Oswald Rivera

Author, Warrior, and Teacher

Tag: Wine

Shrimp with Thyme-Flavored Cream Sauce

Something to start the coming year, a devilishly scrumptious entrée. It harks back to  haute cuisine. So, if you’re one of those skinny model types or a compulsive dieter, this ain’t for—-unless you crave something sinfully delicious. And, let’s be honest about it, we all need to indulge once in a while. What’s that famous line from the play Auntie Mame? “Life is a banquet and most suckers are starving to death.” So let’s break out the flour, milk, butter and wine. Add to it fresh raw shrimp, and all ladled over wholewheat linguini (my one crumb to the health conscious). And that’s it, let’s party! Oh, yes, for the wine I would suggest a good, classic white like a Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc—-or champagne! Make it that special dinner. What a better way to start the new year?  

SHRIMP WITH THYME-FLAVORED CREAM SAUCE

5 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon chopped shallots (can use onion, if desired)
1 pound saw shrimp, shelled and deveigned
1/2 cup dry, white wine
4 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 cups milk
2 teaspoons fresh thyme (or 3/4 teaspoon dried)

1. 1 pound wholewheat linguini In a sauce pan or skillet heat 2 tablespoons of the butter. Add shallots, shrimp and wine, and cook on medium heat for 5 minutes.
2. In a separate saucepan, melt the remaining butter, add the flour and stir with a wire whisk until blended.
3. Heat the milk to a boil and add it to the  butter-flour mixture, stirring vigorously with the whisk until the sauce is smooth and thickened.
4. Meanwhile cook the pasta according to package directions (some prefer it al dente. I prefer it tender—you’re choice).
5. Add the sauce and the thyme to the shrimp mixture and cook slowly 5 minutes longer. Pour over the pasta, and serve.
    Yield: 4 servings.

Braised Lamb Shanks

In the Rivera clan we love lamb, especially lamb shanks. Usually we cook them Caribbean style (Muslo Cornero a la Caribe)—as noted in my cookbook, Puerto Rican Cuisine in America. The shanks are dusted with flour, then browned, and finally slow cooked in a tomato-based sauce with lots of herbs. But we also love Braised Lamb Shanks, which are baked in a casserole or Dutch oven. It has a  different flavor than the tomato-based kind since the sauce includes red wine along with the usual herbs.

This recipe is easy to prepare. All you need is patience. It’s great for that special dinner for that special someone. Or just, just for the hell of it, giving the family a treat from the usual weekday supper. In my family we serve this dish with yellow rice with pigeon peas (Arroz con Gandules—this recipe is also in my cookbook). Add a loaf of crusty bread, and a good red wine (Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, etc., or whatever you desire, even beer if you don’t want wine. There are no set rules when it comes to one’s palette). 

BRAISED LAMB SHANKS

6 lamb shanks (about 3 1/2 pounds)
Flour for dredging (about 1/2 cup)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/3 cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoons butter
1 large onion, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon fresh thyme (or a pinch dried)
1/4 teaspoon fresh rosemary, chopped (or a pinch dried)
3/4 cup dry red wine
3/4 cup beef bouillon
Fresh parsley for garnish

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Wash lamb shanks under cold running water and pat dry with paper towels.
3. On a plate, combine flour, salt, pepper, oregano and paprika. Dredge lamb shanks with the seasoned flour.
4. Heat the oil and butter over medium-high heat in an oven-proof casserole or Dutch oven (I prefer a large cast-iron pot or pan). Sauté the meat until browned on all sides. Remove to a plate and set aside.
5. Add the onion, garlic, thyme and rosemary to the pot and cook over medium heat, stirring, for 5 minutes. Return the lamb shanks to the pot, and add the wine and beef bouillon. Cover, place in the oven and bake 1 1/2 hours or until the meat is tender.
6. Remove the meat from the pot. Whisk together 2 tablespoons flour with 1/3 cup water and add to the juices in the pot. Cook, stirring constantly over medium-high heat until the gravy thickens and comes to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook 2-3 minutes more.
7. Serve the shanks with the gravy poured over the meat and garnish with fresh parsley.
    Yield: 6 servings.

