“Classics can be phenomenal when done right. A simple roast chicken dish could be the best thing you ever eat.” ~ Joe Bastianich, noted restaurateur and tv star
Recently I had the good fortune to preview two new releases from Four Graces Winery in Dundee, Oregon. I was asked to pair a dish with whichever of the two I prefered. I opened both the 2015 Chardonnay ‘Gran Moraine’ and the 2014 Pinot Noir ‘Lindsay’s Reserve’ and poured a glass, well maybe two. I took a long sip of each and reflected on taste. I wondered what would go well with each wine. Then I thought, could there be a single dish that actually works perfectly well for both? This could solve the age old dilemma we sometimes face when inviting opinionated friends over who only like red or white wine. Then it struck me like an errant lightning bolt, the answer is as easy as roast chicken.
Before we go any further let’s examine food and wine pairings and taste. Here is the most basic food and wine pairing rule of them all. Actually it is the golden rule. Drink whatever you like. Ultimately life is about pleasure and shouldn’t be taken so seriously. Matching food with wine should not be a scary process. It should be fun and done to please your own palate. Let’s explore it a bit further.
Here are some pairing rules to follow. Remember these are general rules and rules are meant to be broken. But we have to start somewhere, right?
Acidic wine and acidic food pair well together. Try Champagne with smoked salmon and a squeeze of lemon juice. Champagne is good with anything. The squeeze of lemon bridges the acids and forms a marriage.
Match intensities of food and wine. One wine writer online wrote: “mismatched in intensity, the result is like a fight between a featherweight and a heavyweight boxer; the biggest, strongest contender holds an unfair advantage.” Heavier food goes great with bigger wines. Pay attention to every component of the dish, including the sauce. Simple roast chicken goes great with a Chardonnay but spicy curried chicken does not.
- Rich, fatty foods pair well with acidic wines
- Sweet foods pair well with acidic wines
- Sweet foods pair with tannic (bitter) wines
- Bitter and fat work great together
- Alcohol and fat work well
- Alcohol and sweet work well
- Sweet and Salty pairings are great
- Acidic and Salty do not pair well alone, they need a third partner in this ménage a trois.
Many love affairs start out passionately and end up in divorce. I didn’t want to mention this till you guys got some wine into yourselves. It’s a depressing topic. So let’s hurry through this one.
- Bitter and bitter do not work well together
- High alcohol and spicy do not work
What is taste and how is it experienced?
This is the basic process of how we perceive what we eat and drink. We take a bite. Taste it. Than we swallow and reflect on the experience. Brillat Savarin, the famous French gastronome described in his book Physiology of Taste the three stages as:
- Direct, on the tongue
- Complete, when food/wine passes over tongue and is swallowed
- Reflection, judgement passed by the soul on the impressions that have been transmitted to it by the tongue.
So what are the basic elements of taste?
Sweet, Sour, Bitter, Salty, Umami and I would probably go as far as add Fatty as a sixth element. These are all basic terms and do not need explaining beyond saying umami would be described as savory or meaty. Approaching taste is different for someone cooking than a wine expert. Perhaps it is a more complicated relationship since the cook is creating food whereas a wine lover is usually just opening a bottle.
Back to tasting Four Graces’ delightful wines
Upon tasting the chardonnay, I found it to have a rich, full mouth feel. I tasted toasted vanilla custard sprinkled with Bosc pear and fresh lemon notes. The grapes came from the ‘Gran Moraine’ vineyard in the Yamhill-Carlton AVA (American Viticulture Area), just north of McMinnville. It became it’s own AVA in 2004 after being identified as having the oldest marine sedimentary based soils in the Willamette Valley. The soils are a well-drained sandy loam extension of this old seabed that existed 35 to 45 million years ago. The soils and moraines are reminiscent of the Cote d’Or in Burgundy and produce excellent fruit.
It is interesting to see how food changes aspects of the wine and brings out different nuances. In this case, the roast chicken brought out a more luscious, rich and creamy palate.
All Chardonnays pairs well with rich dishes. Oaked version pair because they have a lush texture to begin with. Non oaked versions pair because they have a higher acid and it cuts the fat.
The 2014 Pinot Noir ‘Lindsay’s Reserve’ is a remarkable wine that exhibits everything I love about Oregon pinot noirs. The first sips showed beautiful cherry, plum and raspberry flavors with a touch of olive, tea and pomegranate in the background. An enjoyable wine just to sit and sip but became more three dimensional when I drank it with the roast chicken. The chicken brought out more of an austere palate punctuated with darker fruits and earthy mushrooms.
Please do not take my advice: This is a sensational experience you should experiment with at home.
A perfectly simple roast chicken.
A humble and deeply satisfying dish but somehow as elusive as a unicorn or five leaf clover. How hard can it really be to roast a simple chicken? Not hard if you follow a few simple rules…
The general rules of proper roasting and eating of chicken:
- Pick a free range bird about 3.5 pounds who is fed either an organic or natural diet.
- Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Let warm up all the way before cooking bird.
- Season chicken with liberal amounts of sea salt, black pepper, herbs de Provence and piment d’ville or espelette pepper. Be sure to heavily salt the opening of the cavity. These are the crispiest pieces of crackly crispy chicken and, in my humble opinion, the true reward of whomever gets to bone the bird.
- Stuff half a lemon, a whole head of garlic cut in two and more fresh thyme and rosemary than you think. The lemon perfumes the bird in such a pleasant and nuanced way. Cooking is about building subtle layers that are almost imperceptible.
- Put a wire rack on a cookie sheet or sheet pan and roast bird 40 minutes breast side down. Yes, set your damned kitchen timer for this one, it’s science.
- Flip over and roast another full 40 minutes breast side up.
- Stand bird up with legs flailing in the air for 20 minutes before you cut the bird. The juices will redistribute throughout the bird and keep it juicy beyond imagination. Do not give into temptation, be strong.
- Always roast a whole bird. It is silly, more expensive and wasteful not to do the whole bird. You will end up with enough meals for a few days and two to three quarts of homemade chicken broth.
- Cut the breasts, wings, legs and thighs off. If you are smart you will eat both ‘oysters’ before anyone notices. The oysters are the most tender pieces of chicken that are located where the thigh bone connects to the carcass. Shh, don’t tell anyone.
- Eat the breast the first day then the dark meat the second. It almost sounds like a commandment so abide by it. The dude does… And on the second day, God said… The breast comes out of the oven so beautifully juicy and tender yet somehow loses that quality by day two.
I like to serve my roast chicken how they do in Burgundy, France. After you are done roasting the chicken pour off excess fat. Add one cup of water to the roasting pan and scrap any crusty bits off. Strain the drippings into a clean sauce pot and add a ½ cup of heavy cream and a big tablespoon of Dijon mustard. If you have any tarragon or thyme growing in your garden chop a little and add. Bring to a boil and cook till thickened, about five minutes. The cream sauce really acts as a bridge and enhances both wines.