Monday, June 25, 2012

The Quest to Pair Wine with Mexican Food

Recently, Clare and I had the challenge of pairing wine with a four course Mexican dinner.  It was truly a challenge, because the beverage most associated with Mexican cuisine is beer, not wine.  The association is reinforced by the prominence of Corona, Dos Equis, Modelo and Tecate.  However, Mexico does have its own vineyards and winemakers. There is Cavas Valmar, located in Ensenada, where Chenin Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Tempranillo grapes.  There is also Casa Madero, which raises Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes in Parras Valley of Coahuila. The only problem is that we could not find any wines from either Cavas Valmar or Casa Madero.  

Therefore, Clare and I had to find wines from other countries to pair with Mexican dishes. Fortunately, there are some useful guides on the Internet, such as the Rick Bayless' Guide to Classic Mexican Food and Wine. These guides provided some good, general rules that are applicable not only to Mexican cuisine, but to other cuisines.  The most significant rule is to look beyond the protein or principal ingredient.  Pairing wine to Mexican dishes requires one to move beyond the white wine for chicken and red wine for beef.  The reason is that Mexican dishes are defined more by the sauces than by the proteins or vegetables.  Therefore, it is more important to pair the wines to the flavors in the sauce than it is to match the wine to the main ingredient.  (This is also helpful for pairing wines with cuisines that use a lot of sauces, like Italian cuisine.) 

Famille Bougrier Château du Jaunay Muscadet Sèvre et Maine (2010)
Paired with Ceviche

The first course was ceviche.  To make this dish, the fish has to be "cooked" in citrus juice, usually lemon or lime juice.  Other ingredients -- such as jalapenos, avocados and cilantro -- also contribute to the dish and, thus, they have to be taken into account when it comes to finding the right wine.  After doing some research, we narrowed the possible categories to Albariño, Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc.

However, Clare and I went with a completely different wine.  We chose the Château du Jaunay Muscadet Sèvre et Maine.  The name has two components.  First, Muscadet is a white grape varietal, although its actual name is the Melon de Bourgogne.  Second, the phrase "Sèvre et Maine" refers to the two rivers that intersect in the region where the grape grows ... the western part of the Loire Valley near the city of Nantes in the Pays de la Loire region.

The Muscadet Sèvre et Maine is located near the Bay of Biscay and the Atlantic Ocean, both of which have a profound impact upon the wine.  The region has the coldest, wettest growing season of any region in France.  These conditions are hardly the best for cultivating vines.  As a result, winemakers would keep part of their wine "sur lies," or on the lees.  ("Lees" are dead yeast cells).  This wine would remain sur lies until the following March.  This resulted in a creamier mouthfeel and a more complex flavor.

This particular Muscadet Sèvre et Maine, is produced by La Famille Bougrier, a well established winemaker and vineyard.  The Château du Jaunay is a dry white wine that is smooth, light and crisp body, as well as a fair amount of acidity.  The principal flavor component of this wine is lime, which is a good trait for pairing this Muscadet with seafood.  For this reason, we thought that the lime flavors of the wine would complement the lime and lemon juice used to make the ceviche.  

Luc Pirlet Reserve Syrah Mourvedre (2010)
Paired with Tamale Pie

The second course, tamale pie, presented a completely different pairing challenge.  The recipe for tamale pie had three aspects that had to be taken into account.  First, it called for ingredients such as roasted poblano peppers and onions, as well as pinto beans and goat cheese.  Second, the recipe called for spices like cumin seeds and chile powder.  Third, the recipe called for a tomato sauce.  At the outset, these considerations called for a red wine.  The only question is which one.  We initially identified three wines: Zinfandel, Primitivo and Grenache.

The last one, Grenache, got us to thinking.  The idea was to find a fruit forward, fairly earthy wine that would reflect the earthy nature of the tamale pie.  However, we did not want a wine that would be too tannic or overpowering.  French wines tend to have a subtler, fruit-forward character without the tannins that come with some other wines.  So we decided to focus on French wines, especially blends, such as a blend of Grenache and Syrah, or a blend of Syrah with Mourvèdre.

We found a Syrah/Mourvèdre blend that is a reserve wine from Luc Pirlet.  The wine comes from the Pays D'Oc, which is a basically a name for the Languedoc. The exact blend of the Luc Pirlet Reserve is 60% Syrah and 40% Mourvèdre. Each grape is reflected in this wine. The Syrah provides the fruit flavors, which are reminiscent of strawberries.  While strawberries would not normally be the best element to pair with a tamale pie, the Mourvèdre brings those fruit down to earth, figuratively and literally.  The Mourvèdre provides an earthy aroma to the wine, as well as a good amount of minerality and spiciness to this wine.  Although the fruit definitely has its place, it still takes a back seat to the stone and earthiness of the wine.  This combination of the two grapes in this wine seemed like a good pairing for a very earthy dish such as tamale pie.

