Editorial consulting by the Culinary Institute of America
Many cuisines around the world traditionally serve specific condiments and side dishes each time they eat certain foods. Indian food has Raita, a cool cucumber yogurt sauce that tames the spice and heat of curries and chutneys. Thai food has the ubiquitous Nuoc Cham sauce, made of salty fish sauce, sweet date palm sugar, and sour lime juice.
Wine and food magazines have long been publishing guidelines and “flavor wheels” to help everyone find their way to the perfect beverage and food pairings. Serving tart goat cheese? Try sauvignon blanc. Salted caramel ice cream? Try an oatmeal stout.
These combinations work because they are guided by a few principles that are not only appropriate for beverage and food pairings but also for combining certain foods together. If we need to pay attention to the fat, acid, salt, sweetness, bitterness and texture of the food, we can become proficient in the language of food pairing.
One principle that works very well is the idea that “those that grow together, go together.” Native Americans grew corn, whose stalk was used as the trellis for beans and which protected the squash below. Together, they are the perfect culinary match that we call succotash. In the south of France, there are a variety of wild herbs that grow everywhere making up the landscape called “garigue.” Young lamb feed on these wild herbs and are subsequently cooked in these herbs as well. You may know the flavor well: It’s called Herbs de Provence.
Yet sometimes a perfect pairing is solely about texture of the food and the body, viscosity or effervescence of the beverage. This is why grilled red meat, such as beef rib eye, goes so well with a big Cabernet Sauvignon. There is enough fat in the meat to quell the tannins of the wine and allow you to taste the fruit flavors of the grape.
This principle works well in the reverse too. Consider a food like Wild Blueberries, which are rich in tannin, acid, and sweetness. When looking to pair the perfect food or beverage with these tasty wild berries, look no further than game meats. I like to cook game meats such as duck – which is rich in fat and umami – with Wild Blueberries because it contrasts the tannin and acidity of the berries and brings out their intense blueberry flavor. It makes sense, too, because ducks also live where Wild Blueberries grow and they love to snack on them as much as I do!
Give this recipe a try: Smoked Duck Breast with Wild Blueberry Mostard
About the Author
Chef Rebecca Peizer, C.H.E. C.E.C.
Associate Professor of Culinary Arts
Culinary Institute of America at Greystone
Rebecca’s passion for food set her on a path to the Culinary Institute of America where she graduated in 2000. From there, she set off to New York City where she became a private chef. She took her next big step in the culinary world when she moved to California and opened Roux, a restaurant in St. Helena in the heart of the Napa Valley. Roux quickly took off and theSan Francisco Chronicle named it Top 10 Restaurants in the Bay Area 2001. On the heels of that honor, Food & Wine named her Top 10 Sous Chefs in America 2002. Over the course of her career, Rebecca has had the opportunity to work with many great chefs including Jacques Pepin, Martin Yan, Bradly Ogden, Cindy Pawlcyn, and Julia Childs. She has catered events for presidential candidates, Napa Valley winemakers, and prominent artists, and now shares her passion for food and wine with students at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in Napa Valley.