After sitting down with Niels Toase last November to discuss How to taste like an Expert I decided it was time to kick things up a notch and tackle the seemingly complicated topic of food &wine pairings. As it seemed a bit unfair to discuss the topic without offering you some amazing recipes, I invited Anne Faber from Anne’s Kitchen to join us. Luckily, she accepted and we spent a wonderful afternoon at the Sofitel tasting some of my very favourite Luxembourgish wines and talking A LOT about all the delicious food pairing possibilities. To say the least, I left our “meeting” very hungry.
Most of us already know the classic rule of wine pairing: white wine with fish and poultry, and reds with meat. Although Niels agrees that this can be a good basic rule, he also thinks it’s a bit outdated. When it comes to pairing wine and food, he says we can feel free to loosen up a bit and drink what we think tastes good. I can’t tell you how happy I was to hear this!
On the other hand, for those of you who want to be a bit more sophisticated in your pairings, Niels, as always, was full of useful tips:
Local kitchen, local wine
Historically people had less choice in terms of available cuisine. People would eat local foods paired with the local wines. Of course, this practice was established due to lack of choice, but in the end it made and still makes for solid pairings. Normally the way a wine is vinified or the types of available grapes make for logical pairings with the local kitchen. Remembering this, can already help to make an easy pairing. Truffles from Alba, why not try a Barolo from Piemonte?
If you want to be more adventurous and play around a bit, you should remember that:
Harmony is key
When looking for the perfect wine for your meal there has to be complete harmony between acidity, sugar, tannins and fat. All of the elements, including texture, maturity, saltiness, sweetness and spiciness need to hang in balance. It sounds quite complicated, but it becomes a lot more clear if you think about the following examples:
Oysters, natural or served with a touch of lemon, would be perfectly paired with a pure wine that presents with a lot of minerality rather than fruity aromas. Saltier, lighter wines such as Pinot Blanc or certain types of Rieslings will pick up the minerality of the oyster and make for a great match.
With dishes, such as steak, that contain higher levels of fat it’s a good idea to move away from excess acidity and to look for more balance and richness in a wine. For example, if you have a very classical cut of beef such as entrecôte, that is marbled with fat, a wine such as a Malbec with a heavy structure and quite a bit of tannins will create the perfect balance. On the other hand, if you’re eating a leaner cut such as a filet, you should pair it with a Merlot or a refined Pinot. A wine with a bit more depth is necessary as the filet doesn’t have enough fat to carry the taste on its own.
In terms of white meat, you can play around a bit. Veal works well with whites or reds. Niels suggests pairing veal with a Pinot or rich Chardonnay. If you’re pairing it with a white wine, a broad and massive wine works very well. If you’re undecided between red or white for your white meat, let the sauce guide you; if you’re serving your dish with a sauce Provençale then a light red from Provence or Syrah would work nicely. On the other hand, a creamy morel sauce over venison would work well with a rich white wine.
Sushi on the other hand is very pure and there is a lot of finesse and these are the same qualities we should look for in an accompanying wine. Rieslings, Pinot Blancs and leaner Chardonnays such as Chablis go very nicely with sushi as they leave space for the dish to express itself. Chinese cuisine, on the other hand, generally contains more spice and fat, so pairing it with wines that are richer in texture and more floral can have a great counterbalancing effect. Gewürtztraminer and Grenache could both work well.
When it comes my favourite part of the meal dessert, harmony is still the boss. If you’re ending your meal with something heavier, such as foie gras, a sweet wine doesn’t make a lot of sense. In that case, enjoy your foie gras and follow it with a sweet wine on it’s own. If you want to drink a wine with your dessert, Niels suggests pairing it with a nice cheese plate, some chocolate or a light sorbet.
To get you started on your pairing adventures, Anne was kind enough to share three perfect recipes to pair with some of my favourite Luxembourgish wines:
Pea and Mint Soup with crispy bacon and Caves Gales Auxerrois 2014
Serves 4 • Prep 20’ • Cooking 20’ • Easy
1 garlic clove
700g frozen peas
700ml vegetable stock
250ml white wine
3 tbsp fresh mint, chopped
4 slices of pancetta or Parma ham
salt and pepper
Peel and finely chop the onion. Melt the butter in a large saucepan. Add the onion and fry over a medium heat for about 5 minutes or until the onion is translucent.
Peel and chop the garlic and add to the onion, fry for another minute.