Vecordia Roble Ribera del Duero (2009)
Paired with "Taco Extravaganza"

This third course presented a whole different challenge.  Guests were given the ability to create their own tacos, choosing from chipotle shrimp, spicy skirt steak and carnitas.  In addition, there would be corn salsa, and a smoky two chille salsa that incorporated chipotles and guajillo chiles.  So there were a range of ingredients and flavors.  However, the one common feature that seemed to cover all of the aspects to the "Taco Extravaganza" is the smokiness contributed by the ancho, chile and guajillo peppers. 

For this dish, we narrowed the wine styles to a Tempranillo, Malbec or Ribero del Duero.  We ultimately chose a Ribero del Duero, the Vecordia Roble (2009).  A Ribera del Duero is a wine produced with the Tinta Fino grape, a local varietal grown in a very specific part of Castille y Leon that has been declared a denominación de origen. The winegrowing region is on a plateau, surrounded by mountain ranges, divided by the Duero River.  The climate is subject to extremes, very hot summers and very cold winners.  

Despite the extremes of the climate, Ribera del Duero wines find themselves in the middle.  For example, the Vecordia Roble strikes a balance between spice and fruit.  The medium-bodied wine conveys spice and pepper up front, but, as the wine opens, the fruit flavors become more prominent and even include a little vanilla in the finish.  For the "Taco Extravaganza," we thought that the spice and pepper in this wine would provide a good complement to the smokey flavors provided by the ancho and chipotle peppers used both in making the proteins and the salsas.

Gruet Blanc de Noirs
Paired with Watermelon and Pineapple Fruit Ice

The final course was a choice between watermelon fruit ice and pineapple fruit ice.  This dish basically combines fruit, simple syrup, and water.  The fruit ice calls for a light wine, as opposed to a heavy dessert wine.  We thought that the best pairing would be a sparkling wine.  Prosecco and Cava immediately came to mind, as did Champagne.  However, because this was a Mexican dinner, I wanted to get a wine that was made from grapes and/or by winemakers near Mexico.

Gruet is a French winemaker that planted vines and began to produce wines in the hills and mountains of New Mexico. Gruet focused the plantings on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes.  The vineyards are at some of the highest elevations for growing grapes in the United States.  The elevations provide for hot days, but cool nights, which help slow the maturation process.  Gruet uses the Method Champenoise to produce its New Mexican sparkling wines.

We had two such wines to choose from ... a standard sparkling wine or a Blanc de Noirs.  We chose the latter, the Blanc de Noirs.  This is a little of a stretch as a pairing, but I really wanted to try a Blanc de Noirs. The term, "Blanc de Noirs," is a reference to the fact that this sparkling wine is made from the black Pinot Noir grape. 

The Gruet Blanc de Noirs is aged for at least two years.  The aging process helps to produce a wine that, when poured, creates a creamy mousse of bubbles in a light pink to golden wine.  The aromas have been described in a variety of ways, but generally include apple components.  The apple carries over to the flavor of the wine, which also has a lemon component in the finish.

In the end, we chose four wines that have different styles, different grapes and interesting backgrounds.  Each one paired very well with the dishes prepared by our friends.  Maybe we are getting the hang of this wine pairing thing.  Until next time ...


Saturday, June 23, 2012

Serpent Ridge Basilisk (2009)

According to legend, the basilisk was said to be the king of serpents, with the ability to kill a person with just one glance. The first mention of the basilisk was in Greek legend.  The Roman naturalist, Pliny the Elder, wrote in his Naturalis Historica  that the Basilisk of Cyrene as a small snake, "not more than twelve fingers in length," with both a lethal venom and lethal gaze.  This king of serpents would emerge from time to time over the centuries.  The sightings were confined mostly to literature, from Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales or Leonardo da Vinci's Bestiary.  Yet, the basilisk's reputation continued to be well-known, so much so that the word "basilisk" has been used to describe someone who was particularly a horrible person, such as Charles Dickens used the word to describe Mrs. Varden in Barnaby Rudge ... "[b]ut to be quiet with such a basilisk before him was impossible."

Despite its long, negative history, there are reports of a much more approachable, friendly basilisk in the hills of Carroll County.  The only relation of this basilisk to the "king of serpents" are the snakes that appear on the label of the red wine blend that the winemakers at Serpent Ridge Vineyards call the "Basilisk."  And, rather than being feared for its lethal gaze or venom, this Basilisk has won a gold medal in the Maryland Governor's Cup Competition.

This wine is an interesting blend of 65% Cabernet Sauvignon and 35% Cabernet Franc.  Each grape varietal contributes to this wine.  The wine pours a good maroon color, although from certain angles, the light is able to create more reddish hues.  The aroma is clearly reminiscent of a Cabernet Sauvignon, with aromas of black cherry, currant, vanilla and pepper.  As for the Cabernet Franc, its influence on the taste belies the fact that it is the junior grape in this blend.  There are intense berry flavors, that gravitate to lighter, fresher fruits than one would ordinarily associate with the Cabernet Franc rather than the Cabernet Sauvignon.  The latter grape has its presence, with the hint of oak or mocha, but those flavors are clearly relegated to the back of the the wine. 

