With the holidays fast approaching, it’s time for many hosts to confront a dilemma: how to pair dishes with wine?
For many, the answer comes at local wine shops, where salespeople pull bottles off the shelves after listening to descriptions of meals. Some shops even hold holiday tastings, where folks can try different wines with bites of ham or turkey.
Jill Silverman Hough, author of “100 Perfect Pairings: Small Plates to Enjoy With Wines You Love” (Wiley, $16.95), has a different take. She’s created 100 recipes to pair with 12 types of wines. With her easy wine-pairing tips, you’ll pick a wine with confidence — and tailor your dish to match it.
“It’s not necessary to know anything about food-and-wine pairing to put together great combinations of food and wine,” she says.
Another principle: like pairs with like. Serve sweet foods with sweet wines, acidic foods with acidic wines, light foods with light wines, heavy foods with heavy wines, and intense foods with intense wines.
Some examples include the similar sweetness of port and chocolate, or the intensity of peppercorn steak and syrah, she writes in “100 Perfect Pairings.”
As for tannic wines, they pair well with acidic and bitter foods, of course, but also rich, meaty and heavy dishes, Hough says.
These are simple pairings, but Hough’s advice also applies to more complex dishes, such as fillet of sole with a cream sauce, or savory dishes with sweet overtones. In these cases, don’t select a wine based on the main ingredient.
“Consider the dish as a whole, identify the dominant flavors and textures, and then let those elements inform your wine choice,” she writes in “100 Perfect Pairings.”
Another tip: When preparing dishes at home, taste the dish, then have a sip of wine. Adjust the acid and saltiness as necessary.
While writing her book, Hough learned that “wine, for the most part, is really acidic,” she says. “So have salt and acid available to adjust dishes to your particular bottle of wine.”
“Wine in the food almost always helps wine go with the food,” she writes in “100 Perfect Pairings.” “A small splash will help a little. A big pour will sometimes help a lot.”
PAN-SEARED RIB-EYE RIBBONS WITH CABERNET-MUSTARD SAUCE
Makes 4 servings; pair with cabernet sauvignon
Two (8- to 10-ounce) rib-eye steaks, about 1 inch thick
1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup cabernet sauvignon, or other dry red wine
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 3 or 4 pieces
1 tablespoon stone-ground mustard
2 teaspoons chopped fresh chives
Sprinkle both sides of the steaks with salt and pepper. Set aside.
In a large skillet over medium-high heat, warm the olive oil.
Add the steaks and cook to desired doneness, about 3 1/2 minutes per side for medium rare. Transfer the steaks to a cutting board and let rest, loosely covered with foil, for 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, return the skillet to medium heat.
Stir in the wine, scraping up any browned bits in the bottom of the skillet, and cook until the wine is just a thin layer in the skillet, about 2 minutes. Remove the skillet from the heat and add the butter, stirring until the butter is melted. Stir in the mustard. Set the skillet aside.
Cut steak diagonally into 1/2-inch slices. Fan the slices out on a platter or individual plates. Drizzle with mustard sauce, sprinkle with chives, and serve hot.
FIVE-SPICE CRAB SALAD COCKTAILS
Makes 4 servings; pair with viognier
1/2 cup mayonnaise (see notes)
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice, or more to taste
1/2 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder, plus more for garnish (see notes)
12 ounces cooked lump crab meat, picked over (see notes)
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, plus leaves for garnish
2 tablespoons minced shallots
In a small bowl, combine the mayonnaise, lemon juice and five-spice powder. Set aside. (You can prepare the mayonnaise mixture up to 3 days in advance, storing it covered in the refrigerator.)
In a medium bowl, combine the crab, chopped parsley and shallot. Add about 2 tablespoons of the mayonnaise mixture, gently tossing to combine. Taste, ideally with your viognier, and add more lemon juice if you like.
Spoon the crab mixture into decorative glasses. Top with the remaining mayonnaise mixture, dividing it evenly. Sprinkle with a dash of five-spice powder, garnish with the parsley leaves and serve.
Notes: The quality of the mayonnaise and crab meat are paramount in this dish. Choose the best you can find of both.
Chinese five-spice powder is available in either the spice section or the ethnic or Asian section of most major supermarkets. Besides using it in this recipe, you can sprinkle it on roasted meats and vegetables and stir it into rice.
MUSHROOM BRIE PUFF PASTRY BITES
Makes 24; pair with pinot noir
For the bites:
4 ounces mushroom Brie cheese (see notes)
1 sheet (half of a 17.3-ounce package) puff pastry, thawed
1 tablespoon Dijon, stone-ground or other good-quality mustard
Special equipment needed:
One 24-cavity mini-muffin pan or two 12-cavity mini-muffin pans, with 13/4 inch-wide cavities
Cut the cheese into 24 chunks, each about 3/4-by-3/4-by- 1/2 inches. Arrange the cheese on a parchment- or plastic wrap-lined plate or baking sheet and freeze for at least an hour. (You can freeze the cheese, covered, for up to a week.)
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.On a lightly floured work surface, roll the pastry out to a 12-by-18-inch rectangle. Use a fork to pierce the pastry all over. Cut the pastry into six pieces widthwise, then four pieces lengthwise, making 24 pieces, each 3 inches square. Gently arrange a square in each cavity of the mini-muffin pan(s), pressing them into the sides and bottoms of the cups. Dab 1/8 teaspoon of mustard onto each square, then top each with a piece of cheese. Bake until golden brown, about 12 minutes. Let cool 1 or 2 minutes before serving warm.