Anyone who has ever attended a whisky dinner will have experienced the quandary of pairing whisky with a three course meal. Most of the time, it is hard to pinpoint exactly which element of the dish the whisky is paired with.
The pairing might work beautifully with the caramelised meat, but falls flat when tried alongside the mash potatoes or gravy that are also on the plate. It all gets quite confusing and the premise is lost.
Alternatively, the whisky overwhelms the palate and you can’t enjoy either your dinner or the whisky. Even more dire is the situation where the whisky, a short drink by nature runs out long before the course is complete! For these reasons I believe it is foolish to attempt to substitute whisky for wine or even beer at a dinner party. Instead, tease the flavours out with the right food pairing by incorporating small dashes of whisky in each course.
Using whisky as part of the meal allows your guests to experience the spirit in a new and surprising way and will win you whisky converts!
A whisky aperitif will set the tone for the evening, but shaking cocktail after cocktail distracts from spending time with your guests. Instead batch up some Manhattans, and stir over ice as each guest arrives, serving with an orange peel and a whisky preserved cherry.
I keep a selection of small spritz bottles filled with my favourite pairing whiskies on hand. Some of them are well-washed vintage perfume atomisers, others are plainer, simple small spray bottles such as you might decant toiletries into when going on holiday. Frequently, just prior to serving a dish, I will spritz a chosen whisky over it. Some favourite pairings are Old Pulteney over sea food dishes, Bowmore 15 over anything chocolaty, Redbreast Lastau over fresh fruits and vanilla ice cream and Nikka from the Barrel over pasta with basil pesto. This is a great way to add flavour and theatre to your dinner party, without going over the top, and overwhelming the chosen dish, or your guests’ palates.
Compound butters are a great way to introduce whisky to a dinner party. They also prevent the need to serve a gravy, saving hours of jus making and reducing over a hot stove. They also keep well in the fridge once tightly wrapped in clingfilm. You can use pastry moulds if you want to make fancier shapes, but I find rounds sliced from a log to be the most convenient.
Irish Coffee is the obvious choice here, but going one further and serving a rich hot chocolate laced with a peaty whisky such as Laphroaig or a spicy rye such as Michter’s is the ultimate nightcap, especially in the colder months.
Suggestions for whisky butters
Tarragon, horseradish and The Dalmore over griddled steak
Follow the same method as the lamb chops with whisky butter recipe (below), but substitute a tablespoon of chopped tarragon and half a teaspoon of horseradish for the rosemary and shallot, and Dalmore for The GlenDronach.
Dark chocolate, Black Bush and almond butter over pancakes
Follow the same method as the lamb chops with whisky butter recipe, but substitute a teaspoon of cocoa powder, 30g chopped dark chocolate and 20g flaked almonds for the rosemary and shallot and add in a tablespoon of icing sugar with Black Bush taking the place of The GlenDronach.
Crab claws with lemon, garlic and a Connemara single malt spritzServes 4INGREDIENTS
METHODIf using fresh claws
- 12 fresh or precooked crab claws
- 1 green chilli, finely chopped
- 3 cloves of garlic, minced
- 50ml olive oil
- 100g butter
- juice of 1 lemon
- handful of parsley, chopped
- sourdough and seasonal salad to serve
- 40ml Connemara in a small spray bottle
Half fill a large bowl with ice, and then cover the ice with water. Place a large pot of salted water over high heat until boiling. Drop in the raw crab claws and cook on a rolling boil for 10-12 minutes. Remove from the pit and plunge into ice water. Remove the crab claws from the water and place onto a chopping board. Break open the shell with a claw cracker. If you do not have one, use a large knife, being gentle so as not to break the meat.
In a large pan heat the olive oil and butter together over medium heat. Add in the garlic and the chilli, and stir for one minute, then add in the lemon. Tip in the crab claws and cook gently to heat through, about four minutes. Remove from heat and divide between warmed plates, scatter with parsley and toasted sourdough on the side. Serve with three spritzes of the whiskey over the top at the table.
Lamb chops with whisky butterWHISKY BUTTER INGREDIENTS
- 100g butter
- 2 sprigs of rosemary, leaves only, finely chopped
- 1 small shallot, minced
- 35ml The GlenDronach 12 Years Old
- 2-3 lamb chops per person
- 2 tablespoons of oil
- salt and pepper
- rosemary sprig
To serve: a selection of roasted root vegetables chopped and cooked in the a roasting tray at 180˚C for 40 minutes: celeriac, swede, carrots halved lengthways, halved baby potatoes, red onions quartered, a couple of crushed cloves of garlic and beetroot, all drizzled with oil and seasoned with flaky sea salt before cooking. WHISKY BUTTER METHOD
Beat the butter until soft, add the measure of whisky and the shallot and rosemary. Season with salt and black pepper.
Use greaseproof paper and clingfilm to roll into a log and then refrigerate for several hours. LAMB CHOPS METHOD
Heat a griddle pan over a high heat. Mix the oil with the salt and pepper and use the sprig of rosemary to brush the oil over the lamb chops. Cook the chops for 3-4 minutes each side, then using tongs, stand each one on its side and fry the fat for about a minute.
Place on a plate and cover to rest for a minute or two. Serve the chops over the root veg, topped with a generous round of the whisky butter.
Whisky laced hot chocolateServes 4INGREDIENTS
- 150ml cream
- 500ml milk
- 70g dark chocolate
- 15g cocoa powder
- 50ml honey
- 100ml whisky
Heat milk and cream in a small saucepan over medium heat for one minute. Thoroughly whisk in the cocoa powder and heat through for another minute. Remove from heat and add honey, whisky and dark chocolate, whisking continuously for another minute until chocolate is melted and everything is combined. Serve in warmed mugs.