The winemaker suggests that this wine is best paired with steak, lamb, barbecue and chocolate brownies.  I think that it can be paired well with lamb and with some barbecue, but the wine has some versatility because of the mark left by the Cabernet Franc.  This dish could work with pork or chicken dishes that feature a light tomato or mushroom sauce.  Indeed, this wine could even work for some seafood. 

Unfortunately, the Basilisk is not found in stores, but it can be purchased at the vineyard for $26.00 per bottle. 


For more about the legendary basilisk, check out Wikipedia.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Grilled Confetti Rockfish

A few weeks back, I bought a cookbook from Black Ankle Vineyards.  The book is called Dishing Up Maryland, 150 recipes from the Alleghenies to the Chesapeake Bay.  It is a fascinating mix of recipes and stories.  The recipes are drawn from every corner of the Free State and incorporate a lot of local ingredients, such as rockfish from the Chesapeake Bay.  As for the stories, they provide an interesting insight into the small, local producers who have devoted their lives to their crafts.   

While paging through the book, one recipe caught my eye.  It is a recipe from the Brome Howard Inn for Confetti Rockfish.  The Inn at Brome Howard is a mid-nineteeth century plantation house built by Dr. Brome for his wife.   The plantation grew tobacco and wheat.  The house was passed through generations of Bromes and Howards, until it was bought by the State of Maryland in the 1970s.  The house was restored and converted into a bed and breakfast.

The "breakfast" part was apparently provided by the "Brome Howard Inn." However, it appears that the "Brome Howard Inn" is no longer connected with the "Inn at Brome Howard.  This is unfortunate, because the Confetti Rockfish recipe is very good.  Both Clare and I loved this dish. 

I will definitely make this recipe again, as well as other recipes from Dishing Up Maryland.  I would add one note about the instructions for this recipe ... the cooking times may need some adjustment.  As with any protein, the cooking times depend upon the thickness of the meat.  The recipe calls for three minutes a side; however, when I made this dish, I think that my rockfish fillet was a little thicker than the average, because three minutes per side were not enough.  It took about four to five minutes per side.  

Recipe from Dishing Up Maryland at page 66
Serves 4
1 1/2 to 2 pounds of rockfish fillets, skin-on
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup of carrot, finely diced
1/4 red bell pepper, finely diced
1/4 cup of onion, finely diced
1/2 cup tomato, finely diced
1/4 cup cucumber, finely diced
2 tablespoons of cilantro, finely diced
1 tablespoon of lime juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 cups of cooked couscous
Lemon or lime slices

1. Prepare the fish.  Prepare the grill.  Clean the rockfish by trimming away any belly fat and fins.  Score the skin two or three times in opposite directions to just below the surface of the skin using a sharp knife and being careful not to cut deeply (this prevents curling of the fillet during cooking).  If necessary, cut the fillets into more manageable sizes.  

2.  Make the confetti salsa.  Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a medium skillet.  Add the carrot, red pepper and onion, and saute over medium-high heat for 2 minutes, until the vegetables begin to soften.  Remove from the heat and stir in the tomato , cucumber, cilantro and lime juice.

3.  Cook the rockfish.  Brush the rockfish fillets on both sides with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil.  Sprinkle the fish with the salt and pepper and place the pieces skin side up on the grill for 3 minutes on each side, being careful not to overcook.

4.  Plate the dish.  Mound the couscous evenly on four plates, or on one large platter if serving family style.  Lay the fish over the couscous.  Spoon the salsa over the fish.  Garnish with lemon or lime slices.


To complete this Maryland inspired dish, I decided to pair the Confetti Rockfish with a Maryland wine.  I decided to go lighter and fruitier with a Pinot Grigio from Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyards.  Other white wines, such as such as a Viognier or an Albariño.  Here are a couple of suggestions:

Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyards -- Pinot Grigio (2011)
100% Pinot Grigio
Comus, Maryland, USA
Flavors of green apple, citrus and a finish of hazelnut

Black Ankle Vineyard -- Viognier (2009)
Mt. Airy, Maryland, USA
Flavors of pear, vanilla and mild oak flavors.


Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Hughes Beaulieu Picpoul de Pinet (2010)

One of the most fascinating things about wine is the opportunity to discover new grape varietals.  Moving beyond the Cabernet Sauvignons, Merlots, Chardonnays and Pinot Grigios, treading into new, unchartered territories.  Since undertaking this adventure, I have learned about grapes such as Cesanese and Falanghina.  Both of those grapes are little known Italian varietals.  My latest adventure involved a lesser known French grape ... Picpoul de Pinet.

