Opposites attract: Champagne and Potato chips

I will be spending the next two months in Paris. To celebrate my arrival, I’m opening a bottle of bubbly. Most people pair strawberries, oysters or caviar with champagne but I heard that in France the best pairing with champagne is salted potato chips so that’s what I will try.

The best champagne for simple snacks would be a bottle of NV (non-vintage). The simpler the food, the simpler the wine. As the champagne gets more complex (vintage, aged, etc), the accompanying food should also become complex.

I’m gonna go against common wisdom here and actually go with a 2002 Egly-Ouriet Brut Grand Cru.  I’ve heard so many amazing things about this champagne that I’m dying to try it out and it is special enough to celebrate my arrival.

This is not a cheap bottle so I would recommend saving it for a special occasion. But I’m saving so much money on my food pairing so I can justify the high cost of the bottle 🙂 .

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For a wine that is 12 years old, this is so surprisingly refreshing! The aromas are of fresh and light fruits like apples and peaches. It has a beautiful straw color.

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The acidity is very noticeable. In fact, brut champagne contains high levels of acidity and a small amount of sugar and this makes champagne a bit hard on the palate and stomach to drink on its own. Some of the classic food items that people serve with champagne are strawberries, oysters, and caviar.

I think the strawberries would add too much acidity to the palate as champagne is already a super acidic wine. So strawberries are out. My wine instructor last year said that the only time you want strawberries with your champagne is if you want to put one in your glass as a decoration – not as a food pairing! Generally, you want salty foods to go with Champagne. The saltiness works to balance out the acidity in the wine. Oysters are definitely salty enough to handle the acidity of the champagne. At the same time, the acidity of the champagne works great to complement and even enhance the saltiness of the food. However, given the high level of acidity in the champagne, you also want a bit of richness from fat in the food, which oysters do not have (I’d save the oysters for a nice bottle of Sancerre). The salt and fat work together to cut through the acidity of the champagne. At the same time, the acidity in the champagne does a great job of lightening up fatty, rich foods.

I think potato chips are the perfect combination of salt and fat. The first time potato chips and champagne were uttered in the same sentence was probably in the movie The Seven Year Itch. Marilyn Monroe’s character brings a bottle of champagne and a bag of chips to her neighbor’s apartment to celebrate her birthday. She even dunks the chips in the champagne! I will not go as far as dunking but I will definitely try this pairing.

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I decided to make my own potato chips. I will fry them in sunflower oil and salt them with fleur de sel immediately after they come out of the oil. I’ve never made potato chips before and just in case mine don’t come out right, I also have a store bought bag as backup. When I walked in to my neighborhood grocery store, I saw Cape Cod Sea Salt and Cider Vinegar in the snacks aisle and I just couldn’t resist. These are my favorite potato chips and they are impossible to find in Abu Dhabi!

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My homemade chips came out much better than I expected. I was a bit worried that hand-slicing the potatoes would lead to uneven cooking and textures (after spending so much money on the champagne, I cheaped out on buying a mandolin and just used a regular knife), but they came out crispy and delicious. Here’s what mine look like:

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So how did the chips work with the champagne? The bubbles in the champagne have a palate-cleansing effect and each sips helps to clear the palate of the flavors of fat and salt. After frying all of the potatoes in batches, and of course quality testing along the way, by the time I was finished cooking – who knows how many chips I had eaten by that point? – I was so overwhelmed by the richness that I was about to go in to a potato chip coma even before I opened the bottle of champagne. However, the champagne did wonders to bring me back to form. The acidity in the champagne, complemented by the effervescence of the bubbles, did wonders to clear my palate and lighten up the flavors in my mouth. I was ready to eat more chips!

What I like about chips over other foods with champagne is the lightness of flavors in the chips. Good champagne has delicate flavors and I don’t want to drown out these flavors by serving strong tasting foods. I want the champagne to be the star! The food should work to enhance the champagne rather than overshadow it.

Marilyn Monroe’s character is supposed to be a simple girl without much knowledge about the finer things in life and her choice of potato chips to pair with champagne is supposed to reflect that. However, she was so spot on! Next time you throw a party and save your money for good champagne rather than oysters and serve potato chips instead.

Overall this is an exceptional champagne!!! 2002 was a great year for champagne and this producer is especially excellent. I will definitely be buying a couple of more bottles to save for later. Yet, this champagne is also complex so I will probably opt for a more complex dish next time – perhaps chicken with creamy mushroom sauce….

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About that perfect bottle

I love all things food, wine, and travel!

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