Some tips for prepping flavors for wine-friendly cooking
I'm no chef, but in 30 years of eating and drinking for a living, I've worked with some of the best. My key take-away is that of everything involved in creating delicious wine and food experiences -- expertise in cuisine, presentation, portion sizing, food science -- the bedrock of any chef's creation is prep (in standard terminology, preparation).
Most recipes and cooking shows provide estimated prep time; for most of us, the shorter, the better. The estimate rarely includes slicing and dicing, much less time to shop or locate exotic items. In real-time, a recipe's estimated 15-minute prep quickly morphs into several hours.
So, I prepare my favorite flavors in advance. Actual prep time for each -- after shopping and cleaning -- is about 10 minutes and guarantees that I'll have a pinch here, a rub there, ready to add nuance and complexity to enhance wine beyond simple salt and pepper.
Garlic olive oil:
My favorite recipes combine garlic and olive oil, so I save a step by combining the two. Start with fresh, peeled cloves, available at many groceries; avoid packages with any browning as well as pre-chopped garlic. Rinse and dry, trim off the root end and smash each clove and mince. I'm not picky about uniformity, but understand that each piece cooks according to size. Scoop minced garlic into a container with a lid; I use a reused tub from a deli purchase. Cover with olive oil, stir, close the container and refrigerate. For full-on flavor, spoon minced garlic into what you're cooking; for nuance, add oil only. As oil depletes, stir in more as needed. I suppose this eventually stales, but my cup of garlic cloves turned into garlic oil lasts at least two weeks.
Sun-dried tomatoes, marinated:
Sun-dried tomatoes add richness and earthy sweetness to recipes, even crunchy char when roasted. Once an exotic delicacy, many grocers now offer marinated and nonmarinated styles. I prefer my marinade, so purchase the tomatoes dry. I thinly slice each tomato, add to a container, sprinkle with garlic olive oil (see above) and chopped parsley or cilantro (see below), stir, cover and refrigerate. Again, I suppose this ultimately goes bad, but it's never happened to me within two weeks, using about a half-pound of sun-dried tomatoes. Useful for many recipes, including salads, pasta, bruschetta and dips. If tomatoes taste salty, rinse and dry before adding oil. They are especially useful to add heft to vegetarian dishes served with red wine.
Fresh herbs, chopped:
Wash and thoroughly dry each herb. Finely chop, place in a container, seal and refrigerate. This only lasts a day or two, but saves using soggy herbs, washed just before cooking. Excellent for dishes served with sauvignon blanc, cabernet sauvignon or Cabernet Franc.
About seasoning, I have no clue. So, I thank Ya-Ya (my Hungarian Grandmother) for our family spice mixture. Based on Hungarian sweet paprika and garlic powder, I watched my Mom toss in eight-ish dried herbs and seasonings. This blend adds depth and earthiness when sprinkled on appetizers, spooned into stews and rubbed onto meats and poultry, where it allows cooking to rich color while sealing in juice. It may take awhile to develop your blend, but persistence will be rewarded with a gift to pass through generations. Find a specialty spice store for the most vibrant flavors. I make Ya-Ya's blend twice each year. Delicious with lower tannin reds and floral whites.
Soy sauce is one premade flavoring I stock for a healthy salt substitute and to enhance floral wines, including riesling, chenin blanc and Gewurztraminer.
I don't need diet and fitness websites to tell me that commercial salad dressings contain about 7 grams of sugar per tablespoon. I can taste that they're too sweet to accompany dry wine. So, every few weeks, I shake up a French-style and a Greek-style vinaigrette, each in a reused jar. I keep ingredients simple; recipes online abound. If I need the fatty/sweet decadence of commercial dressing, I add a dab after greens are tossed with vinaigrette. One of my favorite memories is watching Dad shake up his black pepper vinaigrette, the recipe brought home from some Chicago chef with whom he worked. It signaled fun ahead, his beautiful julienne salad, the family scrunched into a kitchen otherwise reserved for cooking and plenty of lively chat: "John is my favorite Beatle!" "What do you think about the Civil Rights Act?" All from a salad dressing. Sadly, this recipe followed Dad to his grave, but not my memories.
• Mary Ross is an Advanced Sommelier (Court of Master Sommeliers), a Certified Wine Educator (Society of Wine Educators) and recipient of the Wine Spectator's "Grand Award of Excellence." Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ya-Ya's spice blendMary Ross says the spice blend is a work in progress but other than Hungarian sweet paprika and garlic powder she adds the following dried herbs and spices in varying amounts. Play with what you like, and maybe you'll have a special spice blend to pass down of your own.
Pepper, black ground
Pepper, red flakes