The name "Picpoul" or "Piquepoul" is French for "lip stinger," an apparent reference to the high acidity of the grape must.  The "lip stinger" is a white grape varietal grown principally in the French region of Languedoc.  The grape has its own AOC or appellation d'origine contrôlée that encompasses about three thousand acres.  The ancient Roman Via Domitienne cuts through the AOC, dividing it into two sections, North and South.  Each region has its own individual climate, with the North being hotter and more humid, while the South is more temperate due to the ocean breezes. 

The particular Picpoul de Pinet for the review is the Hughes Beaulieu Picpoul de Pinet (2010).  This wine poured a nice golden color.  The wine has a fresh aroma of grapefruit, which also figures as the most prominent flavor.  The grapefruit is rounded out with other citrus flavors, such as lemon and lime.  The taste of the wine is finished with a little mineral or flint.  All of these flavors are delivered though a wine with a light, crisp body.  

Given the location of its AOC, which is close to the Mediterranean coast, it should be no surprise that the Picpoul de Pinot is best paired with dishes such as shellfish and grilled fish.  And, given its French provenance, the wine obviously pairs well with artisnal cheeses.  I would pair this wine with both soft cheeses and hard cheeses.  The crisp body could contrast well with the creaminess of soft cheeses, while the citrus flavors could complement harder cheeses.  

This wine is available at grocery stores.  If I recall correctly, a bottle of the Hughes Beaulieu Picpoul de Pinet sells for about $9.99 a bottle.


Saturday, June 16, 2012

5 Rabbits 5 Vultures

5 Rabbit Brewery boasts of being the first Latin American micro-brewery in the United States.  According to their website, they approach the brewing of beer with a "Latin style."  So, that got me to thinking, what is the history of brewing beer in Latin America.  

The one Latin American country with the most well known history of brewing beer is Mexico.  Every store that sells beer has Mexican beers on its shelves.  Corona, Modelo, Dos Equis and, if it is a little more expansive, may some Bohemia or Carta Blanca.  I had always thought that the brewing of beer was spurred by German immigrants.  However, I was fascinated to learn that the basic process brewing beer -- brewing a grain based beverage -- predated not only the German immigrants, but the Spanish Conquistadors.  

Both the Maya and the Aztecs brewed grain based beverages.  In These indigenous peoples used what was most readily available to them ... corn.   In what the northern part of modern day Mexico, the indigenous peoples brewed a beverage known as tesgüino or izquiate.  It was a light amber-colored beverage that had to be whisked before drinking.  Some people still make tesgüino today in Sonora and Chihuahua.  By contrast, in modern day central and southern Mexico, the people brewed another beer-type beverage, pozol, is brewed with corn and cocoa beans in Oaxaca, Chiapas and Tabasco. Other ingredients, such as honey and chile peppers can be used in the making of pozol.  

Although they are not brewing pozol, 5 Rabbits draws its inspiration from Oaxaca for a beer, aptly called 5 Vulture.  The brewer describes the beer as a "Oaxacan-Style Dark Ale."  The one thing that 5 Vultures shares with Oaxacan pozol is the use of chiles.  5 Rabbit Brewery uses roasted ancho chiles, along with some brown sugar, to brew this the 5 Vulture.

The brewer describes the beer as being an "amber colored with caramel aromas and toasted sugar notices ad a long, elegant spicy finish."  The beer is reddish brown in color, a little darker than amber.  Its aromatic elements do include a little caramel, along with other flavors one would expect from a malt-driven beer.  The use of the roasted ancho chiles is supposed to add depth and complexity to the beers, without the heat or strong chile flavors.  The ancho is clearly present in the taste of the beer and it lingers long after each sip.  In this regard, ancho chiles are prefect for a beer because they do not have a lot of piquancy (they have between 1,000 and 1,500 Scoville Heat Units, which is relatively little when one considers that an average jalapeno can have up to 5,000 SHUs).  The ancho chile flavors are carried on a light pilsner-style body, which was a little lighter than what I expected for a dark ale, and those flavors were tamed a little by the sweetness from the brown sugar.   .

Finally, as I have noted for other Oaxacan style mole beers, such as New Holland's El Mole Ocho and New Belgium's Ole Mole, these beers can be paired with chicken dishes, red meat and dark chocolate.  The 5 Vultures would also pair very well with any kind of chile.  The heat and smoke flavors of the roasted ancho chiles would complement the flavors of any vegetarian or meat chili.

5 Rabbit is a brewery based in Chicago, Illinois and, if you are in the Chicagoland area, you can probably find their beers.  I have not seen any of their beers in the stores around where I live. Hopefully that will change in the future. 


For more on the history of brewing in Mexico, check out MexInsider and Wikipedia.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Pollo Pimentón a la Parilla

The sun was shining, there was a slight breeze, and all of my thoughts turned to grilling.  The only question is what would hit the grates at 400 degrees Fahrenheit.  Followers of this blog would immediately assume that it was some cut of beef ... ribeye, cowboy steak, strip steak, or sirloin.  I will admit that was my first thought.  But, I then thought I should do something different.  

