Category Archives: Pairings

On Wings of Chickens

Time for something a little different.

For a while now, I’ve been a member of the website Food52, a collaborative site created by food writers Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs that highlights the recipes of home cooks. The idea is this: every week, the site runs two contests, each featuring a different dish or ingredient. Any site member can submit an original recipe. Hesser and Stubbs choose two finalists from the list of recipes; voting opens at this point. Any member can vote for one finalist. The winner receives a spot in the Food52 cookbook, which will be published by HarperCollins.

A recent contest called for Your Best Chicken Wings, and it was pretty open-ended: Korean-style, Buffalo-style, you name it. As part of the Food52 process, and to help foster a sense of community, Hesser and Stubbs invite members to test certain Editors Pick recipes. One of the chicken-wing recipes up for testing was for scrumptious sounding Longhorn Tequila Wings, by a home cook and small farm owner named Tom Hirshfeld.

The process is a little involved, but man, the results are worth it. First you brine the wings in a mix of tequila, lime zest, salt, and water. After the wings brine for about 90 minutes, you remove them from the brine and dry them on a rack in the fridge. Dredge them in a mix of flour, masa harina, chili powder, and other spices. Fry, and then toss in a dressing of tequila, onions and garlic, peppers, cilantro, and lime.

When I saw the recipe, I knew I wanted to make it, so I called dibs to test it for an Editors Pick. So I whipped them up as a Sunday app, and paired them with shots of tequila and sangrita. Oh my yum.

Longhorn Tequila Wings

photo by Jennifer Hess

The wings were great. I chose not to make them overly hot because frankly, I’m kind of a wimp with spicy-hot foods. I like just enough spice to know I’m alive, but not enough to wish I weren’t. Tom calls for them to be served with home-fried tortilla strips, which were addictive. The wings themselves carried the earthy sweetness of the agave juice, well balanced with the heat of the pepper, tang from the lemon, and piquancy of the onion and garlic. The masa gave the coating a nice tenderness, and it’s a grace note I’ll want to play with the next time I fry chicken.

Hirshfeld recommends pairing the wings with a Shiner Bock, in keeping with their Lone Star State inspiration, but I went with the classic tequila/sangrita pairing, and it was fabulous. I want to do this for a cocktail party some time.

Raising a glass in thanks

With Thanksgiving approaching, it’s time to plan for festive cocktailing! Mrs. Bitters has already started prepping our locavore Thanksgiving (there’s a story behind it being locavore, but you’ll have to wait for it), so now’s the time for me to plan my approach. I haven’t quite figured it all out yet. I know I want to get some Calvados and make a batch of sage simple syrup, so that I can mix up the Apple Sage Old Fashioned I created for the autumn issue of Edible Rhody (still on the stands, so if you’re local, grab a copy–it’s the one with the cranberry bog on front).

For my second drink, I’m still working my brain on it. In Friday’s edition of the Wall Street Journal, Malt Adovocate editor John Hansell edited a small advertising supplement on whiskeys. Included was a piece on cocktails by Gary Regan, or gaz regan as he apparently prefers to be called these days. Old gaz included four cocktails in the piece, one of which I think I’ll adapt for Thanksgiving. Here’s the gaz version:

Babbling Brook

  • 1-1/2 oz. scotch
  • 3/4 oz. B&B liqueur
  • 1/4 oz. absinthe
  • 1 lemon twist, for garnish

Stir over ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Add garnish.

As gaz discusses in his piece, scotch marries well with anise flavors, and we definitely found that to be the case here.

Earlier this year, I picked up a bunch of anise hyssop from a local herbalist. Back then, I used it in a variation of the New Orleans classic cocktail, the Vieux Carre. On Saturday, when we were at the market, we stopped by the Farmacy table to pick up some local honey for Thanksgiving baking. They happened to have as well some small jars of honey infused with the anise hyssop. I immediately started thinking about cocktail applications and eagerly bought a jar. I might do a variation on the Babbling Brook. Or, I might do a scotch Sazerac instead, with a syrup made from the hyssop honey. I don’t think I’ll go wrong either way.

How about you? What Thanksgiving-themed drinks are you planning to mix this year? Do you have special Thanksgiving snacks that pair well with cocktails? Sound off in the comments!

Good touch, bad touch

So, I get a lot of PR pitches. Most cocktail, wine, and food bloggers do. Some of them are smartly targeted and personalized, but many of them are just kind of dumb. I opened my Gmail account one day to see an email that started “Dear Dash.” An amusing nickname, true, and I suppose that’s better than the “Dear <vname>” message I got one day. And, frankly, I can’t even begin to imagine what the PR folks for Women’s Health magazine are thinking in sending me information on dieting, women’s nutrition, and Madonna’s organic lifestyle.

