Wednesday, June 22, 2011

#200 - Revisiting The Very First Pairing

It's fun with numbers!

Today, for the 200th post, we revisit the very first pairing we ever did for this blog, Wine Can Chicken with 1999 Prager Riesling Smaragd Steinriegl, which started out the blog with a bang and served us much better than post #2, Church Cookbook Lasagna with 2008 Castle Rock Pinot Noir.  My bowels are probably still scraping out the nastiness of that concoction.

We soon rebounded from that calamity though with pairing post #5, Wine Can Chicken and saffron risotto with 1996 Heredia Gravonia that saddled right up to the food in great Spanish ways.

Thomas Keller Chicken quickly usurped Wine Can Chicken as the chicken standard with pairing post #83, our first foray into seriously considering chardonnay as a drinkable grape and something we might actually want.  But WCC found itself left in the dust, so much so that Mrs. Ney struggled today to find her WCC mojo in the kitchen, something that once upon a time came to her quite naturally.

Since this is #200, let's look back at other number milestones in 25-post increments that starts out with a boatload of more chicken (and risotto):

#25 - Chicken Breasts & Pumpkin Risotto with 2005 Királyudvar Sec
#50 - Wine Can Chicken & Saffron Risotto with 1989 Heredia Tondonia Blanco
#75 - Garlic Shrimp and Bulgarian Sausage, Patatas Bravas and Roasted Ramps with a Trio of Wines
#100 - San Francisco with Ad Hoc & Chez Panisse, a trip we'll be revisiting in two months.
#125 - Lamb, Fregola and Carrot Purée With 2003 Hobbs Gregor Shiraz.  A top-fiver.
#150 - Meatloaf, Tomato Provençal & Potatoes With 2007 Domaine Des Tours
#175 - Flatiron, Portuguese Potato Skins & Rapini With 2004 Schild Estate Shiraz

Odd collection above.  At some point (300?), I'll be putting together a melange of greatest hits, terrible stumbles and a list of foods and wines newly discovered and/or newly rediscovered in better, more tasty forms along with a master list or word collage of What We Love.

For now though, it's the 200th pairing post.

Food:  Asian Wine Can Chicken with Thomas Keller grits cakes and celery mostarda with cold pea soup

A gussied-up version of the chicken served in post #1.  Upon first taste of the chicken last night, I had a vague recollection of the exact meal, feeling like the aggressiveness of the glaze on the chicken caused us to pull back a bit in subsequent versions but it's a sticky, delicious, deeply Asian slather.

Here's the recipe for the preparation of the chicken.  The glaze consisted of agave nectar, hoisin, gooseberry preserves, rice vinegar, butter and dijon with the beer can stuffed with white wine (Neuchâtel Swiss white wine - not...good by itself), dried lemongrass, lemon thyme and garlic.

Both of us started with the breast meat but should have started with the leg and thigh.  Unlike Thomas Keller chicken, which you're walking a tightrope in trying to keep the breast meat moist, WCC typically remained moist for us.  But in this case, the flavor in the breast meat didn't offer much in the way of a darker, more subtle and earthy contrast like the leg and thigh do to the more aggressive flavors on the rest of the chicken.  They needed a break from the glaze, something to offer a varying to and fro, more complexity, and the breast meat kinda just sat there as a spectator.

With that said, this was good chicken, tasty chicken, but over the course of the 18 months or so of this blog and attempting to find out what we learned or found to be What We Like, the constant thread, if there is one, lies in the fact that, while we typically like our flavors more aggressive/bigger/more pronounced, ethnic and jumpy than most people, there has to be a variation in the level of aggressiveness, a sort of operatic swing, a takedown in tone throughout each act in order to demonstrate and setup the importance of a coming spike that reveals its true meaning (Whew!  That's a bit flowery!).