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Cooking With Wine – Part III


One of the most fool-proof methods of cooking wine is poaching. That is, simply simmering the food with wine as the liquid. You can poach vegetables, meat or fish. They are all good, but poaching goes great with fruit. It can render a marvelous dessert dish, as noted in the recipe below. Just simmer any substantial fruit (apples, peaches, plums, etc.) in a sweet wine. The wine can be can be a sweet sherry, Marsala, port or other. I’ve chosen pears, and Sauternes, a dessert wine from Bordeaux.

PEARS POACHED IN SWEET WINE

1 cup Sauternes
1 cup water
1 cup brown sugar
Rind and juice of 1 lemon
4 pears, peeled and cored
1 cup whipping cream
1 tablespoon pear brandy (optional)

1. In a medium pan, combine wine, water and sugar.
2. Add rind and juice of lemon . Simmer over low heat for 5 minutes.
3. Add pears into the syrup. This must be done immediately after the pears have been peeled and cored. Simmer pears for 10-15 minutes depending on ripeness.
4. Remove pears to a serving platter. Boil syrup over high heat until half has been boiled away.
Pour remaining syrup over pears.
5. Serve chilled with whipped cream flavored with pear brandy if desired.
Yield: 4 servings.

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Cooking with Wine – Part II (Marinades)


Using wine to marinate foods has long been a tradition in cooking. When we think of a marinade, we think of meat. And wine is perfect for it. It tenderizes the meat, gives body and strength to its texture and, at the same time, enhances the flavor. This works well with the less tender cuts of meat (i.e. cheaper cuts) and even game meats such as venison.

It is considered that the use of marinades began in the old sailing days. Sailors would use wines and spirits as marinades to preserve their meats. Otherwise a mariner would be eating rotten meat for the extended voyage. In time this process was taken up by landlubbers. Marinating is a simple enough procedure. The meat is placed in an enamel or glass container, then you add the wine and spices. The meat is turned every few hours until the marinade does its work. These days the meat is kept in the refrigerator.

Try the marinated beef recipe given below. You’d be surprised how an inexpensive cut of meat can reach such glorious heights.

BEEF IN MARINADE

Marinade ingredients:

2 1/2 pounds boneless chuck steak
2 cups dry red wine
1 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 small onion, sliced
4 bay leaves
1 teaspoon fresh thyme or 1/4 teaspoon dried
4 sprigs parsley
10 whole black peppercorns

Cooking ingredients:

4 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and ground black pepper to taste
1/8 teaspoons ginger
1 tablespoon cornstarch

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. In a deep glass or enamel bowl combine the marinade ingredients. Place the meat in the bowl and cover with a lid or aluminum foil. Allow the beef to marinate for approximately 12 hours, turning two or three times.
2. Remove beef from marinade and dry on paper towels.
3. Heat three tablespoons of butter and the olive oil in a casserole or Dutch oven pot, and brown the meat on both sides over medium heat.
4. Strain the marinade and add to the beef. Place in oven and bake for 2 hours or until meat is tender.
5. Remove meat from casserole and boil marinade over high heat until the liquid is reduced to one cup. Dissolve the cornstarch in 2 tablespoons water and add to the marinade. Stir until thicken. Add ginger, salt, pepper, and swirl in the remaining tablespoon of butter.
6. Slice meat at an angle and serve with the sauce. This dish is good with dumplings or boiled potatoes.
Yield: 6-8 servings.

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Cooking with Wine – Part I


Humanity has been cooking with wine since the inception of the grape. And not only wine but spirits in general. There are aficionados who cook with brandy, rum, whisky, you name it. Almost every culture that has spirituous liquors, cooks with them. Yet a lot of us have never cooked with wine, or even thought of it. Adding wine to your cuisine is like adding any other ingredient, herb or spice. Wine gives body and life to many dishes. And if you’re concerned about the alcohol, no need to be. Even a teetotaler can use spirits in their cooking. The alcohol content evaporates when subjected to heat and only the flavoring remains.

There are many variations to wine cooking, ranging from using it as a marinade, or to produce a sauce, or even a poaching liquid. In this post I will focus on using wine at its basic: as an item which will combine with other ingredients to produce a lush blend of flavors and aromas. We’re not talking about flambeing or flaming a piece of meat or fruit in order to get the taste, although that’s also part of it. I’m talking about simple dishes that can be enhanced with a bit of the grape.