Now you’ll understand why it was a delight to read a PR email that started this way:

Hey Michael,

Hope all is well. I couldn’t help but notice, from reading your blog, that you have a thing for ginger.

Pitch-perfect PR. By my rough count, there are… let’s see… 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 posts that feature or mention something gingery as a drink ingredient. So thank you, Yun Yu, from Fox Greenberg Public Relations, for actually paying attention to what I do and what this blog’s about–not specifically ginger, but about creatively pairing strong flavors and fresh ingredients with spirits.

Thank you, too, for sending up a bottle of Xanté pear and cognac liqueur while all my pals were at Tales of the Cocktail. This stuff is tasty. It’s hard to balance the flavor in a product like this, to keep it from being cloying, but the distillers did a fine job on this one. Morgenthaler describes it well, in a piece where he rightly and humorously sends up its marketing (Xanté’s PR firm is great, but its marketers are insane):

The opening nose is reminiscent of pears poached in cinnamon and wine. The first sip reveals a moderate amount of heat, which dissipates quickly leaving behind an extended finish of basic sugars, pear, light caramel, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg and banana.

I find it just a little too sweet to sip neat or on the rocks, but it blends beautifully into cocktails. I think my favorite use for it is in a sidecar variation, with lime juice instead of lemon, and the triple sec reduced just a smidge.

I also find that it pairs well with rum, in an old-fashioned, with Fee’s Whiskey Barrel Aged Bitters. In fact, the marriage of pear, vanilla, and Fee’s warm Christmas spices reminds me so much of Yuletide that I’m going to tuck some of the Xanté away for the holiday season.

Xanté Ginger Martini
photograph by Jennifer Hess.

Now, what’s this to do with ginger? Well, Yun, in contacting me, suggested the Xanté Ginger Martini cocktail. I know, I know, I know; I’m not crazy about the name either. A martini is strictly a drink with gin and vermouth and maybe some orange bitters. It’s not a drink with cognac liqueur and anything else. But call it what you may, it’s a damn fine drink. Here’s the recipe as Yun sent it.

Xanté Ginger Martini

  • 1-1/2 ounces Xanté
  • 1-1/2 ounces lemon juice
  • 1 ounce simple syrup (I’d cut this back to 1/2 ounce, personally, but I was using a rich 2:1 syrup made with Turbinado sugar)
  • 1 piece of fresh ginger
  • 1 thin slice of fresh ginger, for garnish

In a mixing glass, muddle the ginger. Add Xanté, lemon juice, and simple syrup. Shake over ice, strain into a cocktail glass, and float garnish on top.

Tell you what. Not only is this a fine drink, where all of the elements play well together, but the ginger really helps to bring the pear to the fore. And as we found out last night, Spanish Marcona almonds make a perfect accompaniment to this cocktail. I almost didn’t want to have dinner.

Jen on the radio

Two Jens, in fact! A couple of Wednesdays ago, Jen Huntley-Corbin and Jen Hess got to talking on the radio about food, blogging, and Jen’s inspirations in starting Last Night’s Dinner. Check it out here.

Since I was in the studio, Jen H-C prevailed on me to make a couple of comments too, but I tried to keep from stealing the focus from the Jen Party. She asked first about my use of vodka in making pie crusts, and then later, we talked briefly about pairing cocktails with food.

Oh, and I babbled pretty incoherently when Jen H-C asked me about the tip about the vodka in the pie crust. Jen (Hess, that is) had pointed me to a post on Smitten Kitchen about it way back when, and that’s where the idea originated. Deb explains it much, much better than I did on the radio, so if the idea intrigues you, go read Deb’s post for a better explanation.

MxMo Double X: Pairings

mxmo20-pairingsSo, yeah, the overtime is still kicking my ass. I leave home at 8, I get home 12 hours later, and I don’t feel like much other than the classics–aviation, martini, old fashioned, Manhattan, etc. Not much creativity these days. I do have a pretty bottle of Canton ginger liqueur that I’m playing with (more on that later this week, I hope), but that’s it.

In other circumstances, the lady of Last Night’s Dinner and I would have had great fun planning a pairings menu and then probably cross-blogging it, with her focusing on the food and me on the drink. Aaaaand, we’ll probably do that some time. But not now alas. We had a couple ideas for simple pairings we could put together, but time just ran out.

But then Death stepped in.
Continue reading

Cocktails ‘n’ ersters

What do you drink with oysters on the half shell? Jen and I usually have wine, normally a Muscadet, but we recently found ourselves with BeauSoleil oysters but no appropriate wine.

So Jen challenged me to come up with an appropriate cocktail to pair with oysters. We wanted something crisp, aromatic, and lightly briny. We had no olives for a martini, but I remembered a drink I had made some time ago and wanted to revisit: the Paez.