I thought back to the time that I made Pollo a las Brasas con Cebollitas.  I really loved that dish ... nicely grilled chicken done in a Mexican roadstand style.  Given that my skills at butterflying (or spatchcocking) chicken have vastly improved since I made that dish, it only seemed natural to buy a whole chicken and grill it.  

I thought long and hard about making Pollo a las Brasas; however, I have not been cooking a lot lately and, as a result, I have not been posting much.  I decided to change that, by trying to develop an "Old World" version.  I thought about what I could do to make a Spanish version of a roadside, grilled chicken.  When one thinks of Spanish spices, pimentón is usually at the forefront.  Spanish paprika would make a great start to a rub.  I added some other base rub ingredients, such as onion powder, garlic powder, and salt.  I also added a little cumin to add a little depth to the rub.  Overall, the rub was amazing.  (I don't say that a lot about my cooking.) 

Finally, I decided to keep the cebollitas, although, in Spain, it is calcots or grilled green onions.   I did not make the romeso sauce.  After all, I need something for a future post....

 A Chef Bolek Original
Serves 2-4

1 four pound chicken, butterflied or spatchcocked
2 tablespoons of paprika
1/8 teaspoon of cumin
1/4 teaspoon of crushed red pepper
1 teaspoon of onion powder
1/4 teaspoon of kosher salt
2 teaspoons of garlic powder
1 teaspoon of dried thyme
1/2 cup of olive oil
2 bunches of scallions
Salt, to taste
Ground pepper, to taste

1. Make the rub and prepare the chicken and onions.  Combine the paprika, cumin, crushed red pepper, onion powder, garlic powder, salt and dried thyme.  Mix the spices.  Add half of the oil, stirring to turn the spices into a thin paste.  Apply the rub to all sides of the chicken.  Add salt and black pepper to the remaining oil.  Coat the onions with the oil.

2.  Grill the chicken.  Heat the grill to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Add the chicken, skin side up.  Grill for about twenty minutes.  Flip the chicken and grill for fifteen minutes.  Return the chicken to skin side up, and continue to grill for about five minutes more.  

3.  Grill the onions.  When you flip the chicken for the last time.  Add the onions and grill for only a few minutes, flipping them once. 

4.  Plate the dish.  Quarter the chicken.  Put one quarter or one half of the chicken on each plate.  Garnish with the onions.  


Given the Spanish inspiration behind this recipe, my first thought turns to a bottle of Cervezas Alhambra or Estrella Damm.  If you do not stock Spanish beer in your refrigerator, then look for a good Pilsner beer.  A dark ale could also work well with this recipe, provided that it does not have a high ABV and it is not aged in oak barrels.  A couple of suggestions include the following:

Great Lakes Brewing Company -- The Wright Pils
Cleveland, Ohio, USA
Flavors of hops and malt

New Belgium Brewing Company -- Fat Tire Amber Ale
Amber Ale
Fort Collins, Colorado, USA
Flavors of bread and biscuits


Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Monk's Brew

They are often called "gypsy brewers," innovative craft brewers who, because they lack a brick-and-mortar brewery, rely upon the kindness and cooperation of others.  Freed from the worries of running an established brewery, these itinerant brewers can spend more time thinking about different and innovative ways to brew beer. 

Whenever there is a discussion of "gypsy brewers," it inevitable includes a reference to Mikkeller.  "Based" in Copenhagan, Denmark, Mikkel Borg Bjergsø and his team have worked with a variety of brewers to produce beers with names like "Beer Geek Breakfast," "Black Hole," and the "Hop Bomb Challenge."  Another one of Mikkeller's beers is the "Monk's Brew."

Mikkeller brewed the Monk's Brew at De Proef Brouwerij in Lochristi-Hijfte, Belgium.  The Monk's Brew is a Belgian Quadrupel, inspired by Belgium's independent Trappist breweries such those operated by the Rochefort and Westvleteren monasteries.  (Both of those monasteries produce some great beers.)  The "Brew" is a concoction of water, malt (both pilsner and pale), candy syrup, cassonade sugar, hops (Northern Brewer, hallertauer and Styrian Goldings), and ale yeast.

The result is a dark Belgian Ale.  The Monk’s Brew pours a deep brown color with a surprising garnet edge. The dense, light tan foam faded slowly to a thin ring that covered the surface of the beer.  The aroma of the beer clearly reveals its Belgian inspiration, with elements of candy sugar, dark fruits (think plums or raisins), and roasted malts.  The alcohol is clearly present in the aroma, which is expected given the 10% ABV.

As for the taste, the Monk's Brew drew from traditional elements of Belgian quadruples, with flavors of dark cherries and other such fruits (once again, raisins) on a background of caramel and chocolate.  The body of this beer is very malty and, thanks to the sugar, quite sweet.

