It’s one thing to know your way around a restaurant menu in the presence of female company. It’s quite another to cook a delicious meal from scratch and pair it so perfectly with a libation that she starts to wonder if you moonlight as a sous chef-slash-bartender in your spare time. I’m talking food-and-booze combos that are actually worth staying in for, like homemade sushi rolls served with crisp Japanese beer, or pulled pork pizza expertly complemented by a glass of pinot noir. After 10 years of writing cookbooks, cooking in restaurants, competing on Top Chef, and judging Iron Chef, I’ve built up an arsenal of comfort-food recipes that pair perfectly with specific, equally satisfying beverages. So, whether it’s date night or the morning after, surprise her with a meal you’ve paired up like a pro. (And don’t feel compelled to tell her where you learned how to do it—we can keep this article our little secret.)
Pairing whiskey and food is a lot like pairing wine and food: Your goal is to blend flavors. “Soft, delicate flavors require a soft, delicate whiskey, and vice versa,” says Michael Neff, a bartender at The Three Clubs in L.A. “In this recipe, the chicken is light enough not to overpower the whiskey, and the whiskey’s honey, citrus, apple, and cinnamon notes go well with roasted meat.” After matching the character (delicate, smoky, etc.) and body of a whiskey, look at the defining flavors.“If you get heavy hints of raisin or brown sugar on the nose, for example, pair that whiskey with a food whose flavors would make sense with them in a recipe,” says Neff. “A sweet, charcoal-forward bourbon pairs perfectly with barbecued ribs; a salty scotch works well with milk chocolate; and a soft, fruity American blend goes great with scallops."
INGREDIENTS 1 whole chicken (4-5 lbs) ¾ tsp sea salt ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil 2 tbsp fresh thyme 1 tbsp garlic powder 8 garlic cloves, crushed 6 sprigs fresh thyme ½ lemon, thinly sliced into wheels
DIRECTIONS 1) Preheat oven to 375°F. 2) Rinse chicken well in cold water, remove neck and giblets, and pat dry with a paper towel. Generously season the cavity of the chicken with sea salt; lightly season the outside. Leave excess fat on the chicken, as this releases juices and provides moisture. 3) In a small bowl, whisk together olive oil, thyme, and garlic powder. With a pastry brush, slather the herbed oil blend on the inside and outside of the chicken. 4) Place garlic cloves and sprigs of thyme inside the cavity. Squeeze each lemon slice and place whole slices inside. 5) Using butcher’s twine, tie legs together. Place in a roasting pan and cover loosely with foil; place in the oven. 6) After 30 minutes, baste the bird; repeat every 30 minutes. Remove the foil for the last 30 minutes of roasting. 7) Roast for about 2 hours, or until the skin is golden brown, the juices run clear, and the internal temperature reaches 165° (check with an instant-read cooking thermometer). 8) Remove chicken from the oven and let it sit for 10 minutes before carving. 9) Reserve pan drippings for the roasted potatoes, below.
DIRECTIONS 1) Preheat oven to 375°. 2) Clean potatoes and pat dry. Slice into quarters. Make sure potatoes are uniform in size to allow for even cooking. 3) Toss potatoes in a bowl with olive oil, thyme, garlic powder, and sea salt, then spread them out on a large baking sheet. Place in the oven for 45 minutes. 4) For the final 3-5 minutes, broil potatoes for a golden-brown color, then toss with pan drippings.
General rule of thumb: Full-bodied wines go with heavier, more boldly flavored foods (like cabernet sauvignon and grilled steak), and lighter wines work with delicately flavored fare (e.g., chardonnay and pan-seared cod). I recently found out on a trip to Twomey Cellars in California that both pinot and pork fall in the middle of that light-heavy spectrum, making them a perfect match. Midway between a full-bodied cab and a lighter, fruitier merlot, pinot noir is a versatile match for many foods, including pork, poultry, and mushrooms. “Pinot is also great with seafood, like salmon, tuna, and grilled shrimp—which might come as a surprise, since people think they can’t do red wine with fish,” says Laurie Forster, author of The Sipping Point: A Crash Course in Wine. Another thing to keep in mind with a dish like pulled-pork pizza: Salt lowers your perception of the wine’s acidity (its tangy, sharp sensation). “Salty foods need wine with higher acid, like sauvignon blanc or pinot noir, rather than less-acidic ones, like chardonnay or shiraz,” says Foster.
SLOW-COOKED BBQ PULLED-PORK PIZZA
INGREDIENTS 1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar 2 tbsp packed dark brown sugar 1 tbsp chili powder 1 tsp ground cumin 2 tbsp oregano 2 tsp + 1 tsp sea salt 2 lbs pork shoulder, twine or netting removed ½ red onion, thinly sliced 1 tbsp all-purpose flour 1 lb premade pizza dough, thawed 1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil 1 cup barbecue sauce ¼ cup shaved pecorino romano cheese ¼ cup fresh cilantro (optional)
DIRECTIONS 1) Set a crock pot to its lowest setting. Add yellow onion, garlic, and vinegar. 2) In a bowl, combine brown sugar, chili powder, cumin, oregano, and 2 tsp of the salt. Rub mixture over pork shoulder. Place in crock pot, cover, and cook for 5-8 hours. 30 minutes prior to finishing the pork, add the red onion. 3) Lightly flour a clean work surface. Roll dough into a rectangle and place on a baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and remaining tsp of sea salt. 4) Spread barbecue sauce over pizza. Top with 2 cups pulled pork and bake at 375° for 10 minutes. Sprinkle with cheese and place back in the oven for 2-3 minutes. 5) Remove from oven and top with cilantro.
