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Food and Sherry

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Food and Sherry

by Jenise » Thu Apr 10, 2014 2:09 pm

Bob and I are getting together with friends for a sherry tasting on Saturday night. Sherry was their idea, and the non-Spanish Contemporary American menu mine, inspired by several different NYT articles by Eric Asimov over the last few years in which he extols the virtues of sherry as a versatile food accompaniament and not just an aperitif.

Bob and I love sherry. When we met all those years ago, Dry Sack on the rocks was his drink of choice. And I grew up cooking with sherry in marinades and sauces so had familiarization with the taste that prepared me to like a good amontillado a lot when introduced to it the year I lived in England. But even we who generally always have a bottle of amontillado or palo cortado on standby have fallen into the habit of drinking it as a cocktail or late, before bed, on a night when we probably skipped wine with dinner, have never really ventured past that into food pairing, mostly because our love for conventional wine doesn't leave much room for other things.

But for the past three days we've gone rogue, foodwise, with one bottle of fino and two amontillados open that we have literally been testing with just about everything we've put in our mouths, including cheeseburgers and PB&J's. Seriously--cheeseburgers. Call it 'immersion training'. Cost and schedule analyst by profession that I am, of course I kept records. Rating each item on a 1-5 basis in which three is neutral, we tested most food with all three wines even though by day three we already knew enough to skip the fino, or go straight to the fino, for the best match.

Several rules have surfaced. 1) Salt and vinegar is good. Virtually any time both are present, sherry's happy. 2) Tannins aren't so good. Where nuttiness works well, pistachios were 4's but raw walnuts only a 1 because the tannin in the skin is a flavor interruptor. And neither of us, in fact, though straight Marcona almonds, which you'd have thought a natch, were anything special. As part of a romesceau sauce? Great--but mostly because of the red bell pepper as that vegetable works hugely well with sherry, especially if a little salt and vinegar come along for the ride. Almonds alone? Just eh.

By the time Bob and I got around to last night's simple dinner of pan-seared steak and a green salad of soft greens in a dijon vinaigrette, we were fully prepared to find the amontillados a very good pairing. But we only poured just test pours as we've done all along--we had a conventional red wine (a young Washington cab franc) planned as our actual meal beverage. And so it was with some surprise that we found ourselves reaching for the sherry and ignoring the red wine, and we only realized afterward that we'd both done that. If we'd grilled the wine outside perhaps we'd have had a different preference, but the super-toasty Maillard effect really spoke to the nutty Amontillados, and I finally gave in and filled up my glass.

Methinks this tasting is going to be a game-changer. At least for some of us. :)

Anybody already a convert?
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Re: Food and Sherry

by Mark Lipton » Thu Apr 10, 2014 4:16 pm

You'd better believe it, Jenise. Charcouterie and hard cheeses are also big winners with dry (or off-dry) Sherry. Lately, I've been dipping my toes into the very attractive wines of La Bota and Valdespino, but the flavors imparted by the flor are not everyone. Food, in those cases, helps general acceptance greatly. The sweeter the Sherry, the less it needs food in my opinion, until we get to PX, which is a digestif in my world.

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Re: Food and Sherry

by Jeff Grossman/NYC » Thu Apr 10, 2014 7:09 pm

Jenise wrote:If we'd grilled the wine outside perhaps we'd have had a different preference....

Do you pour the wine over the Himalayan salt block or is there another technique involved? :lol:

Alas, I am not one for oxidative flavors so sherry does not appear in my household.
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Re: Food and Sherry

by Frank Deis » Thu Apr 10, 2014 9:43 pm

I haven't served Sherry as the drink with meals -- but come to think of it I have enjoyed it alongside of salty nuts and cheeses.

Over some years I had a bottle of dry sherry as the "sipping wine" in the fridge. I've gotten out of that habit and should buy some more.

Are there specific ones that you like Jenise, I mean producers or labels as well as categories?
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Re: Food and Sherry

by David M. Bueker » Fri Apr 11, 2014 8:50 am

I am sure I am shortchanging myself, but I typically drink a small glass of Sherry (La Bota or Valdespino) with a few nuts and/or a bit of cheese while I am cooking the meal. It is very rare that I drink Sherry with the actual meal. I did try it with onion soup recently, and that worked.
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Re: Food and Sherry

by Hoke » Fri Apr 11, 2014 2:33 pm

Another fan of sherry here. I prefer, in general, the precise delicate-but-authoritative finos and manzanillas, but certainly am not averse to the amontillados, palo cortados and olorosos. Like Mark, I consider the PX sherries in an entirely different class (although one of my favorites both for sipping and for inclusion in some stellar cocktails, is the Lustau East India Sherry, a blend).

