Summertime, summertime, time to sit back and unwind” as the song goes. This won’t be totally enjoyable unless it is achieved in front of an appetising plate and a tantalising dram.
For garden and orchard lovers, August and September are among the busiest months of the year as it is harvest time. The right moment to pick ripe and juicy fruit. The perfect time to experience new whisky and food combinations.
Let’s concentrate on fruit, with the emphasis on young whiskies and blends as we will be looking for lighter profiles with no marking oak influence.
Here are a few excellent ideas and tips to make your summer as fruity as possible.
Ripe and juicy apricots are a wonderful ingredient to pair with whisky because of the enticing balance they offer between sweetness and sourness.
The stone can be used too (in small quantities as it contains a little amount of prussic acid which is toxic at high doses) to find a bridge with the almondy finish of a classic Speyside for instance. Last but not least, the smooth texture of the flesh will combine with the whisky’s velvety mouthfeel.
Here are two suggestions, a savoury one and a sweet one: an apricot and almond lamb tajine and an apricot blancmange with a hazelnut crumble. The sweet was featured at the Aberlour Whisky Dinner at the Spirit of Speyside Festival last April.
Strathisla 12 Years Old was the choice. It would also match with the tajine. Chivas 12 Years Old (or even better, the 18 Years Old) would harmonise with the blancmange as well.
The spices in the tajine would certainly be overwhelming for the blend.
Apples are most often thought of as an autumnal fruit but we start finding crunchy fresh apples often in early September.
Those early-fruiting apples are better eaten raw. For instance, thin slices mixed in a salad bowl with blue cheese, chopped celery and walnuts.
Enhance the salad with a French dressing: one tsp of walnut nut oil, two tbsp of sunflower oil, one tbsp of cider vinegar and one tbsp of grain mustard.
A Clynelish (slightly chilled) will complement the dressing. Or for a more daring match, why not try a young peaty malt like Kilchoman. Or the standard Black Bottle blend.
Lemon is not a summer fruit but we find it all year long and it can be combined with a lot of summer fruit. Especially red berries such as strawberries and raspberries.
What about a quick and easy pudding: lemon sorbet served with fresh raspberries, or simply shortbread covered with lemon curd. More sophisticated, a lemon and strawberry charlotte (une charlotte au citron et aux fraises): place a cheesecake base inside an entremets ring, lay strawberry slices all around and in the middle, pour a lemon curd adding some gelatin to harden it. Let cool a few hours in the fridge.
I would particularly recommend peated malts, as they match very well with citrus fruit. Lively, smoky, fresh and straight forward characters as Ardbeg Rollercoaster, Kilchoman, a young Caol Ila, Bowmore Legend will find harmony with the tangy and sharp flavour of the lemon. If you prefer a blend, try Cutty Sark.
A grain whisky like Hedonism from Compass Box would marry with these puddings, in particular with the shortbread and lemon curd one.
One would think that the sharpness of the rhubarb could not marry with whisky. Too sour?Not if it is cooked appropriately. The taste of this plant (not a fruit as such) is rather complex.
Rhubarb is interesting as it can be used in savoury dishes as well as in sweet ones.
An oven baked fish (halibut, seabass or John Dory) can be served with a rhubarb chutney seasoned with curry or cooked with ginger.
For a sweet, a classic immediately comes to mind: the rhubarb crumble.
Here are a few tips: precook the rhubarb slices 20 min in the oven before sprinkling the crumble. Do not sweeten the rhubarb too much as it must keep its delicious sourness. Use vanilla instead of additional sugar if you find the rhubarb too sour. Strawberries match well with rhubarb too. For the crumble, replace 1/3 of the flour with oat flakes and add two or three tbsp of mixed nuts. this gives a lovely crunchy texture.
A delicate floral or herbal whisky will be the perfect companion of this pudding especially if the crumble is served with cream. A young Glencadam for instance. If you want to try it with a blend, choose Grant’s for its light grassy profile.
Who can resist a fragrant strawberry, especially if it has been picked up in the garden on a hot summer day and just rinsed under a tap? The contrast of the cold and the warm brings out sensuous flavours. It is not difficult to replicate these sensations in a plate. Just imagine different ways of presenting strawberries in a pudding. A strawberry medley. I enjoyed such a pudding in a restaurant in Glasgow recently. On the plate, there were five delights: an Eton mess – I like the word, imagining the strictly dressed in their uniform public school boarders messing around with their food, a strawberry and mint tartare, a sorbet, a champagne and strawberry jelly and a tablet. They could have added a strawberry crème brûlée (for the warm and cold shock) or a crumble.
It is interesting to compare the range of flavours the same little fruit can display when cooked in a different way. A tip for flavour enhancing: add a pinch of pepper to the strawberries and a few drops of rose syrup.
Asyla from Compass Box is the perfect blend to be served with such a pudding. Its vanilla sweetness will underline the delicate fragrance of the fruit. As for the single malt, Cragganmore matches well with strawberries, especially if garden herbs are added (basil or mint).