When it comes to pairing a quadrupel like the Monk's Brew with food, that can present a challenge.  Like barleywines and other high powered beers, Quadrupels are sometimes best enjoyed by themselves. However, these beers can also be paired with meat dishes, including game, and a range of cheeses, including Asiago, Brie and blue cheeses. 

The Monk's Brew is available at craft beer stores with a good international selection.  It sells for about $13.99 a bottle.


Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Orecchiette with Mushrooms and Shrimp

Many of the Chef Bolek original dishes are conceived and executed on a whim, with thought given to complementing and contrasting flavors and cooking techniques.  Sometimes, those thoughts change while I am actually making the dish. 

This recipe is a good example of this process.  Initially, I decided to make a dish that incorporated three main ingredients: (1) pasta; (2) shrimp and (3) mushrooms.  The latter two ingredients do not necessarily go together, although the first and third ingredients definitely go well together.  So I gave a lot of thought about how to tie them all together.  I decided to use flavors that work well with all three ingredients, such as shallots, garlic and white wine.  I also added a few herbs and seasonings to complete the dish. 

During the prep work, however, I decided that I should use the stems from the shiitake mushrooms and the shells of the shrimp to make an impromptu stock.  I added a couple of other ingredients, such as bay leaves, peppercorn and salt to help develop the flavors of the stock.  I had intended to use the stock as the beginning of the sauce that would go over the pasta.  As the cooking process began, I decided to use only some of the stock.

In the end, this recipe is still only a rough one.  It needs work, but the experimentation with the flavors worked.  I hesitate to add this to the blog; however, the improvement of this dish is something that I want to add to my "to do" list. As I make changes or improvements to this recipe, I'll update this post.

A Chef Bolek Original
Serve 2-3

2 cup of orechiette
2 garlic cloves, finely diced
2 shallots, finely diced
1/3 pound of shiitake mushrooms, sliced, stems reserved
1/3 pound of cremini mushrooms, sliced
2 bay leaves 
1/4 teaspoon of pink or black peppercorns
1/2 tablespoon of flat leaf parsley
12 shrimp, de-shelled and de-veined, reserve shells
1/8 teaspoon of sea salt
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/4 teaspoon of dried thyme
12 teaspoons of dry white wine
1 cup of Pecorino Romano cheese, grated finely

1.  Make a stock.  Add the shrimp shells, shiitake mushrooms, parsley, sea salt, peppercorns to a small pot and cover with water.  Heat on high and boil for at least 30 minutes and no more than sixty minutes.

2.  Heat the water for the pasta.  Bring a pot of water to a boil.

3.  Saute the mushrooms.  Add the mushrooms to a pan over high heat.  Stir occasionally while the mushrooms release their moisture, for about four to five minutes.  Add a tablespoon of stock, stirring the mushrooms, until it is absorbed by the mushrooms.  Repeat this several times, adding a tablespoon of stock while stirring the mushrooms.  Then add the shallots and garlic.  Saute until the shallots are soft and translucent.  Add six teaspoons of white wine and continue to stir the mushroom, shallot and garlic mixture.  Remove and set aside the mushroom mixture.

4.  Cook the pasta. Once the pot of water is boiling, cook the pasta according to the directions on the package.  It should take between seven to ten minutes to cook. 

5.  Cook the shrimp.  As the pasta is cooking, heat 2 tablespoons of butter and 2 tablespoons of oil over high heat.  Add the shrimp and cook for one minute.  Flip the shrimp and add the mushroom mixture, as well as the remaining six teaspoons of wine.  Continue to cook for a couple of minutes.   

6.  Finish the dish.  Once the pasta is cooked, drain the pasta and add it to the saute pan with the shrimp and mushrooms.  Stir well to coat the pasta, and add two large pinches of Pecorino Romano.  Season with ground black pepper and salt.  Serve with the remaining Pecorino Romano. 


This recipe is best paired with white wine.  I chose a white wine from the Languedoc region of France, which worked fairly well.  The clean taste of the wine, which included some grapefruit, lemon and mineral, actually paired well with the mushrooms and the shrimp.

Unfortunately, I could not think of a beer that would go well with this dish, at least as the recipe is currently written.


Thursday, June 7, 2012

The Decadent

I have mentioned several times that I never buy beer or wine based upon the label on the bottle.  However, if I did, then I would be buying a lot of beer from Ska Brewing Company.  The labels for Ska Brewing's offerings -- with the ska-music based themes and funky skeletons -- catch my eyes every time I see them on a store's shelves.  Fortunately, I can also justify the purchase of those beers on the fact that Ska Brewing makes some very good beers. 

Ska Brewing Company is located in Durango, Colorado.  As its website recounts, two friends -- Dave and Bill -- decided, after drinking a lot of bear and listening to ska music, that they would start brewing good beer.  They also undertook the battle against the big, bad forces that were "conspiring to conglomerize and corporatize beer."  The result are year-around brews with names like Ten Pin Porter and the Buster Nut Brown Ale.  However, Ska Brewing's "Robust Reincarnations" are some of the more noteworthy beers.