There's a reason, I think, that the Spanish have elevated the drinking of sherries with tapas to a high art of aperitif/appetizers (I mean beyond their need for such because of their penchant for uber-late dining). Some of my fondest memories of Jerez were lolling in the warm fragrant air of the evening with hot-roasted marconas, prawns, garlicky tidbits, bocadillos (ahh, a properly made bocadillo with white anchovies with manzanilla is a precious thing), and even the bacon-wrapped dates (but enough with the dates, right, Jenise?). Combine that with some smart, engaged people having wonderful and intelligent conversation, and it makes for a perfect evening, with dinner as more of a pleasant capstone to close out the night.

For a meal, have you experimented with different sherries added to balsamico, either as salad dressing or sauce? I don't mean the commercial sherry vinegars and such; I mean actually using a balsamico and adding specific sherries?

Soups and sherries (usually the amontillado styles)? Yes, especially if a cream soup, but also a startlingly good counterpoint to a rich consomme.

Salty? You betcha! Especially with fino and manzanilla.

Nutty? I apparently like that combo more than you and Bob, Jenise. Marconas, but also cashews. Not walnuts, for the bitter skins and tannins you mentioned. But almonds crusted with toasted sesame seeds (usually with honey as the binder, like the ones you can get in TJs) can be great.

Speaking of honey, the judicious use of honey can ally with sherry rather profoundly. I was surprised at that, but it can work. At Jose Andres' restaurants he does a kind of sopapillo,where he takes a flaky pastry triangle, fills it with a creamy salt cod brandade, and very lightly drizzles a small amount of fragrant flower honey over it before serving it up hot. Amazing! With sherry added, it's a concert in the mouth.

I tend to use pork with sherry rather than beef. Texture and flavor range interplay seem to work better for me.
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Re: Food and Sherry

by Fred Sipe » Sat Apr 12, 2014 9:20 pm

Motivated by this thread I visited 3 different wine stores each within a 20 minute drive from me and none had a Spanish dry sherry. Just a brand or 2 of low-end California labels I've tasted but generally just use for cooking.

I ended up with 2. The ubiquitous Dry Sack at $18 and a CA Sheffield Very Dry Sherry at $6.50. Served with garlicky shrimp, roasted tiny potatoes, roasted red peppers and sauteed al dente skinny asparagus spears. I think I prefer the cheap Sheffield to the over-hyped dry sack.

I'm going to have to order one. Anything decent available under $20? Suggestions?
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Re: Food and Sherry

by Frank Deis » Sun Apr 13, 2014 6:23 pm

Fred, where I live, wine and liquor stores that sell no other sherry, carry the complete line from Hartley and Gibson, for about $11 a bottle.

What I bought was the Amontillado, but my "standard refrigerator wine" for a few years was the Dry Fino. They have started selling off-dry blends. I am not a true purist, off dry is OK with me. But you can get bone dry if you want it. I'm not sure these are worth ordering with shipping but if you cast your net a little wider you might find 'em.

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Re: Food and Sherry

by Bob Henrick » Sun Apr 13, 2014 6:37 pm

Julia, I absolutely love Fino and Amontillado, and Manzanilla and a glass of a sweet sherry like armada Cream can be nice to finish a meal too. Actually I better stop right here before I get to telling tales of when I was in Spain with the USAF.
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Re: Food and Sherry

by GeoCWeyer » Sun Apr 13, 2014 7:02 pm

I love to cook with Sherry. I always have a dry and a sweet of sort on my counter. I am not really a fan of drinking it but love what it does with some dishes. Seafood Cream and bisque soups always have it included at least one time in the process sometimes twice. Sauteed mushrooms just aren't right without it especially wild mushrooms. Wild rice just cries for it as well.
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Re: Food and Sherry

by Bill Spohn » Mon Apr 14, 2014 1:47 pm

We are big fans.

With the usual nuts (warmed cashews are best), olives and grilled shrimp, but also with roasted meats and many vegetable based dishes. I agree with your observations as to what matches. The reason we don't do it more often is the alcohol content at the start of a meal, otherwise I'd happily go through a full bottle of chilled manzanilla with friends instead of Champers, once in awhile. But for the same reason I have forsaken shots of almost frozen spirits at the beginning of a meal, I try to moderate my alcohol intake lest we all fall asleep with faces in the soup course.
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Re: Food and Sherry

by Jenise » Mon Apr 14, 2014 9:47 pm

Back from the tasting (it was in Los Angeles) and I have a lot to report! Notes to follow shortly!
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Re: Food and Sherry

by Jay Miller » Mon Apr 14, 2014 10:37 pm

When I saw this topic I wondered how many posts it would take for Jeff to make a disparaging comment about Sherry :)

Sherry is a wonderful pairing with all sorts of food. I also usually pair it with pork rather than beef, but Finos are great with almost any fried food. There are some small crispy fish I get at Ping in Chinatown that are a match made in heaven.

palo Cortado and duck works really well and Oloroso is one of the few things IMO that really matches well with the hoisin in Peking duck.

