We’re still pouring Zinfandel around here.And we’re still looking at food pairings that work well with Zin, whether or not they were designed for the purpose.
Last time around, I showed you the beginnings of a Duck Breast with Spiced Berry Sauce.
I had put the recipe together to partner with Zinfandel, matching flavors in the dish with very similar flavors in the wine.
THE DUCK BREASTS AND THE PAIRING:
I thought I’d walk you through my recipe here. But rather than spell out exact ingredients and amounts, I’ll just make a few suggestions for you, then turn you loose to create on your own.
PREPPING THE DUCK:
Cooking duck breasts is ridiculously easy. If you can cook pork chops, you’ve got it made.
I like to brine them first in plain salted water for 30-45 minutes. To allow excess fat to drain out during cooking, I score the skin with a sharp knife, in parallel lines or a cross-hatch pattern (see pic). After rinsing off the salt, I dry the duck breasts with paper towels and coat them lightly with olive oil.
Next, sauté them over medium-high heat, starting skin-side down, and cooking until skin is crisp and golden. (Spoon off extra fat and save it for “upscaling” potatoes, eggs, veggies…) Turn once and continue cooking until done to your liking.
As with a great many of my recipes, I start by sautéing onions in olive oil. Because I’m aiming this dish toward Zinfandel, a big, hearty wine, I’m using red onions and caramelizing them well to build in very deep flavors. (When I cook for, say, Chardonnay or Pinot Noir, I generally use yellow onions and don’t cook them quite as dark.)
FLAVORS IN YOUR ZIN:Now sniff and taste your Zin. Do you get lots of intense berry aromas and flavors? What kind? Are they more like red raspberry or black raspberry? Blueberry, boysenberry, blackberry? (If you don’t recognize all these different “descriptors,” you can sample some fresh fruit, or buy a few jars of jam, and compare.)
THE SPICE SHELF AND BEYOND:
Spices are another very common category of flavor aromatics found in Zinfandel. Black pepper, cinnamon, clove, cardamom, plus resinous herbs such as bay leaf.
Here’s a tip: To get the punchiest flavors from any spices you use, grind them just before using if possible, and cook them along with the onions to draw out their essential oils.
WHAT ELSE DO YOU TASTE?Because I’ve been judging and writing about wine for so long, it’s almost second nature for me to look for all these “aromatics” in the glass. If you don’t have this kind of experience, though, it’s probably a brand-new approach for you.
Here’s where good, descriptive wine writing comes in. Whether it’s on a “shelf talker” tag at your store, in a magazine or newspaper article, on a wine blog, or on the bottle itself, you can generally find at least three or four of these “descriptors” to hang your hat on.
TASTE WITH AN EXPERT:
And if you’re lucky enough to have nearby wineries, wine bars, or even restaurants that feature wine events ~ where you can learn from professionals ~ you can build and hone your tasting skills bit by bit. The more often you do this, the faster you’ll move along your ‘learning curve.”
All of this is fun and rewarding, of course, in and of itself. But you’ll find that the more you keep food pairing in mind while you’re exploring new wines, the more you’ll enjoy the wines themselves, the more you’ll learn overall, and the more inventive, delicious, and successful your food pairings will be!
MY MINI-FUNDRAISER:Mini-Fundraiser” to benefit the new Earthquake Relief Fund. It’s a great way we can all help the community recover from this recent disaster!
I’m donating $3.00 per copy to the Fund. Thanks for helping!
Cheers and happy tasting,
For the sauce,