One of the "Robust Reincarnations" is the Decadent, an Imperial India Pale Ale.  Ska Brewing first made this beer to celebrate their tenth anniversary in business, and, they continue to make it every year. 

According to the brewers: "citrus aroma prevail.  Mounds of fresh hops and caramel malts explode upon the palate."  The beer pours a copper color, and it has a very nice citrus aroma.  I also sensed a little pine in that aroma as well.  As for the taste, the beer hit the mark of an Imperial India Pale Ale, with bold citrus flavors -- most notably, grapefruit -- that is paired with other traditional hop flavors like pine and even a little resin.  Those Imperial IPA flavors are tamed by a caramel-like sweetness in a beer that is smooth and silky in character.

Ska Brewing Company suggests pairing with spicy Indian, Thai and Mexican foods.  The brewer suggests that the hops attach to cumin, lime juice and cilantro, and I think I can see that.

The Decadent Imperial Pale Ale is available at beer stores, but not around where I live.  This bottle was bought at a Binny's outside of Chicago.


Monday, June 4, 2012

Around the World in 80 Dishes: Bhutan

After making a four course Haitian meal, my personal culinary challenge takes me across the globe to the Kingdom of Bhutan or, as the locals call it, "Druk Yul," the Land of the Thundering Dragon.  The location of Bhutan has left it relatively isolated from the rest of the world.  As I accepted this challenge, I had only heard of the Kingdom.  I did not know anything about the cuisine or culture of the Bhutanese. 

The Bhutanese identity, as well as the country itself, first emerged in the early 17th century after Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, a Tibetan Buddhist lama,  fled to the region to escape religious persecution.  The Shabdrung, which is a title used to address Buddhist lamas, unified warring factions, which led to the founding of Bhutan.  Over the centuries, the Bhutanese cultivated their identity, which is predominantly Tibetan Mahayana Buddhist in nature  (As I write this, I feel compelled to note that, during the 1980s and 1990s, the Buddhist government passed laws to preserve that Tibetan Buddhist identity, which resulted in discrimination and forced eviction of thousands of Bhutanese who are of Nepalese decent and who practice Hinduism.)

The hallmark of Bhutanese cuisine is simplicity.  Rice, buckwheat and maize are staples foods, but the Bhutanese have access to meats such as pork, beef, yak, chicken and mutton.  The Bhutanese typically prepare dishes by cooking meats and vegetables in water or oil, which would suggest a certain amount of blandness.  Such a suggestion is deceptive, because the Bhutanese love chiles, called "ema," and they add peppers to many of their dishes.  The use of chiles is clearly something that I can work with.


For a first dish, I decided to make Ema Datshi, which is commonly referred to as the "national dish" of Bhutan.  It is a mixture of cheese and chiles, that is served over cracked red rice.  I could not find cracked red rice; however, the Bhutanese also use white rice.  Emadatshi is very spicy, primarily because of the chiles.  As with cracked red rice, I could not track down the specific chiles used by the Bhutanese in their cooking.  Most recipes provide substitutions, such as a mixture of Anaheim and Serrano chiles.  You could probably use other chiles, such as Hatch chiles or Sanaam chiles.

Serves 2 to 4

2 Anaheim peppers
1 Serrano chile
1/4 cup farmer’s cheese
2 cups Monterrey jack, grated
water as needed
1 tablespoon of vegetable oil

1.  Cook the peppers.  Slice the peppers into thin strips.  You can remove the seeds and membranes from the peppers if you want to reduce the heat from the peppers.  Heat the vegetable oil in a covered pan on medium heat.  Add the peppers and saute for several minutes until the peppers are soft.  

2.  Add the cheese.  Take the pan off of the heat.  Add the monterey jack and stir as the cheese melts.  Add a little water (about 1/4 to 1/3 of a cup), stirring until the mixture becomes creamy.   Season with salt and pepper. 

3.  Finish the dish.  Crumble the farmer's cheese and add to the sauce.  Stir to incorporate the farmer's cheese into the sauce.

4.  Plate the dish.  Place some precooked rice in a dish or bowl.  Spoon the cheese and chiles over the rice.


Although Emadatshi may be the national dish of Bhutan, I did not think that it was enough of a dish for my personal culinary challenge.  The challenge is to make a main course, and, more specifically, I wanted to make a dish that incorporated some kind of protein, whether it was beef, pork, chicken or fish.  After a lot of research, I came across dishes referred to as "tshoem" in Dzongkha, the native language of the Bhutanese.  The word "tshoem" roughly translates to "curry."  Although a Tshoem may mean a curry in Bhutan, the dish differs significantly from the types of curries that may grace the table of a family in India or Thailand.  Bhutanese Tshoem use only a handful of ingredients, and, they do not involve a lot of spices.  Instead, the Bhutanese typically prepare a tshoem with a protein (such as beef, chicken or pork), garlic, ginger and chiles.

