Entertaining for a cross-drinking crowd is actually easier than you think, especially when you incorporate libations into the cooking process.
“Cooking with alcohol really adds additional dimensions of flavor and layers of nuance,” says James Piccolo, sous chef at Tarry Lodge in Westport, Connecticut. “It can help your pairing options, too, by finding complementary or contrasting drinks to go with or against the dish’s flavors.”
Cookbook author Lucinda Hutson—whose latest release is ¡Viva Tequila!: Cocktails, Cooking and Other Agave Adventures (University of Texas Press, 2013)—says cooking with Tequila, for example, “gives added flavor to many dishes when infused with fresh herbs, chili peppers, or fruits.”
When attempting your own infusions and pairings, there is but one rule, says Karen Cook, former wine director for New York City’s Best Cellars and now general manager of the Redding Roadhouse in Redding, Connecticut: “Throw out the rule book and be creative.”
To help you on your way, here are three recipes that will satisfy any crowd, regardless of their potable preferences.
COOK WITH WINE
Steamed Mussels with Tomato and Smoked Haddock
Recipe courtesy Wirt Cook, executive chef and co-owner of Redding Roadhouse, Redding, Connecticut
“We make this dish at the restaurant in the summer and its one of those dishes that as soon as one makes its way into the dining room and the aroma hits the diners, everybody decides they want some,” says Cook. Although this version is made with haddock, any smoked fish will do.
1 tablespoon butter
3 garlic cloves, minced
3 leeks, washed and thinly sliced
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 tablespoon espelette pepper
1 cup dry white wine, like Muscadet
1 cup clam juice
3 tomatoes, seeded and chopped
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
5 pounds mussels, scrubbed and debearded
Zest of 1 lemon
1 pound smoked haddock
(can substitute any smoked fish)
5 scallions, sliced as thin as possible
In a large pot set over high heat, melt the butter. Just as the butter starts to turn brown, add the garlic and leeks, then salt and pepper, to taste, and cook for 3–4 minutes, stirring throughout. Add the espelette pepper and the white wine, and cook for 1 minute. Add the clam juice, tomato, parsley, mussels and lemon zest, and stir well to mix thoroughly. Reduce the heat to medium and let the pot sit, covered if possible, for 4–5 minutes or until the mussels begin to open. Break the smoked fish into the pot, then add the scallions. Stir and cook for another 1–2 minutes to allow the flavors to develop.
To serve, transfer the mixture to a large serving bowl, being sure to remove any mussels that did not open during the cooking process. Serve the mussels family-style or divide into individual bowls, including the flavorful broth. Serve with crusty or lightly grilled bread to soak up the broth. Serves 4–5.
Both Cook and his wife and business partner Karen agree that a Muscadet is best with this dish, like the one from Domaine de la Pépière. “The crisp acidity and citrus notes will be in perfect harmony with the similar flavors in the mussels. Using a slightly toasty sur lie style Muscadet will highlight the warm smoky notes in the fish,” says Karen.
For beer drinkers, Karen likes to play on the traditional mussels pairing—witbier—and opts for a modern twist on the style with a white IPA, specifically, Two Roads’s bottling. “This pairs well with the mussels because of its roots as a wheat beer. It’s brewed with citrus, giving it some classic notes of a Belgian Ale but it has backbone from the American hops to stand up to the smoky flavor of the mussel broth,” she says.
In the spirit realm, Karen opts for a classic: the French 75. The drink’s bright acidity will mirror and augment the similar flavors from the white wine and lemon zest used in the mussels. In her cocktail, “the thyme simple syrup highlights the herbal qualities in this particular gin and adds an earthiness that picks up on the smoked fish used in the broth.”
The French 75
Recipe courtesy Karen Cook, wine director and general manager at Redding Roadhouse, Westport, CT
1 ounce Comb 9 Gin
½ ounce thyme-infused simple syrup (recipe below)
½ ounce lemon juice
2 ounces sparkling wine, such as Cava or Crémant
Lemon twist, for garnish
Fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Add the gin, simple syrup and lemon juice, then shake and strain into a Champagne flute or coupe glass. Top with the sparkling wine, and garnish with the lemon twist. Serves 1.
Thyme Simple Syrup
Recipe courtesy Karen Cook, wine director and general manager at Redding Roadhouse, Westport, CT
1 cup sugar
3 sprigs of thyme
In a medium saucepan over medium heat, bring the sugar and 1 cup of water to a simmer. Once simmering, add the thyme and turn off the heat. Let cool before using, or transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate. Makes approximately 1 cup.