When most of us think of cooking with wine, or spirits in general, we immediately imagine those classic dishes such as boeuf bourguignon (beef cooked in Burgundy wine) or duck simmered in port. A lot of us cringe because it seems like such a bother. Here’s a secret: it can be simple, and still be flavorful and delicious. Like the recipe given below. Nothing fancy, nothing time consuming. Just your basic lamb chops cooked in wine and herbs. The dish can also be done with pork chops or chicken breasts.

A final word: I know there are cooking wines out there on the grocer’s shelf. Skip it. If you’re going to cook with wine, use the wine you’re going to drink with dinner. If you think it’s a rare vintage, then buy something comparable at a lesser price and use that. The whole reason that cooking wines came about was to prevent the hired cooks from drinking the wines. So wines were salted and made unpalatable, and used for cooking. You’re cooking for yourself and friends. You’re not a hired cook. Enjoy your labors.

LAMB CHOPS WITH WINE AND HERBS

4 lamb chops, about 1/2 pound each and about 1 1/2 inches thick
Salt and ground black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons butter or margarine
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup wine, either dry red or dry white
1 teaspoons fresh thyme or 1/4 teaspoon dried
1/2 cup basil leaves, washed and chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled and finely minced
2 medium tomatoes, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

1. Sprinkle the chops with salt and pepper on both sides.
2. Use a heavy fry pan or skillet (I prefer cast iron) large enough to hold the chops in one layer. Heat oil and butter until foaming. Add chops and cook until tender (about 4 minutes per side). Remove from pan and keep warm.
2. Discard fat from pan and add wine. Scrape the bottom to release browned or cooked pieces clinging to the pan. Quickly boil wine over high heat until half of the wine has evaporated.
3. Add thyme, basil, and garlic. Saute for a minute or so. Add tomatoes and simmer for 5 minutes. Return the chops to the pan and cook for 2 minutes more. Remove to a serving platter and sprinkle with the parsley.
Yield: 4 servings (or 2 servings for big eaters)

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The Puerto Rican Thanksgiving Turkey

Yes, it’s that time of year again. My favorite holiday: Thanksgiving. Leave it to the American consciousness to create a holiday devoted to feasting and gluttony. I love it. We Puerto Ricans have our own version of the cooked bird. It’s more highly seasoned than its North American counterpart and, in my humble opinion, more flavorful. You see, back in the days of yore, in Puerto Rico, the main staple for the holidays was pernil, or roasted pork shoulder. For health and other reasons, turkey has supplanted the pernil. But, guess what—we spice up the turkey to taste like pork, or a la criolla (creole style). So, here it is, the Puerto Rican Thanksgiving turkey which we normally serve with yellow rice and pigeon peas (gandules). The recipe is from my first cookbook, Puerto Rican Cuisine in America (The Perseus Books Group).

PAVO RELLENO A LA CRIOLLA
(Stuffed Roast Turkey)

1 81/2 pound pound dressed-weight turkey
5 cloves garlic, peeled
6 whole black peppercorns
1 tablespoon dried oregano
4 teaspoon salt
1 cup olive oil
4 tablespoons paprika
1/4 cup vinegar
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 1/2 pound lean ground beef
1 packet sazon accent (Goya makes a good one with coriander and annato)
1/2 cup stuffed pimento stuffed Spanish olives
4 tablespoons capers, drained
1/2 cup tomato sauce

