “A big Red Burgundy can stand up to the meat but for milder rabbit, quail, and even liver an Orgeon Pinot Noir would pair nicely.” While I might go with a Pinot Noir like Oregon’s affordable A to Z Wineworks, I also might pair something bigger and earthier such as a French Syrah. A Châteauneuf-du-Pape or Gigondas always works well with slightly gamey meat.

“Brandy and other fortified wines are a favorite with Cajun desserts because we love our sweets,” says chef and legendary destinations such as Café du Monde for beignets testify to that. A touch of Mission Hill Ice Wine works with almost any kind of custard- or fruit-based dessert and is often just a treat on its own.

“Cajun food is simple and made for people to come together,” he says. The best way to help consumers pair this cuisine with wine is by helping them “understand flavor profiles and textures but to learn the history of the food and the people, connect it to the beverage and make it an experience.

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

Liza B. Zimmerman has been writing and consulting about wine and food for two decades. She is principal of the San Francisco-based Liza the Wine Chick wine writing, education and consulting firm. She has worked on staff and freelance at national magazines such as Wine Enthusiast, The Magazine of La Cucina Italiana, Wine Spectator, Where SF and the Examiner. She currently contributes to Cheers, Wine Business Monthly and the Examiner, among others.

Zimmerman focuses on demystifying wine and transforming it into a tool for business and networking for companies all over the country. Past clients include Genentech, Roche and IBM.

She has visited all the world’s major wine regions and is one of select few in the U.S. to hold the Diploma of Wine & Spirits (D.W.S.), the three-year precursor to the Master of Wine.
Photo Credit: Food Network

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Pairing Thai Food and Wine

By Liza B. Zimmerman


The multiple layers of spice, and intensity, in Thai food can make you want to reach for a cool beer, but the right wine might be a better choice. The beer might give you an illusion of coolness but won't really slake you thirst, whereas the bright acidity and a touch of residual sugar in a white wine will do just the trick.

I just got back from a few weeks in Thailand, and the food in the North of the country is particularly delicious and full of simultaneous flavor bursts of sugar, vineyard, spice and fish sauce. While the wine selection isn't abundant there, they are some good choices. Chilean Sauvignon Blancs, are thankfully are in abundance. For Winfried Hancke, group director of operations and food and beverage  at the Bangkok-based Centara Resorts, which runs hotels and restaurants all over the country, Sauvignon Blanc would be his top pick with Thai cuisine.

Great picks should include the fresh and crisp Joel Gott Sauvignon Blanc from California and the Errazuriz or Lapostolle Sauvignons from Chile. A touch of white Bordeaux with Sauvignon base softened by Semillon would also work well.

The Sweet Side
Since Thai food can not only be spicy but sweet as well, as many Thais add extra sugar to their soup at the table, an off-dry wine is often a perfect match. "Beverages which have sweetness go well as the food itself contain sugar," notes Hancke, in a nod to the canisters of sugar on the table in almost any Thai restaurant. "The spiciness of the food is best cut by sweetness," he concludes. 

Off-dry Riesling with its balanced acid and ribbons of sugar is always a classic match for all types of chili-laced foods (feel free to try it with Chinese and Mexican as well). New York State and Canada are making some superb versions such as Cave Spring Estate from Ontario and Dr. Konstantin Franck's Salmon Run from the Finger Lakes.

Sparkling wine can cut through the grease with some of the fried street food the Thais love so much, whether it is squid on a stick or a butter-rich, roti bread packed with spicy chicken or eggs.

Red wines are going to be much harder to pair with these dishes as their tannins tend to flight with the spice and the sweetness of the dishes. If you really want some of the flavors of a red I would go with a rosé: some of my favorites are from Spain's Navarra and France's Bordeaux. I much prefer their strong flavors and intense colors over the pale versions coming out of Southern France. South Africa is also making some great roses such as Mulderbosch's rosé of Cabernet Sauvignon.

