With winter upon us we tend to take more time for thoughtful meal preparation. We all have our favorite dishes and favorite wines so making preparations ahead can make the process easy and enjoyable, as well as, the meal itself! Even if you can’t gather with family or friends this season, you can still have fun and have fabulous experiences with your meals! With a little bit of prepping ahead, you will have amazing meals with little effort.
Let’s start with some basics about pairing wine with food. One rule of thumb you can use is “opposites attract”. If you want to prepare a “heavy” or “fatty” meal such as red meats, stews or Italian sauces choose wines with strong tannins or high acid to balance or cleanse the pallet between bites. For example, Petite Sirah, Syrah or Cabernet Sauvignon with its black fruits and strong tannins pairs perfect with fatty meats and heavy dishes like steak, lamb, pork, stew and roasted peppers. Sangiovese and Pinot Noir with their red cherry, soft tannins and bright acid are perfect with pizza, short ribs, smoked meats, mushrooms and red sauces.
Another way to pair food and wine is to think: “like attracts like”. Aromatic wines, for example, Chardonnay and Viognier pair well with aromatic dishes such as Thai spiced dishes, citrus sauces, and Indian curries. Light whites such as Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc pair well with light dishes such as chicken, white fish, shrimp, crab and oysters.
The same principle will hold true for your side dishes. I love to use citrus, stone fruit and fresh herbs and spices in my daily cooking. I prepare and keep certain accompaniments on hand to add flavor to dishes without having to start from scratch. I will prepare these and other side dishes when I am in the mood for chopping and slicing, usually soon after shopping so they remain fresh and available for immediate use. In my everyday life on the ranch, I do not have time to prep each meal, especially during spring vineyard tasks and fall harvest, so I try to schedule time when I am in the mood to make my stocks and chop vegetables or marinate meats for stews or roasting. Two very simple accompaniments I keep on hand are Salsa Verde (this is the classic green sauce from Italy) and Chermoula (or Charmoula, an African marinade or relish I add to fish, carrots or other veggies, soups and stews).
Salsa Verde is a wonderful way to preserve herbs like basil, cilantro, parsley, etc before they lose their freshness. Simply chop any combination of the herbs you like, or just parsley, in any quantity you have, add to a quart jar with a tablespoon or so of capers, 2-3 cloves of minced garlic, lemon zest from a whole lemon, a dash of salt, and cover with olive oil. You do not need to fill the jar completely with olive oil, just cover the herbs…you can always add more olive oil, capers, lemon zest and garlic to your jar as you run out. I use the Salsa Verde on everything from eggs to oranges and avocado, salad dressings to steamed vegetables and bread.
Chermoula is even simpler to prepare. It is simply raisins or prunes and red onions sauteed in olive oil for several hours. Use a one-to-one ration by weight of your onion and raisins with about ¼ cup of olive oil. You can add salt and pepper, coriander, cumin, saffron, or chili depending on what you want for flavor. It has the aromatics of caramelized onion and a rich flavor that helps every sauce and soup! Goes great on homemade pizza!
Another tip to keep your herbs, lettuces and vegetables longer at home: make sure they are dry and wrapped tightly in cellophane so no air gets in. They will last 2-3 times longer than normal. When you are grocery shopping try to pick the vegetables that are in the back not getting sprayed with water. Keep them dry and tightly wrapped.
Without getting into too much information, too late for that, I will share some great and easy wine pairing matches. Most you can make well ahead of the day you plan to cook. They are easy to execute even if you are not a well-trained Chef! I have to use ingredients easy to find up here in the hills!
Baked Salmon paired with Chardonnay or Viognier
Salmon is an oilier fish and more flavorful than your typical white fish or shell fish so I like to choose a wine that can enhance its flavor and add interest without drowning out the fish or getting lost.
Use a Salmon filet, I like Sockeye best, skin side down.
Preheat oven to 400F.
In a glass baking dish lightly oil bottom with olive oil.
Lay sliced lemon where your Salmon will sit.
Lay the Salmon filet, skin-side down, on top of the lemon slices.
Pour melted butter, about ¼ cup, over the filet. I love butter!
Sprinkle Salt and Pepper
Dust with flour, then Paprika, I used smoked Paprika.
Place in oven and set at 350F uncovered for 10 minutes. (you have already warmed oven to 400F)
After 10 minutes turn broiler to 500F for 5 minutes, then immediately remove.
Green beans or broccolini are both great choices with this dish. I steam the vegetables, then add melted butter and fresh herbs of your choice and keep warm on the stovetop.
Any type of rice you like is a great choice for starch. I prefer Black Rice or Wild Rice as they have more flavor and aromatics. You can make rice several days in advance or use a rice cooker.
