Last Friday night I teamed up once again with sommelier Leslee Miller of Amuseewine.com and Chef Mike Shannon at Cooks of Crocus Hill for one of our quarterly beer and wine pairing dinners. The theme this time was BBQ. The four course meal included everything grilled from romaine lettuce to knife and fork Manchego burgers. While all of the beer and wine pairings were pretty darn good, a couple of my beer pairings really stood out to me.
Salads often have so many different things going on at once that it can be difficult to decide where to start. One of my salad-pairing rules of thumb is to pick an ingredient or flavor and just go with it. The pairing Friday night of Schell’s Pils with grilled romaine salad was a perfect example of how this works. This salad (the recipe is below) consisted of grilled romaine hearts, blue cheese vinaigrette, fresh basil and oregano, and crisped prosciutto. In a case like this do you go with the toastiness that grilling will bring to the lettuce, the lightly acidic blue cheese dressing, the fresh herbs, or the prosciutto?
I opted to pair to the basil and prosciutto. The spicy hops of a pilsner often remind me of licorice are totally at ease with fresh basil. And how could I miss with pilsner and prosciutto? If the blue cheese wasn’t too funky the pilsner hops would complement it as well.
My first bite of salad was only lettuce. I really thought I had made a mistake with this pairing. The bitter beer accentuated the bitterness in the romaine creating a not altogether pleasant taste. The next bite though got to the targets of my pairing. The fresh basil and prosciutto sang with the beer and pulled the whole pairing together. The salty meat took away the unpleasant bitterness and allowed the basil and hops to come forward. The mild blue cheese dressing set the whole pairing off.
Another basic pairing rule of thumb is to keep the drink just a little bit sweeter than the desert. But while rules can be helpful, they are not iron-clad. Sometime rules should be broken. The desert course on Friday night was grilled peaches topped off with a Grand Marnier whipped cream. A light brown-sugar cinnamon glaze added a bit of additional sweetness. I paired this with Lindemans Pêche, a sweetened peach lambic. This beer is not as sweet as the desert, but sweet enough to stand up to it. It has the added bonus though of higher-than-normal levels of acidity. It matched the acidity in the peach one to one. I find that Pêche has more residual barnyard lambic funk than the other Lindemans flavors. This added an earthy base that brought some additional depth to the pairing.
Recipes by Chef Mike Shannon, Photos by Nicholas Kolnik
Grilled Romaine with Blue Cheese Vinaigrette
3 Tablespoons Red Wine Vinegar
1 Tablespoon shallot, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 ½ teaspoon Dijon
6 Tablespoons Olive oil
1 Tablespoon fresh basil, minced
1 Tablespoon fresh oregano, minced
3-4 oz. of crumbled blue cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
4 romaine hearts, halved
4 slices of prosciutto, crisped in oven
In a medium bowl, combine vinegar, shallots, garlic and Dijon. Slowly whisk in the oil until combined. Add herbs, cheese and season to taste.
Brush romaine halves with oil, season with salt and grill for 1 minute on each side. Serve with dressing and crispy prosciutto.
Grilled Peaches with Grand Marnier Cream
Makes 8 servings
8 tablespoons butter, melted
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Freshly grated nutmeg
4 unpeeled peaches, halved, pitted
¼ cup Grand Marnier
2 cups whipping cream
Prepare grill or grill pan over medium-high heat. Whisk first 4 ingredients in large bowl to blend. Add peach halves; toss to coat well. Place peaches, cut side down, on grill. Grill until slightly charred, about 1 minute. Using tongs, turn peaches over.
Using a stand mixer fitted with a whisk, whip cold cream to medium peaks. Spoon some into each halve and serve.