Pairings: Stellar Super Bowl Snacks

A few pointers on hosting a crowd for the biggest pigskin party of the year.


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Stellar Super Bowl Snacks

A few pointers on hosting a crowd for the biggest pigskin party of the year.

Pop quiz: Who won Super Bowl XXVIII?
Supplemental question: Who lost?

Unless you're among the most rabid of pro football fans, you probably don't know the answer to either of those questions. And even if you are a Sunday Sofa Warrior, it's unlikely that you can name the loser of the game off the top of your head, either. But regardless of whether your interest in the NFL is avid or negligible, you probably know where you were on the day the game was played. Like the rest of us, you were at a Super Bowl party.

Baseball may be America's national pastime, but the Super Bowl is its iconic championship game. Put the Yankees and the Giants, two of baseball's biggest teams, in extra innings of the seventh game of the World Series and you won't get half of the television ratings share of a mediocre Super Bowl (and no jokes about how they're all pretty mediocre). For most Americans, the Super Bowl is not so much a game as it is a social imperative.

Simplicity, from the first down
These Super Bowl parties present several unique challenges for those charged with hosting them. Inviting the right balance of fans—some who will want to watch the game, and some for whom the gridiron is a mere diversion—is one such task. But even that delicate balancing act pales in comparison with the chore of selecting the right food and drinks for the party. The challenge is serving good-quality refreshments while keeping your gathering appropriately informal. While the Super Bowl might not be the ideal time for trotting out your 1985 Pomerols and single malts, there's no reason why the focus on a football game should be interpreted as a call for king cans, jug wine and giant, discount-priced bags of corn chips.

According to the Super Bowl party tips published at NFL.com, the only rule for game-day food is "that there should be plenty of it." Which may well be true, but party pros know that there's a little more to it than that, like attitude. The Super Bowl is no time for exhaustive French preparations and exotic ingredients; keeping things fresh and unfussy should be your primary mission. Then there are practical considerations, like the fact that most dishes will sit out for the duration of the game and most people will have other things on their minds than trying to balance drinks, dishes and cutlery while cheering on the running back as he races for the goal line. So stick to foods that are as tasty cold as they are hot and can be eaten with one hand, no knife or fork required. As a test, imagine yourself in the stands at the actual game and avoid any dish you wouldn't want to be eating there.

As much as this kind of concession-stand thinking narrows the range of possibilities for food, it also simplifies the matter of selecting a drinks menu. Think salty. Think oily. Think spicy. Then think winey acidity, hoppy bitterness and appley snap.

What to drink?
While beer is definitely the libation of choice for most football fans, corporate deals generally limit the brands available at most stadiums to those of one or two of the big brewers. But given that you have presumably not signed an exclusivity deal for your living room, there's no reason to subject your guests to the tyranny of ice-cold, flavor-challenged brews. In fact, the salty-spicy-oily food theme of a Super Bowl party makes it a perfect time to explore the bitter side of beer.

The cone of the vine Humulus lupulus, the common hop, was first popularized as a brewing preservative some time around 700 A.D. But as decades passed and its fame grew, hops were discovered to impart pleasing aromas and flavours to ales and lagers, the most powerful of which is bitterness. Depending upon the variety and quantity of hops employed, this can range from a mild, grassy bite to a full-blown, grapefruity attack.

This bitter bite also makes hoppy beer better suited than almost any other drink to the kind of foods football fans crave: the aforementioned "holy trinity" of spicy, salty and oily. Acting as acidity does in wine, hoppy bitterness cuts through heat, grease and salty tang to refresh the palate without annihilating the flavor. For Buffalo wings, pretzels and pizza, there is no finer foil that a Czech lager like the legendary Pilsner Urquell or a balanced, fruity-bitter pale ale such as that of California's Sierra Nevada, or Brooklyn Ale from the Brooklyn Brewery.

Given that the Super Bowl is such a quintessentially American game, though, you may also want to stock some uniquely American India pale ales, many of which are as big and brash as the hype surrounding the game. Typical of these hop-loaded delights are the intensely aromatic HopDevil from Pennsylvania's Victory Brewing, the citrusy Alpha King from 3 Floyds Brewing of Indiana and, courtesy of Oregon's irrepressible Rogue Ales, Imperial India Pale Ale, brewed with a boatload of hops and aged for nine months prior to release.

Of course, not everybody likes beer. For the hop-phobic among your guests, you will need an alternative that is every bit as suited to your snacks. One option is cider, America's original fermentable, a drink that is experiencing a renaissance of sorts. (There was little in the way of barley or grapes growing when the settlers first arrived in the New World, but there were plenty of apples.)