COOK WITH BEER
Broked Short Ribs
Recipe courtesy James Piccolo, sous chef at Tarry Lodge, Westport, Connecticut
Because these short ribs are braised and then smoked—hence “Broked”—the result is a tender and flavorful piece of meat that’s sure to impress.
6–8 bone-in short ribs, approximately
3 inches high and 4 inches long
Kosher salt and fresh black pepper, to taste
4 tablespoons olive oil
4 cups medium-diced carrots
2 cups medium-diced onions
2 cups medium-diced celery
8 cloves garlic, smashed
1 12-ounce 6-pack Founders Porter
(can substitute any porter)
2 cups beef stock (can substitute beef broth)
½ cup espresso
5 sprigs rosemary
½ bunch fresh thyme
4 fresh bay leaves
1 cup ketchup
1 cup loosely packed light-brown sugar
½ cup apple cider vinegar
The night before, soak 5 pounds of wood chips (preferably a mix of hickory and cherry) in a clean container with water.
The day of, remove the short ribs from the refrigerator and bring to room temperature. Trim off any excess surface fat or sinew. Season liberally with salt and pepper.
Heat a smoker to 225–250˚F. If you don’t have a smoker, you can use a gas grill with a stainless-steel smoking box.
In a large stockpot over medium heat, add the olive oil. When the olive oil shimmers, add the carrots and cook until brown and semisoft, approximately 10 minutes. Add the onions, celery and garlic, then cook for an additional 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
Preheat a grill to 400˚F.
Deglaze the stockpot with the beer (be sure to pour in one bottle at a time). Bring to a simmer, then add the beef stock and espresso. Return to a simmer, then reduce heat to low.
Sear the short ribs on the grill, browning all sides, then place the meat in a roasting pan. Add the rosemary, thyme and bay leaves, then add the simmering liquid to the pan until the short ribs are halfway covered. Place the roasting pan in the smoker.
Add woodchips to the smoker, two handfuls at a time. Cook for 2 hours at 225–250˚F, continuously adding woodchips and charcoal as needed to maintain the temperature and smoke. Resist the urge to open the smoker, which just releases all of the smoke. After 2 hours, flip the short ribs and check the liquid level, adding more if necessary. Cook another 2 hours, and repeat once more.
After 6 hours total smoking time, check the tenderness of the meat. The short ribs should be soft and fork tender, and the bone should fall out clean from the meat. If the short ribs are not done, continue cooking until finished.
Remove the roasting pan from the smoker. Remove the short ribs from the pan, then strain both the cooking liquid and any remaining simmering liquid through a fine mesh sieve into a medium-sized saucepan set over medium heat, discarding the solids.
Skim the surface to remove excess fat, then reduce the liquid by half. Add the ketchup, brown sugar and vinegar, then cook for an additional 20 minutes. Sauce should be viscous when finished, lightly coating the back of a spoon. Season with salt and pepper, if needed.
Add the short ribs to the saucepan to heat for 10 minutes. Serve with traditional coleslaw. Serves 6–8.
“Founders Porter is one of the best I’ve had,” notes Piccolo. “It’s a perfect selection for this recipe, as it’s robust and incredibly flavorful without being overly bitter, roasted or strong in alcohol.” The beer’s flavors marry with the meat and spices added to the stock to create a perfect partnership of intensity.
Piccolo also suggests Jack Daniels’ Single Barrel Select Tennessee Whiskey as an ideal companion, as it “complements the meat’s sweet-smoke characteristics and caramelized flavors.” The hint of cherry fruit in the whiskey also plays into the sweet, reduced flavors found in the final sauce.
For your wine-loving friends, consider a robust red with a firm structure and gripping tannins to counter the fattiness of the meat and the sweet sauce flavors; his suggestion is a Rioja, like Bodegas Roda’s Reserva.
COOK WITH SPIRITS
Hoppin’ Jalapeño Carrot Cake
Recipe courtesy Lucinda Hutson, author of ¡Viva Tequila!: Cocktails, Cooking and Other Agave Adventures (University of Texas Press, 2013)
This spicy carrot cake, flecked with jalapeños and topped with a frosting made using añejo Tequila, lime zest and Cointreau, is best made the day before serving; just frost and decorate with lime and orange zest the day of. The recipe can also easily be adapted to make cupcakes—perfect for large-group entertaining.