Much like a wine, the structure of a meal has to dial it back on occasion in order to highlight the elements that make a meal so delicious.  Otherwise, it's just a bit loud and bombastic, like listening to a guy who just won't shut up.  What he's saying might even be interesting, even thoughtful, but the delivery of that thoughtful interestingness clouds the message.

But with that said, we still liked this meal in a way akin to having that loudmouth as a life-long friend of sorts, being able to somewhat see past his delivery and not having seen him in years, being able to enjoy the distance while still being able to enjoy the man for a brief time.

Some of that came from finding a new recipe - Thomas Keller grits cakes from Ad Hoc At Home.  Essentially polenta cakes, these will be made again and probably soon.  The joy in them came from the Thomas Keller-ness of them.  The guy has a unique flavor that pervades every recipe of his we've ever tried.  He tastes like Napa.  There's an elegance, sure, and his recipes are a bit fussy, yes, but they're always worth the work.  Light but substantial, there was a purity of delicate grits flavor to them that tastes like Love.  The addition of chipotle left Mrs. Ney dismayed.  By themselves, the chipotle was entirely welcome, lending that singular light smokiness that chipotle offers without allowing the heat to take over.  But it clashed with the celery mostarda's addition of Aleppo pepper.

The celery mostarda, a Lidia Bastianich recipe, was another find in the 200 posts of this blog, loving it with Greek chicken quarters and celery root skordaliá back in April, this time with the addition of ginger and an addition of orange zest.  Just as good this time and the ginger was very much loved but there was clash on the plate with the chipotle in the grits cakes.  Too much going on between the two, keeping everything too high and loud with no respite from the loudness.

Celery leaves, szechuan and pink peppercorns sprinkled all over everything.

Cold pea soup made with snap peas, chicken stock, white balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper and topped with Greek yogurt and parsley to start the meal.  Good stuff.  Simple and refreshing.  A Mark Bittman recipe with the white balsamic addition.

But I need to keep saying this, we enjoyed all the flavors offered with this meal, it's just not something we particularly love anymore.  Happy and full, though.

With the 200th post, we expected the wine, an 11 year-old number deeply discounted when bought two years ago, to offer very little.  We were wrong.

Wine:  1999 Prager Riesling Weissenkirchen Smaragd Steinreigl  ($16 Wine Discount Center)

It's funny to read the first post.  I talked about not knowing true drinking windows by taste and understanding whether a wine has hit its true death or not.  In 18 months, more understanding has come and I feel like I have the guts of that now, knowing how tannins and/or acid along with the expression of fruit show in a wine slowly leaving this mortal drinkable coil.  Then this wine pops up and blows the cover off my supposed understanding.

We thought it was dead.  In the five or so bottles that we originally bought two years ago, it followed a seemingly linear path to deadness to us.  Then, with the showing last night, a second phase of older riesling goodness was found.  The acid in the previous bottles showed a slow fading demise to us.  Not having experience with riesling as old as this, we thought it simply wouldn't offer much only to find out that older riesling acid has incredible resilience and second-level (or third or fourth) vitality, as least with this one.

Much like the Parker review, lemony minerals and flowery notes with touches of apricots, mostly expressed in the very light residual sugar, dominated with a still lively, middle-aged acid performing all its proper functions.  Didn't love it the last time we had it but it may have been (and probably was) that particular bottle.  This time, it tastes like a very interesting and lively person approaching retirement with tons to say and offer to the world.  Tastes...elegant and thoughtful, pondering and delicious.

Pairing:  90  BIG flavors on the plate but a wine that offered a drop in tone and demeanor

The lemon minerals and still peppy acid in the wine turned playful with various bites that included more of the mostarda and less of the hoisin glaze, letting the ginger and lemon dance with each other, even a pineapple creaminess to the wine that did well with the celery and the celery leaves.

In fact, overall, pretty good stuff, with nothing particularly clashing.

We liked this muchly, surprised as all get-out by the wine, enjoyed the flavors in the food with a few reservations here and there but for the 200th post and a revisit to previously loved food, success I say.

A lot of feelings but success.

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