12 March 2008

what to eat with champagne?

In a couple weeks, I am going to a Junior League champagne tasting, and I have been assigned to bring a savory dish. My friend Stephanie, who also needs to bring a savory, just asked me what I was thinking of bringing, which made me realize that I have absolutely no idea what to eat with champagne. Luckily, Google, of course, has all the answers. God bless Al Gore for inventing the internet!

The best overview of champagne and food pairings was on the Food Network site, a culinary Q&A asking, "How do you pair food with champagne?" After providing a simple, descriptive list of the different types of champagne, the experts went on to say the following about food pairings:

"Experts and amateurs agree: champagne is much more versatile than any single wine to drink with a wide array of foods, beyond the predictable pairings with caviar and oysters on the half shell. The following food pairings are recommended for traditional brut champagnes, unless otherwise noted.

- Scrambled eggs
- Any mushroom dish
- Nuts, especially almonds
- Popcorn and potato chips
- Cheese. The best are aged, hard cheeses such as parmesan, gouda or cheddar. Goat cheese goes very well with blanc de blancs.
- Any pasta or risotto, especially with cream or mushroom sauce. Avoid heavy tomato-based sauces. The tomatoes clash with the high acidity of the champagne.
- Pizza, with thin crust, easy on the tomato sauce.
- Vegetables
- Fish and seafood, especially lobster.
- Poultry and game birds such as duck. Rose is a particularly good pairing with these meats.
- Other white meats, such as veal, pork, ham and lamb. Lamb that is slightly pink in the middle and ham go very well with rose.
- Deep fried foods, such as fried chicken, french fries or calamari, for the same reason beer goes well with these foods.
- Asian food. The acidity of champagne stands up very well to the spiciness of these foods. A light brut or extra-dry is ideal, but not a very dry brut. Ask your wine merchant for advice.
- Sushi is best for the driest bruts or blanc de blancs.
- Mexican food is good with fruity extra-dry champagne.
- Dessert that isn't very sweet, such as berries, shortbread, pound cake, angel food cake, or tart, lemony desserts, are appropriate for demi sec. Chocolate is OK with an extra-dry or demi sec, if it's dark or bittersweet and not gooey. An Italian asti is better for desserts, because it's sweeter than French champagne."

Now, obviously, I am not going to be bringing lobster, duck, or lamb to this champagne tasting. Although I love the idea of fried foods (and so does this San Diego-based food critic), there is no way I am bringing a dish that needs to be somehow deep- or pan-fried at the League's headquarters. Any other dish that cannot be made ahead (like scrambled eggs, pasta, or pizza) is likewise out. This leaves me with a few options: cheese (and crackers), nuts, popcorn/potato chips (a.k.a., something salty and crunchy), and sushi.

For more information on the cheeses, I found the following article on "Champagne and Cheese," which recommends brie, mild cheddar, chevre, colby, edam, and gouda. Not a bad option, but (a) pretty boring, and (b) I am sure many, many other people will be bringing cheese plates.

Sushi or sashimi sounds amazing, but unfortunately, probably too expensive when there are 80+ people showing up to the event (not that I need to feed everyone, but I'm not going to bring three pieces, either).

By process of elimination, I was now left with the idea of something crunchy and salty, like nuts, popcorn, or potato chips. Luckily, I happened upon this article, which discusses a potluck-style champagne tasting with many different types of food, one of which was "olives stuffed with blue cheese." Now that sounded amazing, easy but unique, and I began searching for a recipe.

So here's the recipe I found, which looks awesome, and will be perfect with champagne (cheese, salt, and crunch). I'll provide an update when I actually make them! [Note: I would just like to file this recipe ("Fried Green Olives Stuffed with Blue Cheese," from the August 2007 Bon App├ętit) for the future - sadly, it is a fried olive recipe, and I just couldn't swing it in this particular setting. However, I would love to make it for the future.]

Blue Cheese Stuffed Olives

24 almond slivers
Essence seasoning
1 (10-ounce) jar large pitted green olives (about 24 olives)
1/4 cup blue cheese
3 cloves garlic, smashed
10 whole black peppercorns

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Place the almonds in a small baking sheet and lightly season with Essence. Roast until fragrant and light golden in color, about 6 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool slightly.

Drain the olives, reserving the brine. Form 1/2 teaspoon of blue cheese around each almond sliver and stuff each into an olive. Note: If you are using small olives, use 1/8 teaspoon of blue cheese, form into a tube, and stuff the olive, then "close" it with the almond sliver.

Return the olives to their jar, layering with the garlic and peppercorns. Pour the reserved brine over the olives to completely cover. Tightly cover and shake well. Let marinate refrigerated and sealed for at least 2 days.

Essence Seasoning

2 1/2 tablespoons paprika
2 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons garlic powder
1 tablespoon black pepper
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon dried leaf oregano
1 tablespoon dried thyme

Combine all ingredients thoroughly and store in an airtight jar or container. Yields about 2/3 cup.

Note: If you don't need 2/3 cup of Emeril's seasoning (and really, who does?), you can make enough for a few uses by using the following amounts: a heaping 1/4 t of paprika, 1/4 t each of salt and garlic powder, and 1/8 t each of black pepper, onion, cayenne, oregano, and thyme.

Recipes modified from Emeril's, "Blue Cheese Stuffed Olives" and "Emeril's Essence Creole Seasoning."

Update, 3/17/08: So I tried one of the marinated olives, and really didn't like the flavor. This is not to say that they were bad -- I still need to run them by Nick to get his opinion -- but I was unimpressed, and I didn't want to bring something that I didn't like myself. So instead I picked up Peaceworks' green olive and black olive tapenades and some wheat baguettes, which received rave reviews. Sometimes the simplest solution is best!

Photo credit:
Champagne glass, Demand Studios

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