Add the peas, the stock and the wine to the saucepan, top with a lid and cook for about 15 minutes or until the peas are soft.
In the meantime, fry the pancetta or Parma ham in a pan until crispy. Put onto a plate and absorb the excess grease with kitchen paper.
Once the soup is cooked, add the mint and the cream, season with salt and pepper and take off the hob.
Blend the soup with a hand blender until all the peas are crushed. Pour the soup through a strainer, pushing the pea and onion mix down with a spoon so that all the liquid is squeezed out.
Serve the soup with the crispy pancetta or Parma ham slices on the side.
Recipe from the book "Anne's Kitchen" Editions Schortgen
Salt-crusted trout with fennel & olive salsa and Clos Des Rochers Riesling 2015
Serves 2 • Prep 45’ • A little effort
1kg coarse rock salt
2 egg whites
1 tbsp fennel seeds
1⁄2 unwaxed lemon
1 whole trout (400g), gutted and scaled
a few sprigs of fresh tarragon or parsley
For the salsa:
1 fennel bulb
1 tbsp olive oil
40g green olives, pitted
1 tbsp fresh tarragon or parsley, chopped
salt and pepper
lemon wedges, to serve
Preheat the oven to 200°C fan.
Put the rock salt into a large bowl with the egg whites and a tablespoon of water. Mix until sticky, then spread two thirds of the mixture onto the base of a greased roasting tin, in a 1.5cm-thick layer.
Crush the fennel seeds, and sprinkle one third of them over the centre of the salt base – where you’ll lay your fish.
Thinly slice the lemon. Wash the fish and pat dry. Stuff the cavity of the trout with one third of the fennel seeds, the lemon and tarragon or parsley.
Place the trout on the salt bed, sprinkle with the remaining fennel seeds and cover completely with the rest of the salt, making sure that no salt enters the cavity of the fish. You’re looking to get a salt layer that’s about 1.5cm thick. Pat the salt down firmly. Bake the trout for 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, prepare the salsa. Trim and core the fennel bulb and cut into small cubes of roughly 1⁄2cm. Heat the olive oil in a frying pan and fry the fennel cubes for about 2 minutes until they are partly cooked and lose their strong flavour. Put into a bowl. Cut the green olives in half and add to the fennel cubes. Top with the tarragon and season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
Once the fish is done, gently crack open the top salt layer by patting with the back of a metal spoon. Using the spoon and a fork, push the crust to the side so the fish is exposed.
Gently scrape the skin off the top of the fillet with the spoon and push to the side. Run the spoon along the spine to separate the flesh from the bones. Use the fork to help lift the flesh onto a plate. Serve the trout fillets with the salsa.
TIP: If you are thinking of making this for more people, keep the following in mind: buy however many trout you need and lay them side by side before covering them in salt. The rule of thumb is 1 egg white to 500g of salt. If it’s not sticky enough, add a bit of water.
Recipe from the book "Anne's Kitchen: Barcelona, Istanbul, Berlin", Editions Schortgen
Summer Salad Rolls with Carrot Ginger Dip and Domaine Viticole Schumacher-Knepper Pinot Blanc 2014
Prep: 30mins – Makes 15 small summer rolls
For the dip:
1 small carrot (100g), grated
15g fresh ginger, roughly chopped
1 tbsp miso paste
1 tbsp rice wine vinegar
1⁄2 tsp honey
2 1⁄2 tbsp olive oil
4 tbsp water
a pinch of salt and pepper
dried chilli flakes
For the summer rolls:
8 radishes, grated
2 spring onions
a few mint leaves
5 Vietnamese rice paper wrappers
1 tbsp sesame seeds
Put all the dip ingredients into a blender and blend into a smooth dip. Refrigerate until needed.
Tear the lettuce into rough chunks. Cut the cucumber in half and remove the seeds, then cut into thin sticks. Cut the spring onions into julienne strips.
Fill a large bowl with warm water. Dip one rice paper wrapper into the water and leave to soak for 5 seconds.
Lay the wrapper out in front of you and put some lettuce, radish, cucumber, spring onion and mint leaves into the middle. Don’t overfill the wrapper or it will be hard to roll. Lift the edge of the rice paper wrapper nearest to you over the filling and, holding the filling in position with your fingers, start rolling up tightly.
When you’re about halfway, fold the ends of the rice paper in and over the filling so that it is completely enclosed. Keep on rolling tightly until the whole rice paper wrapper is rolled up. Cut each roll into three pieces and serve with the carrot dressing.