From J.M., 25 July 2011, Alsatian wines: pairing for a dinner party?
Q: We’re hosting our wine club, which means we need to cook, which means we need to think of something to cook. It’s about 15 people, and we have neither the time nor the energy to cook anything too fancy, but we also strive to impress. (Bear in mind, however, that the wine club people know a lot about wine, but they are not really foodies, and they are always impressed by large amounts of meat.) The theme of that night’s tasting is “Alsace Cross-Varietal.” Any thoughts on what a good menu might be? Or a good entrée we can make easily in large quantities?
A: Thanks for your question. I’m not sure which Alsatian wines you’ll be serving – it sounds like perhaps some sort of blend of Pinot Gris, Riesling, Pinot Blanc, etc. I think these wines pair nicely with light but spicy fish dishes; red meats can pair with these floral wines, but they’re tougher. Spicy but light meat dishes incorporating Thai flavors like chile, lemongrass, and coconut, Indian masalas, and Chinese gingered dishes can be delicious with Riesling and Gewürztraminer (and also Viognier), but as I understand it, your dinner guests may not feel all that adventuresome. Plus, it’s summer, and summer is a great time for fish.
Here’s a stew I devised recently that incorporates both meat and fish – this was a real winner with my husband and I think it would pair really nicely with any Alsatian whites. The stew is reminiscent of both the seafood/pork dishes of Spain and Portugal, and the chowders of the Northeast.
It’s also a one pot dish, so cleanup is easy, and you can do it start to finish in under a hour. If you don’t have a really giant pot, use two large pots (each at least a 6 qt pot) and divide the mixture between the two. You can start in one pot and then divide just before the tomato-adding stage. You can hold for a while at a low simmer or chill after cooking and reheat the next day. It reheats well, according to my husband (who took leftovers for lunch the next day). Since the stew contains fish, though, I wouldn’t prepare this more than a day in advance.
Hake, chorizo, and corn stew
Serves 16 moderate portions. Reduce proportionately for a smaller number of diners.
2 ½ lb hot fresh chorizo (not the dry-cured kind) – removed from casings or house made
8 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
1 really large onion, peeled and fine dice
3 ½ tsp pimentón de la vera – use any combination of hot, sweet, and bittersweet
¼ tsp cayenne or to taste
2 ½ c dry white wine, preferably what you are serving with the meal
3 28 oz cans whole tomatoes, with juice
3 c water or more
4 small bay leaves
12 sprigs thyme, tied together
4 lb hake or another firm, white fish like halibut, pin bones removed and cut into 1 ½” square chunks
8 medium sized Yukon Gold or Yellow Finn potatoes, scrubbed well and cut into 1/8ths (each chunk about 1”), peel on
8 ears corn, shucked and the kernels cut off the cob; alternatively, 2 bags frozen corn kernels (perfectly acceptable time saver)
flat-leaf parsley, washed and spun dry
Place a large stockpot over medium high heat and, when hot, add the chorizo in chunks (maybe about 1” pieces). Cook in batches to avoid crowding. Brown the chorizo well on all sides and remove with a slotted spoon, leaving behind the oil. Repeat until all the chorizo is cooked. Set the chorizo aside in the refrigerator.
Drain all but ¼ c of the chorizo oil from the pan (reserve for another use, such as frying eggs). Make sure you leave the fond (the brown bits) in the pan. Return the pan to medium low heat and, when hot, add the onions. Sweat until translucent and then add the garlic, cooking until tender, about 5-6 minutes. Increase the heat slightly. Add the pimentón and cayenne and sauté until fragrant. Add the white wine all at once.
Cook, stirring with a wooden spoon to incorporate the fond into the wine. Bring to a simmer and reduce by 2/3. Add the tomatoes (breaking up with your hands) and their juice, the water, the bay leaves, and the thyme (two bunches of thyme if cooking in two pans). At this point, if you need to divide between two pans, do so. Add a scant ¾ tsp salt to each pan. Cover, reduce the heat, and bring back to a simmer and cook for about 15 minutes. Add the potatoes, cover, and simmer until the potatoes are just tender (about 10-15 more minutes, depending on the potato’s water content).
Add the hake to the stew. Make sure the hake chunks are well submerged. Cover and cook until the hake is cooked through and flakes easily, between 10 and 20 minutes depending on the density of the stew. Add the corn and reserved chorizo to the stew and simmer until the corn is cooked through, and hot. If you cut the corn off the cob yourself, you might also scrape the juice from the cobs into the stew for more flavor.
Remove the bay and thyme bunch (or leave them in and warn people about the bay leaves). Season with salt and pepper to taste, and additional chorizo oil for spice if you like. Garnish with parsley leaves.