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Pairing food and wine can be pure magic

Plate + Glass by Scott Malyon

Hey, what’s good everyone? 

I have to say, seeing so many restaurants offer ‘meal kits’ for us to create our own version of their spectacular dishes, is pretty fantastic. Throwing a steak fillet, some sauces and some rancid looking veg into a dented and dog-eared used Amazon box is a thing of the past. 

I hope that you, as well as I, have experienced some delightful boxes of restaurant quality goodness over these past bonkers months. That being said, it’s nice to be able to still really enjoy those creature comfort dishes. Those plates of food that greet us with open arms and a cuddle, dishes that take little time to make, but require plenty of time to enjoy.

Arguably, there are no finer things on planet earth, than the chomp of a wonderful forkful of food, followed swiftly by a slurp of a wine so outrageous, it makes John Wick look like a softly spoken baker from Clitheroe! Basically, when done well, pairing food and wine can be pure magic. It can also be pure disaster! I have experienced many a meal (at home) where I have got it wrong; be that through experiments gone bad or recommendations that just haven’t cut the mustard. So, here are some goof-proof ideas on how to get your ‘magic on’ in the kitchen over these next few weeks.

The first thing that I always say, no matter how well considered the advice is, is that both food and wine are very subjective. I am quite certain you know and appreciate this; therefore, I really do push a message of “If that’s what you like, then stick with it”.  So, to begin with, I will go through some of the aforementioned ‘cuddle’ dishes that you can cook at home. Each one though, has my little top tip in terms of switching up the flavour behaviour of the dish, and, of course, a wine that will elevate the whole experience. 

  1. Pasta with a tomato based sauce.  Ok, stay with me, starting off real basic here. However, given that ‘pasta and a tommy sauce’ is really a base to start layering up flavour, then I’m thinking this gets me off the hook?  So let’s imagine you have slowly sweated down some red or white onions with a touch of sea salt and pepper. You have also added to the pan a tin of chopped tomatoes, a sprinkle of oregano and some balsamic vinegar. All whilst a pan of pasta of your choosing is cooking away, ready to get to Mt. Al Dente. Here’s the switch up: Add in a teaspoon of Nduja paste and at the end when plating up, grate some Pecorino instead of Parmesan. Why? The Nduja takes the flavours to a whole new level, not just with that spicy element, but that extra kick of salt and protein just whacks up the levels of yum. Also, Pecorino is more of a salty cheese whereas parmesan is nuttier. Both these changes here will, I promise you, make this a banquet and not just a Wednesday night plate. Wine wise, because of the spice and salt, this will be a barnburner with a glass of Shiraz, specifically from the Langhorne Creek region of south Australia. Its moderate climate produces the most concentrated examples of Shiraz that give off the most wonderfully succulent black fruit flavours (which compliments that salty nature of the dish so damn well). Plus, the wines are not as high in alcohol as other regions – booze and spice isn’t that nice you see.  Delicious.
  1. Bangers and Mash – You know you love it. You may argue that this doesn’t need messing with. If it aint broke, don’t fix it. Yes, yes, I see your point, but aren’t we meant to be elevating a humble experience here? So, let’s imagine you’ve got your best bangers in the oven and your spuds, ideally Maris Pipers, are simmering away in a pan of salted boiling water. Well, once you’ve drained and dried your spuddies, add a whole teaspoon of mustard powder and some sweet smoked paprika. Not only does that mustard powder give the resultant mash a new dimension of flavour, but that sweet smoky paprika will help to bring out the smokiness of the wine I am about to suggest. Add in your usual splash of milk, butter and plenty of salt and white pepper. Sieve the mash for extra yum, if you want a decent forearm workout and a sweat on! Pair this with a Chenin Blanc, again, specifically from Paarl in South Africa. It has the most gorgeous baked apple flavours and the most vibrant and box-fresh acidity, which will slice its way through the fatty bangers. Also, as alluded to above, there is a smoky and flinty nature to this wine, which highlights the very same profile in that smoky paprika in the mash. Ooh stop teasing me!
  1. Stir Fry – We can be flexible here too; this can be pork, prawn, chicken or beef. The main thing here is the sauce and getting the right texture on the finished dish when plating up. So, once again, get your imagining hat on, and pretend you’re in your kitchen right now, cooking the chosen meat or shellfish until well cooked.  Add in your seleced fry ingredients, whether it’s a pre made bag or you’ve prepared your own and as soon as that hits the wok, take it off the high heat so that the residual pan heat just starts to tingle away on all those beautifully naughty veggies, beansprouts etc. Quickly prepare a bowl with a teaspoon of Soy sauce, Mirin, Miso Paste, sesame oil, honey and the star ingredient – Chinese 5 Spice (add a splash of water to loosen) and whack the wok back on the high heat. This magic mix of flavours will work very quickly into the proteins of the meat or fish and pack it full of flavour – which is pretty much Umami on a plate. That Umami, aka the 5th Taste, can be enriched with a slurp on some Alsace Pinot Blanc.This is a heady, floral dry white, with exquisite purity and the most beautiful of stoned fruit flavours. Pure joy with a stir fry on a Thursday night.

So, there you have it, some simple dishes that represent more of a staple feel to home cooking, all of which can be taken to new heights with little additions to add flavour behaviour and some wines you can get very easily. 

Now go ahead, get stuck in and enjoy yourselves. Leverage that beverage.

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