Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Matching Food to a Wine

Just like a restaurant Sommelier, the home cook/chef often looks to find a wine to match the food that will be served.  Red vs. white, full bodied vs. light bodied, acid level, tannin level, sweetness, and flavor profile of a wine are selected to match the qualities of the food.   Sometimes the pairing is one of harmony - as in an acidic white wine to accompany a salad with an acidic dressing.   Sometimes the pairing is one of contrast - as in an acidic wine to cut through the fattiness of a deep fried dish (Mmmmm...).

Sometimes though, the wine needs to be the star of the show, and the goal is instead to find the right food to highlight the characteristics of the wine.  In fact when looking for new restaurants to try, I am most intrigued by chefs who are more wine centric in preparing their tasting menus.

My most recent experience when I needed to find food to match a “star of the show” wine, was when I recently had the honor of enjoying a 2005 Penfolds Grange (see my blog post).  I wanted to make sure that I had the right food that would pair well with the wine, but also…hopefully… have that type of food and wine pairing where the match actually elevates both the wine and the food.  In my earlier blog post about the Grange, I mentioned what I cooked to go along with it – but in this post I wanted to go into a bit more depth about why I chose the pairing I did.

First I looked at the typical aroma and flavor profile for Syrah/Shiraz. Even though I had never tried one before, I knew from reading about wine that it would be big and ripe and likely exhibit all the typical qualities, just in a very good way.

From my “Get to Know Your Grape” series, I identified the following typical aromas of Syrah/Shiraz:

  • Typical Aromas of Syrah.  Dark fruit like blackberries, licorice, tar, leather, black pepper, smoke, earth, and my personal favorite - smoked meats (including raw bacon).  
I wanted to keep the menu fairly simple – just a protein and a starch – but also something worthy of this monster wine.  A classic pairing with Syrah is lamb, but I really wanted to cook up a nice steak for the occasion. Steak on its own would likely get overpowered by the full flavor of the wine, so I needed to find a sauce that would kick it up a notch, while providing the right type of pairing with the wine. 

After quite a bit of searching I came across a recipe from the Kansas City Steak Company for a Blueberry Port Sauce.  The blueberries and the port wine hit the dark fruit aspect of syrah, while the bacon, besides just being good, matched up with the smoked meat aspect. Finally the tarragon provided the licorice/anise aspect.  My first round of making the sauce was a bit of a disaster. First, my local gourmet store gave me Blueberry Craisins when I asked for dried blueberries.  I thought that Craisins had branched out beyond Cranberries, because the package said in huge letters “BLUEBERRY.”  It was not until after I made the sauce I read closer, and in fine print it said …”Juice Infused”.   If that wasn’t enough to spoil the first batch, I also mis-read the balsamic vinegar and added 1.5 tablespoons instead of teaspoons…. Noooo!!!!  Wino4Life wife came to the rescue by hunting down real dried blueberries at Whole Foods, and luckily I had enough ingredients to make a second batch. The results of round two were excellent.  If I make it in the future I will likely cut down the Tarragon by up to ½, because it dominated the taste a bit too much (and I like licorice/anise flavor a lot!).

Recipe from Kansas City Steaks

Filet Mignon with Blueberry Port Sauce
2 slices Bacon
2 tbsp. minced shallots
2 tbsp. unsalted butter, divided
1/2 cup dried blueberries
1/2 cup port
1/4 cup beef stock
1 1/2 tsp. balsamic vinegar
1/4 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper
2 tbsp. minced tarragon, plus extra for garnish
4 (6 oz.) Filet Mignons
Directions: In a 10-inch skillet, cook Bacon over moderate heat until crisp (about 4 minutes) and transfer to paper towels to drain. Pour off excess fat from skillet. Crumble bacon and reserve.

In same skillet, melt 1 tablespoon butter over medium heat. Cook shallots in butter stirring until softened. Add dried blueberries, port and beef stock. Simmer over medium-low heat until liquid is reduced by half (about 4 minutes). Stir in balsamic, 1/4 teaspoon of salt, 1/8 teaspoon of pepper, and 1 tablespoon of remaining butter. Transfer sauce to a small bowl and stir in reserved bacon and minced tarragon. Keep sauce warm.

Cook Filet Mignons to medium rare. Place each filet on a plate and spoon over the top. Garnish with tarragon. Serves 4.
Servings: 4
Source: KC Steak Company

So now I had a sauce that would hopefully provide the power for the beautiful ribeye steak I purchased at a local meat shop – The Bull Market to stand up to the great and powerful Grange. One flavor aspect I still wanted to incorporate was earthiness.  I had read about steaks coated in Porcini mushroom dust prior to searing, and thought this would give the hint of earthiness I wanted. So I found some dried Porcinis and ground them to a very fine dust in the food processor. 

Just prior to searing the steaks I dipped both sides in the powder and cooked as I normally do – a couple minutes sear on each side in a hot cast iron skillet, a few minutes rest, and into the oven to come up to temperature for medium rare.  I was a bit afraid that the powder may burn during the sear, but the steak turned out great. The flavor was not intense, but added just that earthy hint I wanted.

For the starch, Wino4Life wife once again came to the rescue while I was focusing on the protein, she whipped up a batch of Joël Robuchon potato puree. The recipe is about equal parts of potatoes and butter – delicious but very very….very rich.  For our Grange meal it provided a nice neutral starch to round out our menu.

Crowned as my new favorite wine of all time, the Grange was more delicious that I ever could have imagined. I was also very happy with the food pairing.  It is not easy to come up with the right combination for such an epic wine – if you don’t choose wisely there may never be a second chance (unlike my sauce!).  Sticking with the flavor profiles that the wine your are serving would typically have – in a nice balance, and serving dishes that are don’t have too much sweetness, acidity or bitterness and you could be on your way to an epic meal!  If you are serving  a more delicate wine, you will want to prepare food that is also more delicate in flavor so the food does not overpower the wine. That would be the exact opposite issue from what I faced pairing food with this wonderful Penfolds Grange, but potentially even a more difficult problem to solve. 

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