Thanks to the recent Big Bang in the craft beer universe, there are now too many brands to even keep track of. So naturally there’s been an explosion of potential food pairings as well. But don’t worry. According to What to Drink with What You Eat, by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page, a few guidelines can help. Pilsner, wheat beer, ale, and stout are the safest picks to go with edibles. Pilsner pairs with everything from pizza to soft-shell crab. Wheat beer works with salads and sandwiches, and also cuts the kick in spicier dishes. Amber ale goes well with salty foods, while darker brown ale is best with steak. When it comes to stout, you can either contrast flavors—say, a bitter Guinness alongside slightly sweet oysters—or pick complementary flavors, such as a chocolatey stout with a rich dessert. And keep this general rule in mind: Match light-bodied beers (lager, pilsner), medium-bodied beers (ale, IPA), and heavy beers (stout, porter) with dishes of similar weight. For example, if you’re serving up sushi, your goal is to pick a drink that isn’t so heavy it overpowers the delicate flavor of the fish—so opt for a high-quality light blonde beer.
DIRECTIONS 1) Cook sushi rice per package instructions and cool slightly. 2) Prepare the sushi vinegar: In a bowl, combine rice wine vinegar, sugar, and sea salt. Whisk well to dissolve. 3) Slowly drizzle sushi vinegar over rice, gently cutting it in with a rice paddle till all vinegar is absorbed. 4) Clean work surface, then lay down a bamboo mat. Place the nori on top, shiny side down. 5) Using the rice paddle, spread a layer of approximately ½ cup rice in the middle of the nori sheet. At the bottom of the sushi roll closest to you, add avocado, cucumber, and crab in a horizontal line. Tightly roll from the bottom up. 6) Remove mat and slice sushi into six pieces. (Wipe off knife between each slice.) 7) Repeat till all rice is used.
When a morning dish is on the indulgent side—with ingredients like eggs, cheese, cured meats, and/or a creamy sauce—the beverage you pair with it should be slightly acidic in order to refresh the palate between bites, advises Tristan Baggetta, bartender at Rye on the Road in San Francisco. Hence the popularity of bloody Marys (tomato juice and vodka), mimosas (orange juice and champagne), and bellinis (peach puree and prosecco) alongside weekend brunch dishes. For a twist on the classic Mary, try Asian-inspired condiments like sriracha, soy sauce, or Thai chilis. Or switch up your main ingredient with something more unusual: “I like to swap out tomato juice for freshly squeezed carrot juice, then add the traditional ‘bloody’ seasonings as well as a little shot of beef consommé for a kick,” says Baggetta. More boldly flavored brunch dishes can stand up to stronger spirits like tequila and gin. “Huevos rancheros? Hand me a bloody María (a Mary made with tequila instead of vodka) with a short beer on the side,” says Baggetta.
INGREDIENTS ½ lb red potatoes cut into ½-inch cubes 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, divided 1 tsp sea salt, divided ½ red or yellow onion, chopped 1 bell pepper, diced 4 eggs, beaten 1/8 tsp black pepper 2 whole-wheat tortillas 1 tbsp grated Monterey jack cheese
DIRECTIONS 1) Preheat oven to 375°. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. 2) Toss potatoes with 1 tbsp olive oil and ½ tsp sea salt. Place on a rack and roast for 30 minutes, or until tender when poked with a fork. 3) Meanwhile, heat a skillet with the remaining olive oil. Sauté onion until fragrant, about 5 minutes. Add bell pepper and sauté for 2 more minutes. 4) Add eggs, pepper, and remaining ½ tsp salt to the pan. Cook over medium-low heat until light and fluffy. 5) Lay out 1 tortilla and spread half of the egg mixture down the center. Top with the cheese and roasted red potatoes. Fold over one side and roll into a burrito shape. Repeat with the remaining tortilla.
INGREDIENTS ¼ cup premium vodka 3 cups low-sodium tomato juice ¼ cup olive juice strained from a jar of olives 1 tsp prepared horseradish 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce 1 lime, cut into wedges 2 squeezes sriracha sauce (approximately 2 tbsp)
FOR GARNISH Salt, to rim glasses Ice Olives Ground black pepper Celery stalks with leaves
DIRECTIONS 1) In a large pitcher, combine all cocktail ingredients, swirl with a wooden spoon, and add ice as needed. Adjust seasoning as desired. 2) Serve in chilled salt-rimmed glasses filled with ice. Top each with a lime wedge, add a celery stalk and olives, and season with ground black pepper to taste.