There was one particular Tshoem that caught my attention ... Kangchu Maroo or "Pig Trotter Curry."  Although there is not a lot of information about this dish, it is described as one of the classic curries or tshoem in Bhutan.  The recipes for Kangchu Maroo seem to fit the mold of a Bhutanese dish ... the use of a few ingredients and a lot of chiles. 

Adapted from
Serves 4

2 pounds of pig's feet
1 bunch of spring onions
2 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
2 teaspoons salt
6 chilies, finely chopped

1.  Boil the pig's feet.  Wash, chop, and place the pig's feet in a pan.  Cover with water and boil for about one hour and forty minutes.

2.  Cook the pig's feet.  Remove the meat from the bones.  Return the meat to the pan and add 1 cup of the cooking liquid and all of the other ingredients.  Bring to a boil and cook for fifteen minutes.

3.  Plate the dish.  Spoon some rice in the middle of the dish.  Spoon the tshoem over the rice.

*     *     *

In the end, I would consider this challenge to be a success.  I think that I was far more successful making the Kangchu Maroo than I was making the Emadatshi.   I think that the difference was due to the fact that I spent more time thinking through the process of making the main course.  I added the Emadatshi because I felt it was a good opportunity to make the national dish of Bhutan.

Both the Kangchu Maroo and the Emadatshi share one thing in common ... both dishes are fairly spicy.  The mix of Anaheim peppers and Serrano chiles (especially the latter) provided a lot of heat in the dish.  Given the mountainous and cold terrain in which the Bhutanese find themselves, I guess any kind of heat helps, especially in the winter time.

Well, I now turn to the next challenge.  Until that time ...


For more about Bhutan and its cuisine, check out the KingdomofBhutan.comWikipedia and India Forums.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Lobster and Shrimp Salad with an Albariño Citrus Dressing

This recipe is an experiment; and, I have debated whether or not to post it.  The objective was to make a cold seafood salad.  I wanted to make a light dish, with lettuce, seafood and a fresh dressing. I put a lot of thought into this recipe, without referring to any recipes.  This dish would rise and fall based upon what I have learned from cooking over the past year or two.

First, there was the question of the seafood.  I wanted to use cold seafood, but the seafood has to complement each other.  The best selection involved seafood that has a relatively similar flavor and texture.  The easiest choices were shrimp and lobster.  Both can be and often are served cold.

Second, there was the question of the dressing.  My thoughts revolved around two components -- citrus juice  and wine.  I  quickly came to the conclusion to use  both lemons and limes.  However, I was a little stumped about which wine to use.  I ultimately chose a wine from a region that is closely related to seafood ... an Albariño.  This wine hails from the Rias Biaxas region, which is located in Galicia, Spain.  Galicia is well known for its seafood, so this pairing seemed to be right on target. 

A Chef Bolek Original
Serves 2-3

2 four-ounce lobster tails
1/2 pound of 16/20 count shrimp, shells removed and deveined
2 lemons
3 limes
1 tablespoon of fresh basil, chiffonade
Salt, to taste
1/4 cup of red onions, sliced thinly
1/2 cup of Albariño wine
Pepper to taste
8 ounces of Heirloom lettuce leaves or regular lettuce leaves

1.  Steam the lobster and shrimp.  Fill a steam pot with water until there is about three inches of water in the pot.  Add the juice of one lemon and one lime.  Heat the pot on high until the water is boiling and steam is being emitted from the pot.   Add the shrimp and lobster and steam both.  The shrimp should be cooked after about two minutes.  Remove the shrimp.  Continue steaming the lobster tails for about two or three minutes longer.

2.  Make the dressing.  Juice the lemon and two limes. Add the wine and stir well. Add the basil, salt and pepper.  Once the lobster and shrimp have cooled down, add them to the the dressing.  

3.  Plate the dish.  Plate the lettuce and red onions.  Add the shrimp and lobster, spooning a little of the dressing over both the seafood and the lettuce.

Overall, I think this experiment was a success.  The most notable aspect of this dish is how the lobster and shrimp absorbed the flavors of the Albariño wine.  Over all, I liked this dish a lot.

One important caveat: this dish is for adults only and it should not be served to children.  The alcohol in the wine is not cooked out, so the dish should not be served to anyone under the age of 21.  If you want to serve this at a dinner where there will be underage guests, it would be best to cook the alcohol out of the wine by first bringing the wine to a gentle boil in a saucepan and then reducing it to a simmer for about five minutes at most.  You can then let the wine cool down before adding the citrus.  I did not do that because heat can affect the taste of the wine and I wanted to keep that flavor as much as possible. 


Obviously, the use of Albariño wine makes that wine the perfect pairing for this recipe.  It is also a good choice because you will have a lot of wine left in the bottle after making the recipe.  One such wine is the following:

Pazo Serantellos -- Albariño (2010)
100% Albariño 
Rias Biaxas DO, Galicia, Spain
Flavors of apples