1. Rinse and wash turkey, inside and out, and wipe dry. Do the same with the heart, liver and gizzard, and then chop innards coarsely. This will be combined with the ground beef when preparing the stuffing.
2. Pound together the garlic, peppercorns, oregano and 3 teaspoons of salt in a mortar. Add 1/2 cup olive oil, 2 tablespoons paprika, vinegar, and combine. Rub the turkey with the seasoning inside and out—what my mother calls “abodar el pavo” (seasoning the beast). This is done a day ahead (the turkey should be left overnight, in a covered pot, in the refrigerator). This will allow it to absorb the flavors.
3. Heat vegetable oil in a frying pan or kettle. Add the ground beef and cook over high heat, stirring frequently, until the meat loses its color. Reduce heat to medium low and stir in the sazon, olives, capers, tomato sauce and remaining teaspoon salt. Cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, to complete the stuffing.
4. Remove from heat and let cool. Stuff the turkey loosely about three quarters full. Truss the turkey (sew or skewer together the neck and bind the legs).
5. Place turkey in a roasting pan breast side down. To insure a golden brown exterior combine the remaining 2 tablespoons paprika with the remaining olive oil in a small bowl. Brush the entire turkey with this mixture and roast in a slow to moderate over (325 degrees F.) for 3 1/2 hours. To brown bird, raise temperature to 350 degrees during the last 25 minutes of cooking. This is an excellent way of cooking if in doubt as to tenderness of turkey. Some people prefer covering the turkey with aluminum foil while roasting, and removing this during last 20-30 minutes of cooking time to brown the skin. I find that frequent basting during cooking gets the same result.
Baking theories abound. There is the old traditionalist view that allows 1 1/2 hours for the first pound and then 25 minutes per pound up to 7 pounds and 20 minutes per pound after that. Thus, a 5 pound bird would take 3 hours and 20 minutes, a 7 pounder would take 4 hours and 10 minutes, and a 10 pounder 5 hours and 10 minutes. But in my view, there’s no set rule. Some birds take more time to roast, some less. In the Rivera family we go by general common sense: figure a 7 to 8 pounder takes 3 1/2 to 4 hours to cook; a 10 pounder maybe 4 1/2 hrs., and a 12 pound turkey maybe 5-5 1/2 hours. Rule of thumb: turkey is done when drumstick and thigh move easily.
6. For gravy: remove turkey from roasting pan and keep warm. Drain drippings from roasting pan into a sauce pan. Skim off the fat but retain 1/4 cup of the drippings. Add 2 cups water or 1/2 cup dry white wine and 1 1/2 cups water to pan drippings. Bring to a boil over high heat while stirring in the 1/4 cup fat. Lower heat and thicken slightly with a little cornstarch and water combined. If you want to reduce the grease content, mix 3 teaspoons of cornstarch with 3 tablespoons water. Add this to the strained pan drippings and heat, thereby omitting the reaming fat content.
Yield: 6 to 8 servings.
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Mulsum – The Great Aperitif of Olden Times

As noted in an earlier blog, I have always been fascinated by ancient Roman cooking. My second cookbook, The Pharaoh’s Feast (Thunder’s Mouth Press) has a whole chapter on this. Roman meals, especially at the time of the Empire, were sumptuous productions for the upper classes. They were ostentatious and sometimes downright weird. Imagine eating dormice, sow’s womb, and peacock’s brain in a sauce. Admittedly, not something for everyone

Yet, in a Roman banquet (and some of the dishes were quite sophisticated), each meal began with a sweet aperitif, mulsum, a mix of wine and honey. Then the successive courses were served and here, early in the dinner, the guests ate without drinking. Then they drank without eating. Wisely, the Romans, like the ancient Greeks before them, normally drank their wine mixed with water.

An ancient gourmand, Apicius, who lived in the time of Emperor Nero, wrote a tome, On Cookery, or De Re Coquinaria. In it he has a recipe for spiced honey wine that calls for peppercorns, mastic (a sort of resin), bay leaf, saffron, and dates. Trying to emulate this recipe would be a daunting undertaking. I prefer to make the mulsum by simply combining the honey and the wine. The recipe follows below; and note that it is best to use pure, unprocessed raw honey, the type sold in health food stores.

MULSUM

1/2 cup honey
1 bottle medium-dry red wine

1. Heat the honey in a small saucepan. Do not boil. Remove from the honey and let it cool.
2. Mix the wine and honey in a ceramic jar or pitcher and serve at cool room temperature. the wine and honey can also be mixed in a bowl and served in a decanter.
Yield: 4 to 6 servings.

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Summer Salad


Waning days of summer, but it’s still hot out there. Cooking is the last thing on your mind. So how about a nice summer salad? Unfortunately, some of us do not know how to make a nice summer salad. I am not an expert at this but, through trial and error, I’ve configured what I consider to be a fairly reasonable salad dish. Given the cheese used, it can be called a French summer salad (if using chervre cheese), a Spanish summer salad (if using manchego cheese), an American summer ad (if using a sharp cheddar), a British salad (if using stilton), or a Greek salad (if using feta cheese). In fact, you can garnish it with whatever ingredients you want.