Thailand does produce some of own wine in the Hau Hin Valley, where the grapes are amazingly harvested by elephants, but it is pretty rare to find anything from the Monsoon Valley label in this country.

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

Liza B. Zimmerman has been writing and consulting about wine and food for two decades. She is principal of the San Francisco-based Liza the Wine Chick wine writing, education and consulting firm. She has worked on staff and freelance at national magazines such as Wine Enthusiast, The Magazine of La Cucina Italiana, Wine Spectator, Where SF and the Examiner. She currently contributes to Cheers, Wine Business Monthly and the Examiner, among others.

Zimmerman focuses on demystifying wine and transforming it into a tool for business and networking for companies all over the country. Past clients include Genentech, Roche and IBM.

She has visited all the world’s major wine regions and is one of select few in the U.S. to hold the Diploma of Wine & Spirits (D.W.S.), the three-year precursor to the Master of Wine.
Photo Credit: Centara Resorts

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Seared Pork and Vinho Verde

By Warren Bobrow, Cocktail Whisperer


This time of year and the high heat and humidity is seemingly challenging to wine drinkers.  I recommend getting into a place of high heat like Portugal. The wines that I just go crazy over Vinho Verde wines. 

These refreshing quaffs are just the thing for the steamy, dog days of August.  Low in alcohol and high in quality, food friendly wines like Vinho Verde should fill your refrigerator. 

I’m going crazy over one such brand, Vera Vinho Verde 2012 (Vinho Verde, Portugal)

For $ 11.99 at DrinkupNY, you can drink like a local.  Comprised of 60% Arinto, 30% Azal and 10% Loureiro, Vinho Verde is jam packed full of lemon, lime and grapefruit zests.  There is an underlying backbone of crushed wet stones along with droplets of salinity in each slightly fizzy, yet lip-smacking and thirst quenching sip.

But why just sip a wine as delicious as this one?  I recommend pouring as many glasses as you are able down your gullet!

It’s got very little alcohol, thus the Vera is the perfect beach wine- as long as you keep it very, very chilled down- as is the way in Portugal.

A few days ago I chanced upon the opportunity to eat dinner at a lovely Portuguese seafood restaurant in Newark, NJ named Seabra's Marisqueira.  Located in the Ironbound section, “bound” by the rail yards that used to define this part of formerly industrialized Newark, this area is now Brazilian, Portuguese, Spanish and just about every country from Central and South America represented here.  Seabra’s specializes in absolutely pristine, fresh from the Hunt’s Point market seafood, simply prepared with love.  From the moment that you walk through the broad, glass fronted door, you find yourself transported to another country.  In this case it is the Algarve in Portugal.  Even the soda water is from Portugal!  You can imagine that with the hot weather I would want to drown myself in Caperhinia’s like so many do in the Summer, but I had other thoughts.  The wine known as Vinho Verde is displayed in buckets of ice and water all through the restaurant.  The reason why it is in symmetry with all the pristine fish is because this wine just screams seafood. 

I cannot imagine drinking anything else when the temperature goes above 90 degrees!

So what do you eat with Vinho Verde?  That depends on how hungry you are.  In my case I know that Seabra’s is particularly talented at making my favorite dish, Pork and Clams.  Savory, long cooked- pork butt, with hot chilies, pickled cauliflower, onions, potatoes, carrots and clams, steamed in the pork-laden broth.  It is a dish that says hot weather- I’m hungry- feed me now…  You grab handfuls of the good Portuguese bread- doughy, covered in flour with a good stiff crust and dip it into the broth- redolent of salt spray and root vegetables- the ocean showing through along with the unmistakable flavor of the porcine treat.  Dark meat defines this dish and if you don’t have an appetite for a big meal, you should still order it and take home the leftovers for another meal- or two!
And the Vinho Verde?  After a few thirst quenching glasses, I though I should share this recipe with you. 