Manzanilla and most seafood (sardines!)

If only Arnold enjoyed it I'd drink a lot more but he's like Jeff in that regard.
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Re: Food and Sherry

by Jenise » Mon Apr 14, 2014 11:44 pm

Jay, glad you're a kindred spirit. And you know what, I'm actually somewhat like Jeff in that I detest oxidative flavors in white wines that aren't sherry--I have a very low tolerance for it. And yet, when it's crafted to be that way from the getgo, it's different and I love it.
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Re: Food and Sherry

by Jeff Grossman/NYC » Mon Apr 14, 2014 11:54 pm

Jay Miller wrote:When I saw this topic I wondered how many posts it would take for Jeff to make a disparaging comment about Sherry :)

I don't have to disparage it at every opportunity.
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Re: Food and Sherry

by Jenise » Wed Apr 16, 2014 5:08 pm

Jay Miller wrote:When I saw this topic I wondered how many posts it would take for Jeff to make a disparaging comment about Sherry :)

Sherry is a wonderful pairing with all sorts of food. I also usually pair it with pork rather than beef, but Finos are great with almost any fried food. There are some small crispy fish I get at Ping in Chinatown that are a match made in heaven.

palo Cortado and duck works really well and Oloroso is one of the few things IMO that really matches well with the hoisin in Peking duck.

Manzanilla and most seafood (sardines!)

If only Arnold enjoyed it I'd drink a lot more but he's like Jeff in that regard.



Creating the menu for this tasting was a blast--we were only sorry that we couldn't figure out a way to put one of every single match we liked on the plates! Duck, btw, was actually our choice for the meat course before I had that steak the night before we flew to L.A.--but beef won in the end because the flavor from the browned butter in the pan-searing technique trumped everything I'd had up to that point and I was able to sell the other couple on it. Another dish I was desperate to do was a Barbara Lynch/No. 9 Park recipe for seared foie gras and prune-stuffed gnocchi (the prunes would have been sherry-soaked) in a foie gras butter sauce, but I couldn't sell that to my friends. They couldn't "picture it". Would have been amazing with the amontillados. I can picture the Oloroso-peking duck: will send that suggestion off to our friends: they have the leftover wines, AND she's Chinese. That match holds all kinds of appeal!

Here was our final menu:

For the finos, seared scallops with a pistachio-tarragon sauce( a Florence Fabricant recipe), with a pea salad, watermelon radish, and black muscat salt.
For the amontillados: shrimp & grits. Wild gulf shrimp pan seared then mixed into a spicy sauce made from crumbled andouille sausage, fresh tomato and sweet paprika. Each serving was topped with a raw brussels sprout slaw and a fried chorizo chip and surrounded with the emerald dust of powdered dried okra. I loved loved LOVED the match here. Had not tried it before, but the culmination of all the food-matching testing we'd done over the previous week had liked all these flavors. Together, they couldn't NOT work.
For the olorosos: pan seared steak (two slices per serving), homemade oxtail ravioli and a beefy sauce made from reduced beef consomme spiced with a few spoonfuls of basil pesto and finished with a little cream. The garnish was "peas and carrots"--one small round nugget carrot, roasted with stems, and two sugar pea pods in which the upper half was removed so the peas sat in the bottom halves like rowers in a canoe.

Dessert was relatively simple: locally-made coconut ice cream over orange segments from the hosts' own tree splashed with a saffron water, garnished with crushed almond tuile and bittersweet-chocolate dipped figs stuffed with marcona almonds.
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Re: Food and Sherry

by Jay Miller » Wed Apr 16, 2014 6:55 pm

Wow, sounds wonderful!

I'll have to try the steak matching in the near future, haven't attempted that before.
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Re: Food and Sherry

by Ines Nyby » Thu Apr 17, 2014 1:27 am

Just hopping in here for a brief but heartfelt kudos to Jenise (and Annabelle) for producing a spectacular meal to sing with the sherries--from dry to sweet in the tasting lineup. It was a surprising wine "ah-ha" moment for me and I will never discount sherry, especially the medium dry Amontillados as a wine match in the future. Unlike most wine, which we tend to drink somewhat uninhibitedly, drinking sherry seems to impose a sense of contemplation to both the beverage and the food. All was stellar until the final course, which was the delicious coconut icecream with accoutrements--but truly, the Olorosso sherries were for me just prune juice flavored....Jenise's words "motor oil." Ugh. A most illuminating tasting experience.
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Re: Food and Sherry

by Jenise » Thu Apr 17, 2014 8:05 am

Frank Deis wrote:Are there specific ones that you like Jenise, I mean producers or labels as well as categories?