Salad: Here is a great salad you can prepare in advance and pairs fantastic with Viognier or Chardonnay. I am not a big fan of vinegar dressings with wine so I use Salsa Verde.
Chill your salad plates and lay peeled, orange slices on the plate. A whole orange will work for two people. Add thinly sliced red onion on top of orange slices, or if you don’t like onion at all you can omit. I will substitute Avocado when they are in season. Next add sliced Kalamata Olives and a couple of tablespoons of Salsa Verde or your favorite chopped herbs and olive oil. Salt and pepper to taste. Roasted pine nuts are also great to add!
TIPS: warm your plates and flatware while you are cooking. Have your table pre-set and wine opened letting it get closer to room temperature. Wines that are too cold lose their aromatics, body and flavors. I like Chardonnay and Viognier just under room temperature.
Make sure your side dishes are almost finished cooking before you put the Salmon in the oven. Most vegetables and starches will keep warm and not lose their texture or flavor while waiting for the main dish to rest.
Have at least one glass of wine before you start prepping, you will enjoy your time in the kitchen much more😊
Braised Pork Shoulder paired with Cabernet Sauvignon
I selected this recipe to show the versatility of Cabernet Sauvignon. The Cabernet Sauvignon grape is the result of a cross between the white grape variety Sauvignon Blanc and the red grape variety Cabernet Franc. It is truly one of the most versatile wines to pair with food. It has both aspects of its parent grapes, acidity and herbal essence from Sauvignon Blanc and black fruit and tannins from Cabernet Franc! What could be better for a chef?
This can also be prepped several days in advance and cooked several hours in advance of serving, leaving you to rest up, dress up and look your best at dinner. Your butcher will be happy to hear you ask for bone-in pork shoulder. You will need about 4lbs. Pork shoulder is also an inexpensive cut of meat and you can reheat or repurpose this dish to make other great meals!
Start with opening your favorite bottle of Cabernet, decant and let sit. If you are having guests, I recommend opening 2 bottles or open a lighter red like Pinot Noir first.
A Sauvignon Blanc will also work to begin your meal if you plan to start with a salad. I like shaved fennel salad with this dish. Fennel makes a very delicate and flavorful salad.
Thinly slice fennel bulbs crosswise after removing tops and root ends. Also discard any dehydrated or discolored outer layers. Use a very sharp knife or Mandoline to slice. 2 fennel bulbs will work for four people. Save a few feathery leaves for garnish.
Prepare a dressing with 2 tablespoons fresh squeezed lemon juice, grated zest of ¼ lemon, 1 tsp Sauvignon Blanc or white wine vinegar salt, pepper and 3 tablespoons olive oil. Adjust flavor as needed. Toss fennel and dressing, garnish with fennel feathers, chopped parsley, sweet peppers and parmesan cheese curls or any combination! Serve on chilled plate.
Pork Shoulder Braised with Dried Chilis
Again, you can prep this dish days ahead. You can also cook days ahead and reheat. Like sauces, braised dishes get better with time! Make a dry rub with 1 tablespoon salt, ¼ tsp black pepper, 1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano (or marjoram), 1 tsp ground ancho chili. I use ancho chilis because they have a deep sweet flavor and are not spicy hot.
Use the dry rub to season the day before if possible. Cover and refrigerate overnight or up to 3 days before cooking.
Add to the bottom of a heavy roasting pan that just fits the pork shoulder, not too big, 2 onions, peeled and coarsely chopped, 1 carrot, peeled and coarsely chopped, 3 dried ancho chilis, split and seeds removed, 1 dried chipotle chili, split and seeds removed, 1 large head of garlic peeled and coarsely chopped (or you can add to the dry rub instead), a few black peppercorns and a few fresh oregano or marjoram sprigs.
Preheat oven to 375F, place the seasoned meat on top of the vegetables and pour in 2 cups chicken stock or water. The level of liquid should be about ¼ of the way up the roast. Add more while cooking if needed. Cook for 1 hour 15 minutes. Turn the roast over and cook for another 30 minutes adding more water or stock if needed. Turn roast again and cook another 30 minutes or until done. You will see the meat fall off the bone! It may take less time so check every 15 minutes after second turn.
Remove meat from pan when done, remove bone and slice on a warm platter. Use a submersible blender or blender to blend sauce and vegetables. Pour over meat on platter or into a gravy boat to pass. Serve with roasted potatoes or vegetables.
As you begin to understand food and wine pairing your cooking will know no limits! I hope you will share your tips and pairings with me!
Enjoy the Kitchen!