Ingredients
For the Marinade:
2 pounds pork butt, cut into smallish cubes 2x2
3 heads garlic, unpeeled just cut off the tops
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup Vinho Verde
1 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice (strained)
1/2 cup good Spanish olive oil
1 tablespoon hot (spicy) paprika
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 bay leaf

For the Pork:
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons bacon fat
3 cups chopped onions and shallots
4 tablespoon minced garlic
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups chicken stock (homemade is essential)
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1/4 cup Piri Piri
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups tomato concasse (peeled, seeded, and chopped)
5 pounds clams, well scrubbed and purged overnight with cornmeal
4 tablespoons Italian Parsley Leaf, well washed

Directions
Place the pork butt into a large re-sealable plastic food storage bag. In a blender, combine the garlic, salt, white wine, vinegar, lemon juice, olive oil, paprika, red pepper flakes and bay leaf. Blend until smooth and pour over the pork. Seal the plastic bag and set in a casserole dish and place in the refrigerator over night.

Set a large braising pan or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil and bacon fat to the pan. Remove the pork from the refrigerator and drain, reserving the marinade. Sear the pork pieces in the hot fat in batches, until golden brown, about 2 to 3 minutes. Turn to the other side and sear for an additional 2 minutes. Remove the pork from the pan and set aside on a platter while you finish searing the remainder of the pork.

Once all the pork is seared and has been removed from the pan, add the onions to the pan and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are translucent, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add the garlic to the pan and cook for 30 seconds. Sprinkle the flour into the pan and cook, stirring continuously, for 1 minute. Add the chicken stock, tomato paste, Piri Piri, salt and reserved marinade to the pan and stir to combine. Continue to stir until the mixture comes to a boil. Return the pork to the pan and when the liquid returns to a boil, cover with a lid and reduce the heat to low. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the meat is tender, about 1 1/2 hours. Add the tomatoes and clams to the pan, stir to combine and cover. Raise the heat to medium-high and cook until the clams open, stirring occasionally, about 8 to 10 minutes. Remove the lid, reduce the temperature to low, and sprinkle with the parsley. Discard any clams that do not open, and serve the dish with freshly made potato “chips”… thick slices of boiling potatoes that are pre-cooked, cooled and fried in olive oil and salt until crispy.

Piri Piri:
1 tablespoon, plus 1/2 cup olive oil
5 cloves garlic, smashed
4 cayenne chili peppers, stemmed, ribs and seeds removed, and rough chopped (or substitute other hot red peppers)
1/4 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice strained
1/2 teaspoon salt

Heat a small sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil to the pan. Once the oil is hot, add the garlic and peppers to the pan. Sauté, stirring often, until the edges of the garlic start to turn brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the lemon juice to the pan, and remove from the heat.

Place the contents of the saute pan in a blender and add the salt. Puree the peppers and garlic in the blender until mostly smooth. Drizzle the remaining 1/2 cup of olive oil through the feed tube of the lid of the blender. Let cool before using, and store refrigerated in an airtight container.

Yield: 3/4 cup

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

About Warren Bobrow
Warren Bobrow is the creator of the popular blog The Cocktail Whisperer and the author of nearly half a dozen books, including Apothecary Cocktails, Whiskey Cocktail and Bitters and Shrub Syrup Cocktails- his most recent book.

He's also written about cocktails for Saveur and Whole Foods/Dark Rye, Total Food Service, Eater, Serious Eats, Foodista, Distiller and Beverage Media among other outlets.  He’s taught the fine art of social media and food writing at the New School in New York and at the Institute for Culinary Education. Warren has also taught at Stonewall Kitchen in Maine.

Bobrow was a 2010 Ministry of Rum judge and was the only American food journalist asked to participate in Fête de la Gastronomie, a nationwide celebration of French cuisine in Burgundy. 
Photo Credit: PatioDaddioBBQ