Food & Wine – The Perfect Marriage

Following up on my last blog I thought I would start the New Year with the first of a regular series of articles on food and wine pairing. This is one of the most fundamental aspect of our industry and I would go as far as to say one of the most civilised aspects of life.
Some people take food and wine pairing very seriously indeed – please see below note between a winemaker and Michelin star restaurant regarding a dinner menu – and although what they say is very valid, for example wine and artichokes just don’t get on (nor with Horseradish I would add) I am not proposing to go fully down that track
NB: It should be well noted that the following ingredients should NOT appear in the menu. Asparagus, artichokes, scallops, vinegar in the sauces. Soup also kills the texture of the wine.
However, no one can ignore the impact that “celebrity chefs” have had on all our interest in cooking and with it a desire to be more experimental and adventurous. And this has coincided with increased interest and appreciation of wine – so a truly hand in (oven) glove relationship. And I feel I am very lucky to work with a number of the finest chefs in the country and thought it might be time to share some experiences and also some of my own recipes. I have no ambition to take over the world of cooking, but as an enthusiast amateur I can offer two advantages (I hope!) – (i) with the recipes – if I can do them anyone can! and (b) I really can assist in making wine pairings for food which will work from the Wine Trust 100 selection.
One of the secrets to this marriage is to avoid disastrous parings – and if you are wondering what that might mean, just try a piece of smoked salmon with a full boded tannic red wine to see how bad things can get! An awful lot is also common sense, but there are also a few taboos which have maybe become too stereotypical, for example, dry red wine does not work very well with cheese, especially blue cheese. So let’s start with a great area of interest – seafood.
This is a great time of the year for seafood – mussels are fabulous right now for example. Please see attached excellent M&J Seafood calendar – there is nothing healthier or more delicious in my view and hopefully you can avoid any allergy issues. We are lucky where we are as we have a really terrific fish monger whose choice and quality is outstanding. Although this area is a natural for white wines, don’t forget rosés, which are often forgotten partner –  and (despite what I said about smoked fish) lighter reds can work on occasions with unsmoked fish. The main reason why reds don’t work so well is that the tannin in reds tends to conflict with the delicate and gently fleshy nature of most fish. Also fish – and especially shellfish – have high levels of umami – the “fifth” savoury taste sense after sweet, salt, sour and bitter. This is a dominating characteristic and you really get this sensation in a classic bisque, for example, and where other high umami content foods are used – such as tomatoes, mushrooms and cheese (most noticeably Parmesan/Parmigiano)
For the vast majority of seafood white wines work well because they are not tannic and their high levels of acid actually compliment the umami savouriness in the fish. But a lot can depend on the sauce – for example, if a classic butter (beurre blanc) is used then the fish dish can actually take a richer and more oaked wine, such as a Chardonnay; where had the same fish been plainly cooked an unoaked, high acid and fruity white would be better.
NA’s classic (well in his own mind anyway) – shellfish with tomato and coriander lime sauce for pasta. If you are allergic to shellfish, or just don’t like it, substitute with a fleshy white fish – sea bass works really well instead with this dish. For the stock use the white fish bones instead, or use pre made fish stock
Prep time: 45mins (incl cooking sauce)
Final cooking and serving about 15 mins
INGREDIENTS  – for four
•                1 x large dressed crab
•                A dozen good sized crevettes, or large sized langoustines style prawns (pre cooked)
•                1 x pack of “shell on” North Atlantic prawns (pre cooked)
•                1 x pack of North Sea peeled brown shrimps  (pre cooked)
•                2 x large, ripe tomato (beef tomato)
•                2 x banana shallots
•                Good handful of fresh coriander (leaves only, not stalks)
•                Another good handful of fresh coriander – leaves and stalks
•                1 x lime
•                1 x star anise
•                1 x small bird’s eye red chilli
•                1 x medium sized garlic clove
•                S&P
•                Rapeseed oil
•                Glass of white wine (about 125ml)
•                150ml of fish stock (this can be bought from a grocer of you don’t want to make your own)
•                Good slug of brandy
•                Good dried pasta – Tagliatelle or Pappardelle –  the brand Giuseppe Cocco Fara S Martino is excellent
•                Salad to accompany
•                Separate the white crab meat from the brown and store the white meat in the fridge for use later on. Reserve the brown meat. Keep the crab shell
•                Unfrock the shell on prawns and the crevettes and store in the fridge for later. Keep all the shells and heads
•                Top and tail the large tomatoes, cut in ½ and cut out the pithy core. Place this into a sieve over a jug. Scrape all the fleshy centre and seeds into the sieve as well, leaving only the fleshy outer tomato shell. Reserve this part in the fridge for later on. Squeeze and work all the tomato bits and centre pulp in the sieve and collect the free run juice in the jug (you will be surprised how much it can make if the tomato is ripe enough). When done discard the seeds and keep the juice
•                Finely chop the shallots and start to soften in a drizzle of rapeseed oil on a low heat with the star anise
•                Take all the shells and place in strong bag. Smash all the pieces up with a rolling pin (very therapeutic) and reserve
•                Deseed the chilli, finely chop and add to the mix
•                Add all the smashed shells and put a lid on the pan – start to steam on low heat (add a little white wine if you think it might burn)
•                Peel and crush the garlic clove with the back of a large knife – add to the pan
•                Heat the brandy in a soup ladle directly over the hob heat (fill about ½ full). Let it come to the boil, then tip and set fire to the spirit – add immediately to the pan of shells and flambé (if you don’t fancy doing this skip the brandy)
•                Add the brown crab meat and stir into a paste – add a little more white wine to keep from burning. Add the tomato juice and stir
•                Add the skin zest from the lime – then squeeze and add the juice of ½ the lime juice (reserve the rest of the lime)
•                Add the rest of the white wine. Chop up the leaves and stalks of coriander bundle and also add salt & pepper to taste
By now you should have quite a concentrated sauce
•                Stir then add the fish stock and steam on low heat (lid on) for 15 minutes or so. When all looks amalgamated ….
•                Pass this mixture through a large sieve – reserve the liquor and discard all the solid parts
N.B: you can do this well before you cook the dish and then cool and store liquor in fridge with all others parts if you wish
•                Heat a big pan of water with a good dose of salt (you do need salt for pasta)
•                Take your tomato shell and cut into neat cubes and reserve
•                Reheat your liquor and taste for seasoning
•                Boil your pasta
•                Chop your crevettes up into bit sized pieces
•                When pasta is close to being done add all the prawns and also the brown shrimps into the liquor and warm through
•                Drain the pasta and return to the pan; add the liquor (with fish bits), chopped tomato pulp and coriander leaves and toss all together in the warmth of the pan – serve out in large heated bowls. Decorate the top of each bowl with the white crab meat
•                Serve with a good dressed salad and slice up remaining ½ of lime if anyone wants to add a bit more
This dish is really quite delicate but there is a little bit of heat in the background from the chilli. Also a really zesty lift from the lime and coriander. It has to be white really here and I would avoid anything with oak.  A lot of New World whites, with some tropical fruit notes will work well
The citric and spice nature is made for fruitier and crisp, aromatic whites – so any of the following will work well, but – as ever –  you drink what you want and enjoy personally:
•                Lawson’s Dry Hills Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc – New Zealand
•                Amalaya Torrontés| Riesling – Argentina
•                Leitz Eins-Zwei-Dry Riesling Trocken –  Germany
•                Zibbibo Gibelè, Sicily – Italy
•                Malvasia Bianca Berichino – California
Cin cin  and a Happy New Year!
Nick Adams MW