Again, as with such crisp wines as Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc, the acidity of a dry cider is a definite plus when salty snacks and fatty foods are on the menu. What should be avoided, however, are sweet ciders, which immediately discounts most domestic and a good deal of the imported brands. One producer to try is Farnum Hill, an excellent cidery in New Hampshire dedicated to producing clean, crisp, flavourful ciders that are inspired by the great dry ciders of Kent, England. Less dry but still admirable is the Two Rivers Hard Cider from Sacramento, California.

If libations such as these had been around in January 1994, that year's Super Bowl might resonate a little more in your memory than it does today. Hell, you might even remember the game in which the Cowboys beat the Bills, 30-13.

Following are three recipes for munchies—from an elegant crab dip to truly rustic meat strips—that will keep your party percolating.

Curt's Famous Crab Dip

At Philadelphia's Nodding Head Brewery & Restaurant, they bleed Eagles Green. So it's not surprising that their Super Bowl party is already planned around the participation of Eagles fans. Their Super Bowl party wouldn't be complete without beer discounts for those clad in team gear, giveaways of Donovan McNabb (he's the Eagles quarterback) bobble-head dolls, and a buffet that always features Curt's Famous Crab Dip. Backfin crabmeat adds saltiness to the dip; lump crabmeat gives it a good texture.

  • 1 pound fresh backfin crabmeat
  • 1 pound fresh jumbo lump or lump crabmeat
  • 8 ounces Philadelphia Cream Cheese, room temperature
  • 8 ounces sour cream, drained of excess liquid
  • 12 ounces aged cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 1/2 cup red bell pepper, finely diced
  • 1/2 cup scallions, finely diced
  • 1 teaspoon Coleman's dry mustard
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper sauce, or to taste
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • juice of one lemon
  • salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350F.

Set aside the lump crabmeat and combine all the other ingredients in a large bowl and mix thoroughly. Gently fold in the lump crabmeat and transfer the mixture to a shallow casserole dish. Bake at 350F for 45 minutes. Serve with crackers or bread.

Homemade Potato Chips

Making your own potato chips takes a little more time than ripping open a bag from the store, but the results are worth it. Sprinkle them with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper for extra flavor.

  • 3-4 medium-sized potatoes (about 1 1/2-2 pounds)
  • about 2 cups of peanut oil for frying
  • salt and pepper to taste

If the potatoes are thick-skinned, peel first. Then, using a mandoline or other slicer, cut the potatoes into thin slices measuring about 1/16-inch thick. Keep the slices in cold water until ready to fry.

In a heavy-bottomed skillet, add enough oil to cover the bottom to a depth of 1¼2 inch and heat until the temperature reaches 380°F. Working in batches, dry the potato slices on paper towels and then fry in one layer, turning once, until golden. Using tongs or a slotted spoon, remove the chips and drain on more paper towels. Toss with salt and pepper

while the chips are still hot and glistening with oil. Repeat until all the chips are cooked.
Yield is roughly the equivalent of a large bag of store-bought chips. The chips will keep for 2-3 days in an airtight container.

Holy Cow! Neon Strips

Las Vegas' Holy Cow! Casino, Café and Brewery contributed this easy-to-prepare take on beef jerky to my 1995 book, A Taste for Beer.

  • 1/2 cup light soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup porter
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2 teaspooons freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes, coarsely ground in a spice mill or coffee grinder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 pounds beef, fat removed and sliced along the grain, in long strips

Combine all ingredients except the beef in a large bowl and mix thoroughly. Rub the beef well with the mixture and layer in a deep bowl or crock, covering with whatever sauce is left over. Place a plate and a heavy weight on top of the beef and refrigerate overnight.

Drain the beef and place the strips on racks in a smoker, on the barbecue or in the oven. Cook on lowest possible heat for 3-4 hours until nearly dry. Remove strips and let stand in a warm place until completely dry.

 

Washing it Down With Wine
Just as the salty-spicy-oily flavors of these recipes suggest hoppy brews, they demand palate-cleansing, high-acid wines. Yet because of the sweetness inherent in some popular snack foods, the wines you choose should also have a goodly measure of fruit. Portuguese Vinho Verdes or Spanish Albariños are perfect game-day matches, but since the Super Bowl is a uniquely American event, try a California version from Havens or Verdad (a venture spearheaded by Bob Lundquist of Qupé).

If you prefer reds, try a fresh, crisp, fruity wine. International tastes will be rewarded by Beaujolais, lighter-weight Côtes-du-Rhônes, young Cabernet Francs from the Loire and unoaked Barberas. American parallels you might want to try include Preston of Dry Creek's Faux and Joseph Phelps's Pastiche (Rhône-style blends), Green and Red's Gamay, or McDowell Valley Vineyards' Grenache Rosé or Mendocino Syrah.

Whatever your choices, keep them fun. No one wants to be distracted from the game by a discussion of the 1986 vintage in the Médoc, and no one discussing those intricacies wants to be distracted by a football game.

—Joe Czerwinski

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