As a young boy, I remember many times looking into our family pantry and saying to my mother, “there’s nothing to eat in here!” The reason I would say that is because I was only looking for what I wanted, not what was there.
At one point or another, I’m sure we’ve all investigated our pantry full of food items and simply did not see a meal. Most often we drive to the store and buy what we crave at that moment, then go home and make ourselves happy with what we want. Not a bad way to live, but things have changed this week - I’m shut-in for the first time in my life!
This week, I decided to challenge myself by creating spontaneous meals from only my pantry with a little help from my freezer, spice cabinet, and wine rack.
For me, wine and food pairings are about balance. With the many tastes and aromas found in wine, I attempt to marry the flavors and textures of an ingredient to a specific wine. I call this “reverse pairing”. In my perfect pairing, neither the wine or the food dominate each other. The two together deliver a level of contrast and balance that neither could achieve alone.
Complement vs. Contrast
There are two directions one can take when pairing wine with food. You can either complement the wine with similar flavors profiles, or go for contrast (as in, opposing flavors). Complementary flavor matching is generally more successful; however, while opposing flavor pairings may be more complex, the satisfaction of getting it right is extra rewording.
The most important thing to remember is to be an adventurist and enjoy the journey!
As mentioned earlier, at first glance it doesn’t appear there’s much of a meal in the pantry, so let’s investigate what might be hidden.
Option 1: Spicy Red Beans & Rice
Based on what I find first, I’m envisioning a simple but slightly spicy red bean and rice dish which will be very easy and pair perfectly with our InZINerator Zinfandel.
The main ingredient here is a bag of dried red beans, or any dried beans you might have. Canned beans would be faster, but you won’t get the complexity and depth resulting from the slow cooking with all the spices and aromatic ingredients. Even so, we’re not in much of a rush these days so you may as well enjoy it!
Simply pour the beans into a stockpot and add 2 quarts of fortified water. Then, bring to a boil and reduce to a medium-low heat for one hour. Drain the water, return beans to the pot, and add the 1 quart of fortified water. Add the remaining ingredients and set to medium-low for another hour.
I’ve put together the full recipe and everything you’ll need, here. The total time to craft this was 2 ½ hours, but that’s largely due to the cook time as the skill level is very easy. [A plate of food on a table Description automatically generated]
Option 2: Chicken Two Ways
In order to make a chicken taste close to the free-range chickens you might find in a restaurant, you must brine the bird.
I decided to brine the chicken whole, so I used a 12-quart non-reactive container, preferably with a tight-fitting lid.
My standard brine is 3 cups of salt and 1 cup of sugar, and what you do to add additional flavor is determined by what aromatics and goodies you have on hand. [A bowl of soup Description automatically generated]
I found some citrus that needed to be used and happened to have some fresh thyme and oregano. I then filled the container with cold water, added the ingredients, and stirred to dissolve all of the salt and sugar.
Add the whole chicken and refrigerate it for 6 to 10 hours, then sit back and let the magic happen.
Now that I know I have a brined chicken in my future, what’s in the pantry?
At this point, I have no preconceived idea what this chicken will be, but here are my choices from the pantry - now the creativity and fun starts!
Oven-Roasted French-Style Chicken
To keep it simple, I chose an oven-roasted chicken. While in France, I saw a wonderful and very simple method of butterflying a whole chicken for oven roasting that cooks it very evenly.
Simply take some good poultry shears and cut out the backbone by cutting up one side of the backbone and then down the other side. Remove the backbone, then put the chicken breast side up and press very hard on the chicken to flatten it out. Tuck the wings back and bring the leg and thigh section into the side of the breast. [A piece of food Description automatically generated]
It’s been 6 hours in the brine, and I have butterflied it as described. I then put the chicken into a 350-degree convection oven for 45 minutes, then dropped the temperature to 220 degrees for another 45 minutes. The photo included here is what this should look like.
You’re welcome to stop here and simply pair this chicken with basic vegetables and a side, such as rice pilaf or couscous. Or, you can continue on to the next and final recipe to shake it up a little!
My lovely wife Nancy has asked for chicken tacos, so I decided to go in that direction but apply my French technique and have some fun. [A picture containing indoor, table, room, clock Description automatically generated]
I selected enchilada sauce, a can of roasted green peppers, and canned refried beans. I also had some shredded cheese and sour cream in the fridge. As a garnish, and to bring some green to the dish, I cut a fine shred of raw broccoli off the tops simply because I had it on-hand. That’s how new thinking happens in the culinary arts - “if you have it, use it.”
Both versions of these chicken dishes would pair beautifully with our Tickle Me Pink Rose, which has an off-dry characteristic and a very nice effervescence. It’s a great wine for a spicier flavor profile such as this.
No matter what you piece together in your kitchen during these uncertain times, we hope this helps you find some inspiration and a little fun along the way! While our tasting rooms might be closed, our online wine shop remains open so you can stock up and create your own masterful wine and food pairing. If you’d like to email me directly regarding recipes or directions, please feel free to do so at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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