When pairing food and drink, the emphasis usually falls on wine. Sure, cabernet and beef is a classic pairing, but there are many other combinations beyond the typical wine and cheese (or meat). Food pairings are less about one-time combinations, but rather understanding flavor profiles and serving items in complementary ways. Once you understand why certain foods pair well together, either with instruction from a sommelier or by experimenting yourself, you can create an infinite number of creative combinations. Most food pairings work because the flavors of the food and drink either contrast one another or have similar flavor profiles for a seamless transition, like these unexpected combinations.
IPA and Pad Thai
Just like wine, beer pairs well with a variety of dishes. Light beers like amber ale and Pilsner are comparative to white wine and complement the lighter elements of dishes, like seafood flavored with lemon and garlic. India pale ales (IPAs) go well with Thai dishes like pad thai. Don't hold back with the chili sauce — the bitterness of the hops actually pairs nicely with the spice.
Old-Fashioned and Brunch
The same guidelines of pairing contrasting or complementary flavors holds true when choosing spirits or cocktails. Cocktails made with clear liquors like gin and vodka pair with light appetizers, but dark liquors like whiskey and scotch pair well with umami (savory) dishes. Try swapping your bloody mary or mimosa for an old-fashioned at brunch. The rye and bitters means that the cocktail balances nicely with the salty, smoky flavors in bacon and sausage. The fruity sweetness from the orange rind mimics the sweetness of pancakes.
Mimosa and Barbecue
Once you've swapped your brunch drinks, you'll miss that mimosa. Try your champagne and orange juice in a different context: with barbecue sauce. Mimosas are as refreshing as a cold beer in the summer. The juice pairs well with the sauce's sweetness, and the carbonation of champagne elevates the heavy flavors of ribs or chicken.
Sake and Olives
Japanese sake is typically thought of as a wine, but it's actually more closely related to beer. Sake doesn't necessarily have to be served with Asian dishes. As long as umami flavors are present, you're good to go. Since sake contains low tannins and acidity, dishes that are too spicy or flavorful will overpower the drink. A lightly sweet sake pairs well with an oily, salty food like kalamata olives. The olives bring the same type of saltiness to the table as an Asian dish with soy sauce. Try olives in a salad or an antipasto platter.
Porter and Cheesecake
When you're eating cakes, cookies and pastries, the food's sugars can overwhelm the flavor of your drink, dulling it by comparison. Opt for a sweeter, more flavorful beverage with dessert. While sweet white wine or champagne is always a great companion to after-dinner bites, try mixing it up by serving beer. A porter with chocolate undertones tastes great with slightly tart cheesecake.
The rules of flavor are meant to be tested, so there are many food pairings that don't follow the guidelines exactly, but turn out to be a delicious meal. After gaining an understanding of the science behind food pairings, you can approach your meals in different ways.
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