This drink originated at Little Branch in Manhattan, but I first heard of it through Paul Clarke’s blog, Cocktail Chronicles. A fine-grained sea salt is important here because it blends well with the liquids, and is subtle in the drink–almost unnoticeable, but present enough to marry drink and bivalve in a pleasing way.

Paez

  • 2½ oz. gin
  • ½ oz. dry vermouth
  • 6 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
  • pinch sea salt

Technique: Stir with ice, strain into chilled cocktail glass, garnish with lemon twist.

MxMo: Apéritif

MxMo AperitifStimulate your palate with some fun apéritifs, courtesy of the fourth Mixology Monday (hosted this go-around by Jimmy Patrick of jimmy’s cocktail hour).

Jen and I wanted to try something a little different this time. Since we so often get apéritifs along with appetizers when we’re out a good restaurant, we talked about doing some food pairings. We talked for a couple of weeks about what we’d have and what we’d pair. I knew, for example, that I wanted to try Cynar (having previously only had it in Audrey Saunders’ Little Italy cocktail at Pegu Club), so we took our cues either from what I wanted to mix with or from what she was eager to cook.

I would then write up the boozy stuff for this site and MxMo, and she’d blog the foodie bits over at the food blog Gastronome. So there you go.

Now on to the pairings. (All photography by Jennifer Hess. You can view full-sized versions of these pictures, and others, in Jen’s photostream at Flickr, or you can read her writeup of the foodie stuff at Gastronome.)

First up, the Adonis cocktail with figs, stuffed with blue cheese, wrapped in serrano ham, and roasted in the toaster oven. Jen requested sherry, since it’s a classic pairing with figs and blue cheese, so I consulted my oracles to find a good sherry-based quaff. Difford’s Guide to Cocktails provided several options, and from them I chose the Adonis, a simple mix of sherry, vermouth, and orange bitters.

MxMo AperitifAdonis

  • 2 oz. dry sherry (Difford calls for Fino; we used Manzanilla)
  • 1 oz. sweet vermouth
  • 3 dashes orange bitters (I used Fee)
  • Orange twist, for garnish

Stir over ice, strain into a chilled cocktail glass, and garnish with an orange twist.

cynar and chokesThat’s a good drink. I was surprised by its smokiness, though. Sherry never strikes me as being smoky on its own, but somehow with the vermouth and orange bitters, the drink was smoky, like a scotch cocktail. Strange, but a nice example of the alchemy that occurs in a cocktail glass.

Our second pairing was artichoke-a-riffic: artichoke hearts topped with crabmeat and roasted in the toaster oven. The pairing for that was simple: Cynar on the rocks with a slice of lemon. We both found the Cynar a little sweet on its own, so perhaps we’ll shake it into a drink next time.

Our final pairing was another cocktail, but it requires explanation. …

The night after our cocktail party, we went to Dressler, a new restaurant in South Williamsburg, Brooklyn. We’d been to Dressler once before–on its opening night, we sat at the bar, and ate while talking drinks and barmanship with the friendly bartender. On our second visit, we had a different bartender, but he was every bit as personable as the first guy had been.

So we sat at Jim’s bar and ordered drinks and food. After pouring us each a couple of fine drinks, he started prepping something interesting. I saw bourbon and bitters and something else I didn’t quite make out. Then he did something strange. He strained that in a flute and topped it with champagne! And as Jen and I looked at each other and remarked on how intriguing that was, he set it down in front of Jen! “Try this, on the house. It’s a Seelbach, I think you’ll enjoy it.”

Jim’s a mensch, and a damn good bartender. We did indeed enjoy it, and when Jen requested it to pair with duck rillettes, I knew yet again how smart my wife really is. The smoky bourbon and the champagne cut right through the fattiness of the duck. (The rillettes, by the way, were my concoction, from duck confit that I made in early spring.)

Seelbach cocktailSeelbach Cocktail

  • 7 dashes Angostura bitters
  • 7 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
  • 1 oz. bourbon
  • ½ oz. triple sec
  • 5 oz. chilled champagne

Technique: Rinse champagne flute with both kinds of bitters. Pour out most of the bitters, leaving a small amount in the bottom of the glass. Shake bourbon and triple sec over ice, and strain into flute. Top with champagne.

(The recipes I’ve seen for this call for shaking the bitters with the bourbon and triple sec. But Jim at Dressler rinsed the glass with them, and after mixing this once at home, I see why: the bitters overwhelm the cocktail if they remain fully in the drink. Either rinse the glass or shake the bitters, but cut back on the quantity.)

Oh, and in case you were wondering, these were indeed apéritifs. Even with all that food, we still managed to eat grass-fed tenderloins and a salad for dinner, with a nice Chianti Classico.