BASIC SUMMER SALAD

4 tablespoons olive oil

3 tablespoon red wine vinegar

2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced

1 teaspoon dried oregano

Salt to and ground black pepper to taste

1 head lettuce (can use romaine, chicory, red leaf. etc. or, if you prefer, fresh spinach)
1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
1 1/2 cups cheese, crumbled, sliced or diced
1 small red onion, halved and thinly sliced
1 Green or red bell pepper, sliced
1 seedless cucumber, halved and thinly sliced
1/2 cup black, pitted olives

1. In a small bowl, combine olive oil, vinegar, garlic and oregano.
2. Season with salt and pepper.
3. In a large bowl, add remaining ingredients, and drizzle oil dressing over it.
4. Toss and serve.
Yield: 4 servings.

By the way, if you’re a fan of Caribbean Jerk Chicken, like I am; there’s a scrumptuous recipe for Jerk Chicken with Lime and Potato Wedges at http://bcukrecipes.blog.co.uk/

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Summer Dishes

AioliImage via Wikipedia

Mid-August and it’s sizzling out there. This is no time for elaborate meals and dinners. We want something fast, nutritious and cool. Below are some quick summer dishes one can create in minutes. All dishes should be served at room temperature.

Mushroom Salad: Wash and clean a bunch of mushrooms (about 1-2 pounds—you can choose whatever you want: white mushrooms, criminis, portabellos, etc.); cut in half or quarter any large ones. Steam about 5 minutes. While still warm, toss with sliced shallots or onions; add olive oil, minced garlic, ground black pepper, coriander, chopped fresh cilantro, and red wine vinegar.

Combination Beans: Combine cooked or canned beans, drained. You can mix any variety: black beans, red beans, chickpeas, etc. Add diced red and green pimentos, and a minced jalepeno or tabasco pepper (make sure you remove seeds). Season with juice from one lime, chopped marjoram, oregano and ground black pepper to taste.

Horta (a seasoned salad): Steam or poach two pounds of dark leafy greens (spinach, collards, kale, etc.). Drain, cool, squeeze dry and chop coarsely. Add olive oil, oregano, ground black pepper, and fresh lemon juice to taste.

Basic Green Salad: Wash and cut plum tomatoes into slices. Lay in a circle on a big plate with mixed greens, black olives cut in half, and cubes of goat cheese (preferably manchego—if you can get it). Season with ground black pepper, salt and oregano. Drizzle with red wine vinegar and olive oil. Garnish with a sliced boiled egg.

Aioli is a sauce popular in Provence that’s served with seafood, shellfish, boiled eggs, and potatoes. In a blender or food processor, blend 3 cloves peeled garlic, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 2 tablespoons olive oil until creamy and smooth. Transfer to a bowl (preferably wood), and very slowly add 3/4 olive oil, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon until mixture thickens. Traditional Aioli included a raw egg, but nowadays that’s not recommended due to health reasons.

Whichever recipe you prefer, enjoy. Or you can try making up your own summer snack. The possibilities are endless.

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Kung Fu Wine

It had to happen. It just had to happen, and it wasn’t even on my radar—until a friend informed me about it. There’s a wine from Washington State called “Kung Fu Girl.” That’s right: Kung Fu Girl. And I am doubly dumbfounded about this since I am into fine wines (and not so fine wines) and of course, Kung Fu which (as I’ve mentioned on this blog ad nauseum) I’ve practiced for 35+years. The fact that this wine has been around, I think, since 2006 and I didn’t know about it, leaves me feeling quite asinine (I could use another adjective but this is a family blog).

The wine in question is a white wine, a Riesling (more about that later) made by winemaker Charles Smith of the famed K-Vintners; and it comes from the Columbia Valley in Washington. As per its name, it’s a wine tailored for Asian dishes. Why the label (and a beautiful label it is) Kung Fu Girl? Well, as wine master Mr. Smith states in his ad—“because Riesling and Girls kick ass!” He adds that “. . .the reason we love this wine actually has more to do with another aspect of Kung Fu: balance. This comes from a single vineyard comprised of fragmented basalt and caliche soils. Great acidity, minerality and girl-next-door kiss of sweetness.” I like that last part. Mainly because wife, Holly, loves Riesling—it’s the only wine she can take–essentially because she prefers sweet and semi-sweet wines. I, on the other hand, prefer dry wines (my favorite dry white being Pinot Grigio). But I do like a well balanced, juicy Riesling—which this one is reputed to be.