For the cake:
½ cup golden raisins
3 tablespoons añejo Tequila (Hutson prefers T1 Estelar Tequila Añejo)
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 tablespoon ground ginger
3 whole cloves, ground
½ teaspoon whole allspice berries, ground
4 large eggs
1 cup sugar
1 cup dark brown sugar, tightly packed
1 cup canola oil
3 cups grated carrots, tightly packed
1 teaspoon coarsely grated lime zest, plus more for garnish
2 teaspoons coarsely grated orange zest, plus more for garnish
8 ounces unsweetened crushed pineapple, drained
¾ cup sweet coconut flakes
4 or more fresh jalapeños, seeded & minced
Flowers, for garnish (optional)
For the frosting:
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2 cups powdered sugar
1 tablespoon Cointreau or Grand Marnier
2 tablespoons añejo Tequila
2 heaping teaspoons grated lime zest
Preheat an oven to 350˚F.
In a small bowl, plump the raisins in the Tequila and set aside. In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, cloves and allspice, and set aside. In another large bowl, beat the eggs until they’re pale yellow. Add the sugars, then slowly mix in the canola oil. On low speed, slowly add the flour-and-spice mixture until just blended. Fold in the carrots, zest, pineapple, plumped raisins, coconut and jalapeños.
Butter then lightly flour a 12-cup bundt pan. Pour the batter into the pan and bake at 350˚F for about 55 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Remove from the oven and cool for 10 minutes before transferring the cake from the pan to a cooling rack. Make a day in advance of frosting; store at room temperature tightly covered.
To make the frosting, blend the cream cheese and butter in a mixing bowl until smooth. Slowly mix in the sugar, orange liqueur, Tequila and lime zest. The mixture will be thinner than most cream cheese frostings, and there will be some left over; thicken with more cream cheese if desired.
Frost the cake and refrigerate in a covered cake dish; you may do this up to 2 days prior to serving.
Serve the cake at room temperature. Garnish with flowers and additional lime and orange zest, if desired. Serves 12.
Hutson’s suggestion for what to serve with this cake is a simple infused Tequila, so as to not compete too much with the varying flavors of the dish. “Since the cake and frosting are sweet, I’d like the sips of the drink to be refreshing and bright,” notes Hutson. Her favorites: a tangerine- or orange-infused blanco or reposado, a pineapple-infused one, or a combo of the two.
As a wine pairing, Hutson suggests a dry Riesling, with bright acidity to cut through the cake’s sweet characteristics. Try Jim Barry’s 2012 The Lodge Hill Dry Riesling from Clare Valley in Australia.
Among beers, Hutson suggests avoiding fruity or sweet selections, and instead opting for a crisp Pilsner-style lager like Left Hand’s Polestar Pilsner or Shiner Premium to clean and refresh the palate while keeping the cake center stage.
Citrus- and Fruit-Infused Tequilas
Long swirls of aromatic citrus peels (lemon, orange, tangerine, and grapefruit) and acidic fruits (fresh pineapple, strawberries, guavas, and prickly pear) complement Tequila and mezcal and enhance cocktails. Use them to flavor margaritas and mixed drinks, for homemade liqueurs, or to serve as ice-cold shots. Be creative in your combinations. Try them in marinades and sauces as well as in drinks. For optimum freshness and flavor, keep these flavored tequilas refrigerated.
Making citrus peel-infused Tequila
Experiment with different types of citrus—tangerine is my favorite. Try tangerine-infused Tequila and fresh tangerine juice in a Sonoran Sunrise and you’ll see why. Remove peel from citrus in a continuous spiral, making certain to avoid any white pith, which will make the infusion bitter. Use the peel from 1–2 fruits per bottle of tequila (or combine citrus). After 3–4 days, remove most of the peel so that the infusion won’t become bitter, but leave a strip for identification. Keep refrigerated for best flavor.
Making pineapple-infused Tequila
Peel and cut a ripe, fresh pineapple into chunks and macerate (soften by soaking) with a bottle of Tequila or mezcal in a wide-mouthed glass jar. Keep covered and refrigerated for up to two weeks, then use in blended drinks, like Carmen Miranda’s Downfall or Piña Fina (Pineapple Margarita), or strain and drink in icy shots. A long spiral of lemon peel and/or a split vanilla bean, or chopped fresh ginger, hot green chiles, fresh mint or basil are optional additions. Try grilling the pineapple first for a special treat. Pineapple tequila is also delicious in marinades.
Wine Pairing 101
Pairing wine and food can seem painstakingly precise. But it doesn’t have to be—Wine Enthusiast has a cheat sheet that simplifies the steps, starting with the wine’s basic characteristics. We cover red, white and sparkling, plus provide you with tips for cooking tasty dishes with wine.