Archive | May 2014

Dining and wining highlights from Sri Lanka: Prawns

I just came back from a trip to Sri Lanka. Being an island-nation, seafood features dominantly in Sri Lankan cuisine. Sri Lanka is not a wine producer and not being able to predict what kind of wines we would be able to access at the restaurants and stores, I brought my own wines. I chose a number of bottles that I thought would go with the dishes I planned on eating. I brought a couple of bottles from Abu Dhabi myself. I also asked my friends, who were meeting me in Sri Lanka, to bring the rest from New York. I was especially interested in trying two dishes during my trip: prawns and fish curry. In this post I will write all about the prawns and my next post will focus on the fish curry.

You can find prawns of any size in Sri Lanka, ranging from small shrimp sized pieces to lobster sized jumbo prawns. They can be cooked in a variety of ways, such as curried, devilled, simply grilled, with a variety of spices and sauces.

Grilled Prawns:

The first prawn dish I tried was in Kirinda (the nearest town to Yala National Park), on the southeastern coast of Sri Lanka. I ordered the freshly caught Kirinda prawns, grilled and served with a creamy lemon butter sauce and rice.

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The wine I chose for these prawns is a rosé made with Mourvèdre grapes from South Africa: a 2012 Circumstances Cape Coral by Waterkloof from Stellenbosch. I love the mourvèdre grape and I really love this rosé.

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This wine has a pale pink color. It is a dry wine with fruity aromas like peach and pineapple and even some red fruits, as well as some hints of herbs. There is also a pronounced minerality to this wine. It has a strong and dry finish. The flavors of this wine are bold, ending with a punch. Its acidity is much lower than most whites.

The prawns worked well with the wine on their own but the pairing was so much better when I added the lemon butter sauce. Prawns are naturally sweet and the best wine pairing would be with a light and fresh wine. I think the rosé is a bit too full-bodied and strong in flavor for the prawns on their own. All in all, it’s not bad but it’s not great either. However, when I added the sauce everything changed! The creaminess of the sauce creates an added layer of richness to the dish as well as additional sweetness (the creamy butter was the dominant flavor in the sauce rather than the lemon). With this enhanced layer of flavors and richness, the rosé becomes an excellent pairing! The minerality of the rosé was great in lightening up the richness that came from the sauce. And the sweetness of the flavors in the prawns and the sauce did a great job of smoothing out intensity of the wine’s taste, while enhancing the flavors.

I would serve this rosé with any prawn or shrimp dish with an aoli or other creamy sauce. In addition to prawns, I think other rich and creamy seafood dishes would work really well with this wine. My friend had the salmon with the creamy saffron tagliatelle and she said that the wine worked well with that dish too.

Spicy Prawns:

The next prawn dish I tried was devilled prawns in Weligama, a spicy medley of prawns and vegetables.

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The wine I chose for this dish is a full-bodied Trimbach Gewurztraminer from the Alsace region of France. The vintage is 2011.

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Gewurztraminer is produced in the same region as the dry Riesling that I will try to pair with the fish curry. The aromas of this wine include sweet exotic fruits like lychee and some floral notes. It is an off-dry wine with a slightly sweet taste (but far from being as sweet as a dessert wine and it actually smells much sweeter than it tastes). There is also a spicy quality to this wine (more like cinnamon and cloves rather than black pepper or cayenne), both in terms aroma and taste.

I have to say, this was a fantastic pairing! I think it was the best pairing of the entire trip!

The sweetness of the wine was a great factor in balancing out the spiciness of the prawns. At the same time, the heat in the dish did a great job in mellowing out the sweetness of the wine. I am not a big fan of sweet wines as the sweetness overwhelms me. I only drink these wines with dishes that are able to cut down on the sweetness and this is perfect case in point. The sweetness of the wine was much more noticeable when I tasted it before the food but it immediately became much lighter once I had some heat in my mouth. The Gewurztraminer’s spicy notes also did a great job of complementing and even adding a touch of complexity to the spiciness of the dish.

This wine would go really well for any pricy prawn dish and not just the devilled prawns in Sri Lanka. Spicy foods are really hard to pair with wines but this wine is simply perfect!

Our last night in Sri Lanka, we went crazy with the food and ordered a whole bunch of seafood dishes. The highlight was the jumbo prawn – enormous! We almost mistook it for the lobster that we also ordered (the lobster turned out to be a fifth the size of the jumbo prawn). While I didn’t have the right wine with me that night to go with this beast, I will make sure to put the jumbo prawn on my list of things to eat for my next trip to Sri Lanka and bring the appropriate wine.