I guess it was only a matter of time before the martial arts would be paired up with wine ads. But I’m intrigued and happy that Mr. Smith picked the tag of Kung Fu. I don’t know whether Mr. Smith has ever dabbled in the art or not, but he is a legendary wine maker who, like most people on the cutting edge, pushes the envelope somewhat. Apparently he’s on a mission to bring Washington State Rieslings to the fore, and I wish him well. And from the raves I’ve seen on-line, he has succeeded. Cork’d gave the 2006 Kung Fu Girl Riesling an average rating of 89.0/100, which is pretty good. The reviewer from The Wine Cask Blog hailed it as “one of the best Rieslings I have had in years from any country including Germany!” High praise indeed. Gary Vaynerchuk featured the 2007 Kung Fu Girl Riesling, along with Charles Smith as guest, on his popular Wine Library TV, The Thunder Show Episode #549 (http://tv.winelibrary.Com/). Mr. Smith stated, among other things, that the mild climate and long growing season in Washington State produces this really exceptional wine. Mr. Vaynerchuk also gave it an 88/89 type rating.

The fact that, according to its followers, this wine pairs well with Asian cooking also peaked my interest. Chinese food has been one of the passions in my family since I can remember. From my boyhood on we would make that weekend trek to Chinatown and gorge ourselves on baby spare ribs, fry rice, lo-mein, steamed sea bass, egg rolls, all that good stuff. Of course then it was all mainly Cantonese cuisine with an American bent. Actually, it was American Chinese food. A secret: fried rice, egg foo young, chop suey and, yes, fortune cookies, are all American inventions. It wasn’t until later in my adulthood when Shechuan and Hunan restaurants started opening up in Chinatown that I really began to appreciate the variety and multiplicity of Chinese cuisine. Add to that, the Thai, Burmese, and Vietnamese places that followed so that today there’s a cornucopia of fine Asian cuisine in the city, not just the Cantonese fare of yesteryear.

In the old days, the only beverage served with Asian food was either tea, beer, or a wine called Wan Fu white that used to be sold in some Chinese restaurants. I remember Wan Fu. It was supposed to accompany what were then called “Oriental dishes.” Even then I considered it a bit sweet for my taste. It was only later on that I discovered that Wan Fu wasn’t Chinese at all. In fact, it was a semi-dry white Burgundy from France. Go figure. Further experimentation got me into the realm of drinking Gewurstraminer (Guh-verts-trah-mee-ner) with Asian dishes. This is a dry, spicy wine that can either hail from Germany (the Rheinpfalz area) or Alsace (which for a long time had been a disputed part of Germany until 1945 when it became French). I still like Gewuzstraminer with Asian food but, again, it’s all relative. Holly likes Riesling with everything. Back in my youth I once knew a lady who preferred Mogen David Heavy Malaga Red with every meal. Where wine is concerned, I believe, there should be no hard and fast rules. Every palette should decide for itself. But it’s good to know that now there’s another alternative to Asian food—Kung Fu Girl Riesling.

It’s the more amazing that Charles Smith has decided to stake his calling on the Riesling grape variety. A few years back, Riesling was the province of German and Alsatian vintners. In the last few decades this has changed with Riesling being cultivated in California, Australia, New Zealand and a host of other countries. In the U.S., California is no longer the only player. Oregon and Washington, among others, have gotten into the act.

