Pairing whisky and food should be fun. While pairing can elevate each of the foods and the spirit to new and heady heights, it does not need to be complicated.
The principle is the same as when you douse your fish and chips with lemon to cut through the fattiness, or when you dunk a biscuit in a cup of well brewed tea delighting in the contrast of tannins and sweetness. In my experience, pairing food with whisky is easier and more rewarding with small dishes or plates where there is a concentration of flavour. Whisky is a short drink by nature, an intense cluster of flavours that lends itself to pairing with small bites of food which are also intensely flavoured.
How to taste canapés and whiskey
I like to start with a drop of the whisky, and then try the canapé and then the whisky again. You will find the canapé changes the flavour of the whisky, amplifies some flavours, mutes others and creates some new flavours.
Miso Cured SalmonPair with Talisker 10 Years Old or Scapa Skiren
I recently started making my own miso. While this is hugely rewarding, it has a very long lead time, taking up to seven months to ferment. I suggest buying an organic miso to use instead, or at least one that does not contain MSG. The iodine in the nori and the briny salt of the salmon work alongside the salty smoke in the whisky and the white pepper draws out the natural length of each whisky.INGREDIENTS
- 1kg side of very fresh salmon, skin on
- 200g Maldon sea salt
- 50g brown miso
- 100g sugar
- 1tsp lemon zest
- 1tsp lime zest
- 1tsp freshly ground white peppercorns
- 20g coriander cress
- 1 sheet of nori, crumbled
- Rye crackers
- Crème fraîche
Mix all ingredients except salmon together in a bowl.2.
Spread the mixture over the salmon, ensuring all exposed flesh is covered.3.
Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and place in a non-reactive dish. Place another dish on top and weigh down with tins of beans.4.
Refrigerate for 24 hours.5.
Unwrap and rinse, drying with paper towels.6.
Serve thinly sliced on crackers, a blob of crème fraîche topped with flakes of nori and coriander cress.
Ham & smoked cheese sausage rollsPair with Bushmills 10 Years Old or Ben Nevis 19 Years OldMakes 24 sausage rolls
This pairing works like pineapple on a pizza, the sweet tropical fruit flavours in the whiskey play off the umami flavours in the smoked cheese and ham.
- 1 unsmoked ham hock
- 1 small onion, quartered
- 5 cloves
- 5 peppercorns
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 carrot, peeled and quartered
- Enough water to completely cover the hock
- 250g grated smoked cheese. I recommend Gubbeen
- 100g sausage meat
- Half a batch of rough puff pastry, or two store bought sheets
- One egg – beaten
In an oven proof pot, place all of the ham hock ingredients and place covered in a 150C oven for 1.5–2 hours, or until the meat is falling off the bone. Allow to cool in the liquid, then strain and shred the meat with a fork. Reserve the liquid for soup and the skin for crackling if you like.2.
Combine cheese, sausage meat and cooled ham in a bowl and season to taste.3.
Roll the pastry out to 0.5cm thick, and cut in half. Form the ham mix into two sausages, the length of the long edge of the pastry and place a third of the way along the pastry.4.
Brush the pastry with the beaten egg and fold the pastry over, encasing the filling. You can crimp the edges if you want to be fancy.5.
Cut each roll into 12 pieces and brush with a little more egg before baking in a 180C oven for 20 minutes, or until golden.
Rough Puff Pastry
This is the pastry I use when pressed for time, as traditional puff pastry takes the best part of a morning to make. This puff pastry is suitable for the sausage rolls and also the tart recipe on the right.INGREDIENTS
- 250g plain flour, sifted
- 1tsp fine sea salt
- 250g unsalted butter from the fridge, diced
- 150g iced water
Place flour and salt into a large bowl. Rub butter into the flour, leaving plenty of chunks of butter about the size of a pea. The butter should be visible.2.
Pour in 100ml of water and mix until a firm rough dough forms. Add extra water only if needed. Wrap in plastic wrap and leave to chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.3.
Turn dough onto a floured countertop. Knead gently and then form into a rectangle, about twice as wide as long. Keep edges straight and do not overwork, chunks of butter should still be visible.4.
Fold the top third of the dough over itself and then the bottom third on top of that, like you are folding a letter. There should be three layers. Turn 90 degrees, roll out to the same size as before, and then repeat the folding. Follow this step three more times. Chill for another 30 minutes before using.
Goats cheese & poached pear tartletsPair with Redbreast 12 Years Old or Powers John’s Lane
The poached pear recipe makes more than is needed, but they are also great on their own, or served with clotted cream. The spice of the tarts echoes the pot still spice of the whiskeys while the contrast of the goats cheese brings a smooth almond flavour to the fore.
4 pears, peeled, cored and quarteredINGREDIENTSFor the poaching liqueur
- 200ml light red wine
- 200ml water
- 150g brown sugar
- 3 star anise
- 1 cinnamon quill
- A few scrapes of nutmeg
- 200g soft, young goats cheese crumbled
- Half batch rough puff pastry
- 1 egg, beaten
- 50g nibbed almonds
Place all the ingredients for the poaching liqueur in a heavy bottomed saucepan over medium high heat. Once the sugar is dissolved, lower in the pears, reduce the heat to below a simmer and poach for between 15–20 minutes, or until the pears are soft. Cool in liquid. 2.
Preheat oven to 200C. Toast the nibbed almonds for five minutes and then leave aside to cool. 3.
Roll the pastry out to 0.5cm thick. Cut eight cm rounds from the pastry with a biscuit cutter. Brush the rounds with egg, then fan the pear quarters and crumble over the goats cheese.4.
Bake in the preheated oven until the cheese is golden, about 15 minutes.