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Next post: Fish curry.

Falanghina and three dishes

SEPTEMBER 2016 UPDATE: I’ve written a new post on falanghina with a couple of amazing food pairings! After you’ve read this post, make sure to check out: An update on falanghina.

I brought back a very nice bottle of falanghina from my travels a few weeks ago. I had a chance to taste it in the store before buying it. I absolutely loved it and had to bring it back home for a food pairing!

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This falanghina is a medium-bodied white that is very refreshing with fruity and flowery aromas. It has good acidity and its flavors are quite bold with citrus, herbs, and a noticeable minerality. Typical of many Italian whites, the falanghina has a slight bitter finish.

Most falanghinas are produced in the Campania region of Italy. This particular bottle is produced by Feudi di San Gregorio, a highly regarded wine-maker in the region. The vintage is 2012.

This week I’m trying something different. Rather than coming up with a single dish to pair with this wine, I’m cooking three dishes and I’ll determine which one works best with the wine over the course of the meal. The three dishes that I chose are: caprese salad, seared scallops with parsley, and clams with herbs.

So which dish was the best one for the falanghina?

The first dish is a caprese salad made with fresh buffalo mozzarella, a selection of pachino (or Sicilian), yellow, and cherry tomatoes, fresh basil, all topped with a drizzle of robust Sicilian olive oil.

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How did the caprese do with the falanghina? This dish performed well for three reasons.

When you sip the falanghina, you immediately notice the taste and aroma of fresh herbs. Herbacious wines pair well with foods that feature fresh herbs. Indeed, the basil in the caprese salad was a great complement to the falanghina.

Second, the mineral flavors in the falanghina work well to cut down on the richness of the dish. The fresh mozzarella is delectably creamy and, combined with my generous drizzle of olive oil, the caprese is a moderately rich dish.

Overall, while the falanghina was not a bad pairing for this dish, I don’t think it is the best one because I think the tomatoes are a bit too acidic to pair with such an acidic wine. With acidic foods, you want a bit of acidity in the wine so that the wine does not fall flat. But tomatoes are so acidic that if the wine also has a lot of acidity, then between the food and the wine, there will be an overload of acid in the palate. Furthermore, the falanghina has strong flavors. Mozzarella, while it may have some richness, has flavors that are quite delicate. I think the delicateness of the fresh mozzarella and strength of the falanghina were not the best match and the wine overpowered the mozzarella. Given how delicious fresh buffalo mozzarella is, I definitely do not want its flavors to be drowned out by the wine.

The second dish was scallops seared in olive oil and butter. I served them with a simple sauce of olive oil, lemon juice, and sea salt. I also topped the dish with some chopped Italian parsley.

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Again, the fresh parsley in the dish was a good complement to the herb flavors of the falanghina. Scallops are naturally quite sweet and this had the effect of offsetting the bitterness of the wine. Sweetness of a dish and the acidity of a wine can work well to balance each other out. However, I think the scallops were too sweet for this wine. Acidity is a great characteristic of this wine and the relative sweetness of the scallops detracts from the crispness of the wine and even makes it seem a bit dull. With scallops, I might want to go for an off-dry riesling or a chardonnay instead.

Finally, similar to the fresh mozzarella, the scallops do not have a strong enough of a flavor (besides the sweetness) to match the intensity of the fallanghina. Overall, it’s not a bad pairing but I think we can definitely do better!

The last dish was Italian clams cooked with garlic, butter, and a mix of herbs (tarragon, chives, Italian parsley).

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The clams worked wonderfully with the wine and I think this dish was the best of the three. Clams have a just a hint of sweetness, which offset the bitterness of the wine but not too sweet as to detract from its crispness. I love herbs so I put a fair amount of tarragon and chives into this dish. Like the other two dishes, the herbs were a great complement to the falanghina.

I did not add any salt to the dish but the salty water that came out of the clams was enough to create a well-seasoned dish. Salty foods love acidic wines and just in that respect alone, the falanghina and the clams work really well. Not only that, but clams are quite strong in flavor and the seawater added even more concentrated flavor to this dish. I think there was definitely an equality between the intensity of flavors in the food and in the wine, where neither overpowered the other. I think the clams was the only dish that could keep up with the intensity of the falanghina rather than getting lost. There are just so many reasons why clams and falangina are a great match! Can’t wait to make this again.