I discovered Riesling in my young manhood; and the Rieslings I recalled from that time were different from what you get today. To my unformed palette, the Rieslings back then where perceptibly sweeter. Now, I’m talking about the 1960s and 70s. The wines were pale yellow in color, or yellow to golden yellow, fruity, and some even with a note of honey in them, and low alcohol content. This changed as wines with a dry finish became so increasingly popular that even German vintners began making dry wines. Still, from what I gather, most Washington Riesling is made in the traditional German style. That is, light and fruity, with high acidity to balance the sugar, but with a much higher alcohol content, sometimes over 13% alcohol. Austrian and Alsatian Rieslings are somewhat dryer. Some of them have almost no residual sugar. My preference is for the Austrian or Alsatian type. Still, that doesn’t mean a Washington Riesling can’t be great. We decided to give it the ultimate test and see how it would pair up with an Asian dish. In this case, Northern (Peking-Style) deep-fried bean curd, along with steamed chicken and white rice. The bean curd recipe is from my second cookbook, The Pharaoh’s Feast (Avalon Books). To make the steam chicken is easy enough: take one fryer chicken (about 2 1/2 to 3 pounds), washed and cut up in generous bite-sized pieces, place it in a bowl and rub it all over with olive oil, red wine vinegar, salt and pepper, and dried oregano. Let it stand for about 10 to 15 minutes. Then place in a wok, medium-sized skillet or pan. Fill about 1/3 full with water, bring it to a boil, cover and let simmer 25-30 minutes until pieces are tender. If you want to follow the more traditional Asian mode then use a mixture of 3 tablespoons soy sauce, 1 teaspoon sugar, 1 tablespoon cornstarch and 1 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil for the marinade. In either case, if you desire a more spicy dish, add 3 to 4 drops Tabasco or chili sauce to the mix.

I must say that in our informal tasting (Holly was the official Riesling judge), I was pleasantly surprised. To begin with, the wine came with a screw cap. There has been an issue of sorts in the wine world as of late concerning screw caps on wine bottles. Traditionalists state that this is heresy. The corked bottle is sacrosanct. Truth is that, to a wine maker, bottle caps are more efficient, less time consuming and less expensive than traditional corks. I have discovered that bottle caps on white wines ensure a longer storage time in the fridge. This is no scientific experiment; just my observation. Although there is a certain romance to maneuvering that corkscrew, pulling out the cork, and listening to that pop! As to the wine in question, it was soft, subtle, with plenty of aromas—peach, pear, lime— you name it. This fruit like aromatics was also noted on the Wine Library segment where Mr. Vaynerchuk declared the wine had a hint of sweetness and heavy on apple flavors. As to its marvelous color, Holly thought it looked like summer: bright and golden. She described it as early morning sun without the heat. And it had a cool taste, not overwhelming. Lightness is how she summed it up. her final allegory is “that there is something about it like spring. Something youthful.” This echoes what Charles Smith himself said on Wine Library TV. He also confirmed it was a melowy wine, floral, and reminiscent of spring flowers. So Holly wasn’t too off the mark. I found that it had good balance, not too sweet, not too dry, and not as intense as I expected. My experience with fine German Rieslings is that, to compensate for the sweetness, they have a lively acidity and their flavor is usually intense. Not with this one. It had a light, crisp finish that left a lingering aftertaste with just a little hint of dryness. All in all, a superb wine for spring or summer.

The one caveat I have is that the wine store where I purchased the bottle, in Manhattan, it was $19.95 retail. In the web sites I perused in Washington State the price ranged from $12.99 to $14. Cork’d blog gave the 2006 a retail price of $14.99. Gary Vaynerchuk gave it a retail range of $12-$13. In these trying economic times, one has to save wherever one can. But where good wine is concerned, it sure as hell is difficult to do that in New York State.

Finally, this all leaves me to consider that this wine thing could be the beginning of a new trend. If there’s Kung Fu wine, then why not Kung Fu beer? or gin? or whisky? Who knows, someday you might even have a Kung Fu laxative. the possibilities are endless.

NORTHERN (PEKING-STYLE) DEEP-FRIED BEAN CURD

1-pound container fresh bean curd, preferably extra firm, washed, patted dry and cut into 1/2-inch cubes

3 tablespoons cornstarch (more or less as needed)

Peanut or vegetable oil for deep frying

3 tablespoon soy sauce

1 teaspoon sesame oil

1 teaspoon chili sauce

1. Sprinkle the bean curd evenly with the cornstarch.
2. Heat the oil over high heat in a wok or deep skillet. Add the bean curd and fry until golden brown. Depending on the side of the wok or skillet, you may have to do this in batches. Remove the bean curd with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.
3. Mix the soy sauce, sesame oil, and chili sauce.
4. There are two ways to serve the bean curd (or tofu as it is known in Japanese): either place the tofu in a bowl and drizzle the soy sauce mixture over it, then stir, making sure the bean curd is evenly coated with the sauce; or just use the sauce as dip separately. Either way, serve with white rice or noodles.
Yield: 4 servings

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