When I explain the way I pair whisky with food, I always mention the importance of finding a 'bridge' that will link the food to the drink, whatever style of marriage you are looking for. It is as necessary in an opposition matching as in a complementing or a fusion one.
I’d like to focus on honey, which, though being a common product still keeps an air of mystery. Rich and diverse, honey brings an incredible range of flavours to food. I am not, or rather I was not, a great adept of honey. I gulp it down like a medicine when I have a sore throat. But I like using it in cooking and if I want to sweeten a sauce or a pudding, I most often prefer it to sugar or any kind of syrup.
Honey certainly comes as one of the most recurrent descriptors in single malt tasting notes, with people often noting: pure honey, fruit poached in a honeyed syrup, honey caramelised cereals…
Whatever the form the descriptor takes, we are still talking of honey.
More precisely, we could say that Speyside is 'the land of whisky and honey'. Or should we say 'honeyed whisky'. The sweet malty core of many a Speyside malt mingles with a distinctive fruitiness and results in that honey character.
Now, honey yes, but what kind? When I started creating recipes which include single malt as an ingredient as well as in my pairings, I just used 'honey'. I was more paying attention to the texture than to the taste. It had to be runny honey, much easier to stir in the mix than thick honey.
I must confess I used to buy a medium-priced jar of liquid honey. It usually said “acacia honey” on the label. It had a mild taste, the perfect texture, I was always happy with it.
Then I discovered heather honey in Scotland. Thicker, creamier, with a distinctive taste. This is how I understood that honey was much more complex than I thought. Since then, I methodically buy any new type of honey I come across for my experiments. My shelves are cluttered with small jars of orange blossom, eucalyptus, lavender honey and many others. I find each of them a specific use in cooking.
It is difficult to know how many types of honey we can find on the market. Its flavour comes from the nectar of the plant the bees have been gathering. When they gather the nectar from a variety of flowers, the smell and taste of the honey is less distinctive and sometimes almost bland.
It does not mean this type should be dismissed. A young subtle single malt like Glen Grant or BenRiach Heart of Speyside for instance should be carefully paired with a light and delicate honey which can be used in a salmon gravlax or in a vanilla syrup to poach pears.
Totally opposite to a multiflower honey, this dark powerful chestnut honey from Sicily I discovered last year on Borough Market in London complements a single malt showing an earthy or musty character like Benrinnes, some Glenfarclas or some Glenrothes. A maturation in sherry cask enhances this profile. Use chestnut honey, mixed with a dash of whisky and spices, to brush a guinea-fowl or a pheasant before roasting them in the oven.
Try chestnut honey in a coffee and walnut cake.
Orange blossom honey
That tasty and floral honey should be selected for fruity Speysiders, especially if they have matured in Bourbon casks.
It will be a perfect bridge to pair pan-fried lamb cutlets and honey glazed carrots with Glenlivet 12 Years Old, Glenfiddich Solera Reserve or Glen Moray, or an apple-pie with a honeyed custard.
One of the finest examples of Scottish fare, heather honey offers a perfect match with deep, complex single malts which show a malty profile together with rich dried fruit. Strathisla, Aberlour, Balvenie, Cragganmore to mention a few will infuse a heather honey and whisky ice cream with delicious fruit cake notes.
I can’t resist giving a very simple and easy to make ice cream recipe.
Now you will agree it is well worth cluttering your shelves with honey jars!
Heather honey and single malt ice creamINGREDIENTS
- 100 ml semi-skimmed milk half a vanilla pod
- 150 ml single cream
- 4 yolks
- 40 g caster sugar
- 1 tbsp heather honey
- 50 ml single malt
Make the custard (crème anglaise… well, it becomes “ecossaise” when you add the single malt !):2.
Combine milk and cream with vanilla pod (split in two) in a saucepan. Using a sharp knife, split the vanilla pod in half lengthways and scrape out seeds. Add bean and seeds to milk mixture. Place over medium heat for 5 min. Infuse10 min then remove the vanilla pod.3.
Whisk the yolks with sugar until the mixture forms a ribbon. Pour hot milk mixture over egg yolk mixture, whisking constantly.4.
Return mixture to saucepan over low heat. Cook, stirring constantly until custard thickens and coats the back of a wooden spoon (do not allow custard to boil, as it might curdle).5.
Add honey and single malt. Let the custard cool in the fridge. Then place it in the ice cream maker or directly in the freezer. As it contains alcohol, it will keep a smooth creamy texture. Savour with shortbread slices.