In quite a short time, pairing whisky and food has gone from the status of an anorak oddity to that of a challenging entertainment for all kinds of whisky lovers.
I remember when I started working on my whisky dinners some eight years ago, I had to struggle hard to convince marketing teams that proposing their 18 year old single malt with beef casserole (or worse, teasing the dish with the dram) would not affect its aura but highlight its aromatic profile.
I remember the incredulous smiles which seemed to say : “Crazy idea. Well, she is French... no wonder.”
How things change.
Glenfiddich recently put quite a challenge to Pascal Barbot, chef of l’Astrance in Paris, one of the most respected addresses in Gourmet Paris at the moment. The game was to find a matching for each malt in the company’s range and thus compose a whisky menu.
Far better than a mere exercice de style, the two Michelin star chef has performed some of the most pertinent and natural pairings I have ever experienced.
Rather than giving recipes, most often too professional to be reproduced by amateurs, Pascal Barbot agreed to ‘revisit’ his creations for Whisky Magazine readers and give easy tips which will enable them to experiment these exquisite alliances.
So put on your apron and take up the challenge.
Glenfiddich Special Reserve 12 Year Old Cocktail
A complete innovation, the Glenfiddich was first diluted to 25 per cent, ‘sparkled’, then enriched with a dash of a liquid bitter orange caramel. A beautiful orangey colour and a refreshing feel with a sherbety sensation on the tongue gives the cocktail a light herbal touch, without overwhelming Glenfiddich’s fruity and malty character. Definitely morish.
To get the fizzy feel, dilute the whisky with sparkling water instead of still water. Infuse orange peel in the caramel and filter, adding a few drops of lemon juice to tone down the sweetness of the caramel.
Langoustine, nectarine and dried fruit with Glenfiddich Solera Reserve 15 year old
On the face of it very simple, but this dish hides a very elaborate sensory mechanism.
The langoustine is simply pan-fried but perfectly cooked, i.e. smooth inside and crisp on the surface, served with a short infusion of elderberry flowers and very thin slices of dried apricot, fig and crushed hazelnuts and pistachios.
The smart idea was to slightly chill the whisky to let the cooked langoustine express all its subtle sweetness. The dried fruit prompts an outburst of the whisky’s creamy and honeyed aromas.
When the guests have nearly finished eating the dish, they are given just a spoonful of a cereal sherbet. Coup de théâtre!
Glenfiddich Solera Reserve quietly calms down and ‘gets back’ into the glass, lifting up its spirits on its malty character. Atruly unique gustatory experience!
The secret is in the quality of the ingredients : choose big, fresh langoustines, and the best semi-dried fruit, lightly toast nuts. Shell the langoustines and salt them with ‘fleur de sel’(crunchy salt).
Do not serve the dish too hot : let it rest a few minutes before serving. You get a better expression of the flavours. The cereal sherbet is obtained by marinating oat flakes in a syrup. Sieve the mixture, add a little milk and freeze.
Roasted pigeon, molé, aubergine ravioli with chocolate and rosemary, with Glenfiddich Reserve 30 Year Old
You need a good dose of boldness to dare serve a 30 year old whisky with a dish. You’d rather think of after-dinner for the enjoyable moment with such an oaky character. Yet, the tour de force was fully successful.
Pascal Barbot naturally thought of pungent flavours with the pigeon, chocolate and hot chilli. Molé is a Mexican speciality. A paste made of crushed nuts, hot chilli, plantain banana, spices and chocolate. Meats are coated with this thick sauce and roasted. The chef preferred to just place his homemade molé on the edge of the plate, so it could be used as a condiment.
A dish full of character which completely tamed the single malt oakiness, taking it on the creamy and toffeish path rather than the woody one. The only burnt oak note creeping through was a good match with the aubergine. The pungent taste of the pigeon was of course the heart of the pairing.
You’ll easily find duck breast, perfect for this matching. You can buy molé in exotic food shops or make your own. Just crush in a mortar all the ingredients described above, adding olive oil. Pascal uses chocolate with at least 70 per cent cocoa content. Grill the aubergines in the oven for a smoky note.
Pineapple as a Tatin, demerara sugar spicy sherbet with Glenfiddich Reserva 21 Year Old
Glenfiddich Reserva was the obvious choice for dessert. Silky, smooth, this Glenfiddich is delicately caressed by rum, finishing its maturation in Cuban rum casks to enhance the profile with notes of cooked bananas, cane sugar, vanilla
This Tatin style pie was served with an almondy custard. The sherbet, prepared with treacly sugar, released liquorice and coffee aromas. Aperfectly fusional marriage.
Pineapple slices are fried in butter with dark sugar, tossed in a cake tin, covered with shortcrust pastry and baked for 15 minutes.
The most surprising fact in the challenge taken up by Pascal Barbot and his team is that the young chef is not a whisky lover, even less a connoisseur. And yet, he achieved perfection, finding the right tone in each matching, and playing with aromas as well as on texture and length.
Quite encouraging for everyday homecooks, as it is also true that one can perform well in a kitchen without being an accomplished gourmet cook.
“I never drink whisky,” the chef confesses. “We first studied the tasting notes, then we tasted the six whiskies. And I must admit we enjoyed them thoroughly. This research definitely reconciled me with whisky. We certainly will pursue our whisky education.
“We will be more tempted to propose a single malt to our customers to accompany a sweet for instance. Something I would not even have dared thinking of before!”
So, marriage can lead to a path of discovery? Avery comforting thought in this world of dispute.
4 rue Beethoven, 75016 ParisTelephone:
01 40 50 84 40www.astrancerestaurant.com