We haven't experimented nearly enough, Frank. There isn't much selection up here and it's taken a bit of work to wean Bob away from the lightly sweetened Dry Sack and into the totally dry versions. Where we live, the only options outside of Dry Sack are various Lustau products--fortunately, their palo cortado is one and it's pretty good for $20 (though after reading about how rarely palo cortado naturally occurs, this must be a manufactured version).
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Re: Food and Sherry

by Jenise » Thu Apr 17, 2014 8:19 am

Ines Nyby wrote:Just hopping in here for a brief but heartfelt kudos to Jenise (and Annabelle) for producing a spectacular meal to sing with the sherries--from dry to sweet in the tasting lineup. It was a surprising wine "ah-ha" moment for me and I will never discount sherry, especially the medium dry Amontillados as a wine match in the future. Unlike most wine, which we tend to drink somewhat uninhibitedly, drinking sherry seems to impose a sense of contemplation to both the beverage and the food. All was stellar until the final course, which was the delicious coconut icecream with accoutrements--but truly, the Olorosso sherries were for me just prune juice flavored....Jenise's words "motor oil." Ugh. A most illuminating tasting experience.


Ines, thanks. So glad you found it as illuminating as I did, but then of all the people in that room you would have been the one I'd have most expected to embrace to enjoy and embrace sherries. I do recall an excellent fino that you brought to our house once--I guess I was hosting a Spanish wine tasting--because up until then I didn't think I cared for fino and the one you brought changed my mind. (And then what did I do about it? Nothing, went right back to drinking amontillados--but only before or after dinner, like we always had. :cry: ) Btw, a slight correction: the prune juice flavored motor oil were the PX's, not the olorosos. The two olorosos in the line-up were served with the steak and oxtail ravioli.
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Re: Food and Sherry

by Jenise » Thu Apr 17, 2014 8:23 am

Bill Spohn wrote:We are big fans.

With the usual nuts (warmed cashews are best), olives and grilled shrimp, but also with roasted meats and many vegetable based dishes. I agree with your observations as to what matches. The reason we don't do it more often is the alcohol content at the start of a meal, otherwise I'd happily go through a full bottle of chilled manzanilla with friends instead of Champers, once in awhile. But for the same reason I have forsaken shots of almost frozen spirits at the beginning of a meal, I try to moderate my alcohol intake lest we all fall asleep with faces in the soup course.


Manzanilla and fino are only 15% as a rule--all five we had at this tasting were that, I checked the labels--so only about 2 percent higher than a good champagne. Is that a material difference to you?
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Re: Food and Sherry

by Jenise » Thu Apr 17, 2014 8:32 am

Hoke wrote:For a meal, have you experimented with different sherries added to balsamico, either as salad dressing or sauce? I don't mean the commercial sherry vinegars and such; I mean actually using a balsamico and adding specific sherries?

Soups and sherries (usually the amontillado styles)? Yes, especially if a cream soup, but also a startlingly good counterpoint to a rich consomme.

Salty? You betcha! Especially with fino and manzanilla.

Nutty? I apparently like that combo more than you and Bob, Jenise. Marconas, but also cashews. Not walnuts, for the bitter skins and tannins you mentioned. But almonds crusted with toasted sesame seeds (usually with honey as the binder, like the ones you can get in TJs) can be great.

Speaking of honey, the judicious use of honey can ally with sherry rather profoundly. I was surprised at that, but it can work. At Jose Andres' restaurants he does a kind of sopapillo,where he takes a flaky pastry triangle, fills it with a creamy salt cod brandade, and very lightly drizzles a small amount of fragrant flower honey over it before serving it up hot. Amazing! With sherry added, it's a concert in the mouth.

I tend to use pork with sherry rather than beef. Texture and flavor range interplay seem to work better for me.


Hoke, no, haven't mixed with balsamico. In fact, I rarely use balsamico for anything any more--have been a bit ruined by too much bad balsamic in restaurants. Re the nuts, it was the amontillados we didn't get excited about pairing nuts with. That was the first pairing we went for, and we didn't add the fino to our pal cal exercise until the day after.

Re pork vs. beef, from a distance that's what I'd have supposed, but in this case you have to divorce the meat itself from the method of preparation. It was the brown-butter crust of pan-searing and basting that made the beef so compelling. I'm sure you can picture what I'm talking about, but try it sometime--it's a terrific match.
My wine shopping and I have never had a problem. Just a perpetual race between the bankruptcy court and Hell.--Rogov

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