Gal Granov and I have been following each other on Twitter and talking about whisky for a while. When the idea of guest blogging came up, doing a whisky/food pairing article seemed like a natural fit, given my Scotch Hobbyist blog, and Gals involvement with the Food ‘n Wine blog. We decided that he would provide a couple of recipes that I could pick from, and I would attempt to make one of them and choose a good whisky to go with it.
I’m not writing this as a whisky and food expert, or even a whisky expert for that matter. I’m just a budding whisky enthusiast, and this seems like a fun experiment. Additionally, I have no real cooking experience, so that makes for an even more interesting challenge. Prior to this article, my cooking accomplishments were limited to a fudge recipe from the Betty Crocker’s Cookbook for Kids, and preparing eggs in various ways from scrambled to sunny side up. This should be interesting…
Lamb cooked with dried fruits – Morocco style
Gal sent a couple of recipes, and I picked the Moroccan lamb, thinking I was taking the easy way out. J The other dish had garlic and various spices. On first glance, this one looked like it was going to be lighter, and with the fruits, I figured I could find a nice sherry cask Speyside single malt to go with it. I failed to notice the tablespoon of pepper, and I was unfamiliar with turmeric, which is peppery itself. Would these spices make whisky pairing significantly more difficult?
- 1 KG. of lamb shoulder – cut to 2 cm. Slices with the bone.
- 10 pieces of dried apricot
- 4 pieces of dried dates
- 10 pieces of dried plum
- Pinch of cinnamon
- 1 KG. of red onion – chopped into thick pieces
- ½ glass of olive oil
- Tablespoon of black pepper
- Pinch of salt
- Tablespoon of turmeric
- 200 gr. raisins
- Fry the onion with some olive oil
- Take most of the onion out.
- Add the lamb and fry it until it gets nice color
- Cover with water
- Add salt, paper and the turmeric.
- After it boils reduce the fire to minimal and let it cook an hour.
- Add the cinnamon and the dried fruit excluding the dates and wait for another 40 minutes.
- Add the dates and wait for another 15 minutes.
I had some ideas of what I was looking for in a whisky to go with the lamb and dried fruits. I wanted one at least partially matured or finished in sherry, in keeping with the dark dried fruits cooked with the lamb. It should have enough flavor and body to stand out on its own, but it shouldn’t overwhelm the lamb either. I wasn’t sure how a smoky whisky would or would not go with the fried and water-cooked meat, so I wanted to try different levels of smokiness.
I also wanted to try a couple of whiskies that didn’t necessarily seem like great matches, just to test my theories. Here are the five that I ended up picking:
- The Glenlivet 15 French Oak: I picked this one out before I read up on Turmeric, and noticed the amount of pepper in the lamb recipe. It’s light, but has a little extra spice from the French oak.
- Glendronach 12 Original: Another Speyside malt, but this one is matured in sherry casks and finished in American oak. This is the one I originally expected to be a great match with the lamb. Again, this was before I familiarized myself with the spices involved with the lamb dish.
- Highland Park 12: A great all around whisky with some sherry influence to go with the dried fruits, more flavor on the palate, and some light smoke on the finish. I would have picked HP 18, but that just seems like cheating. I think HP 18 would go with about anything.
- Talisker 18: I’m not convinced that the flavor profile will match, but I want to test the earthy peat and smoke flavor with the spiced lamb. I would have used Talisker 10, but I’m out of that one.
- The Bowmore 12: Like the Talisker, this one has smoky peat that I expect to hold up against the spices in the food, but this one adds a sherry component that should go with the dried fruit. I think the profile should go reasonably well with the lamb, but I’m not sure how the added peat and smoke will go over relative to the HP 12.
I sat down with my family and tried the lamb first without any whisky. We were all extremely impressed as we took our first bites of the meat and fruits. There is no need for knives, as the meat just falls apart under the pressure of the fork. Wow, that is some tender, flavorful meat! I wasn’t sure what to expect from the turmeric and pepper. I thought perhaps the spices would overwhelm the meat, but that’s not the case at all. After a few moments, you can feel the pepper on the tongue, and the turmeric seems to provide a little bit of a ginger-like aftertaste. It all works together quite nicely.
The food is excellent. I’ll write a post on my blog covering the actual cooking experience. Maybe Gal can comment on that article and tell me all of the things I did wrong. I’m happy with the results, though. Now to try combining the food and whisky:
The Glenlivet 15 Year French Oak
I expected this one to seem weak due to the lingering spiciness on the tongue from the food, and I was right. However, the nose was quite enjoyable and didn’t seem at odds in any way with the flavor profile of the lamb and fruit. Once on the palate, though, the Glenlivet 15 turned to water and just disappeared.
Glendronach 12 Original
Nosing the Glendronach after taking a bite of the lamb, the sherry influence seems to really stand out, including a bit of a farmy (not in a bad way) scent. Complimentary fruitiness is also there. It really goes nicely with the dried fruits in the lamb dish. Very promising so far, but like the Glenlivet, the flavor quickly disappears on the palate and never comes back. Again, it’s like it gets converted to water when combined with the spices from the meal. I really expected this one to hold up a little better.
Highland Park 12
As with the Glendronach, the sherry component of the HP 12 really stands out on the nose. It’s not as strong or fruity as the Glendronach, but it’s still very enjoyable. On the palate, we have a marked improvement with the HP. This is definitely whisky, and I can sense some drying and additional spices on the tongue as I drink it. On the finish, a little bit of sweet smoke is noticeable, as it mingles with the flavors from the lamb meat and spices. This is a very nice combination. [I did sneak a small sip of HP 18 and it’s even better.]
Ok, let’s introduce some stronger peat into the equation and see what happens. The nose doesn’t seem to be as influenced by the meal as was the case with the other whiskies. That slightly medicinal, but primarily earthy peat is there, accompanied by some toffee sweetness. On the palate, it seems more bitter than when I drink it on its own, and the pepper that builds on the tongue is completely unnecessary with this meal. Finally, the Talisker seems oakier on the finish than I normally find when drinking it alone. The earthy peat smoke comes up through the back of the nostrils, but kind of fights against the flavors of the lamb. This is definitely a case of the whole being less than the sum of the parts.
This is probably my least favorite of the Islay standard expressions, but I still like it, and I wanted to try it with this meal as it combines peat smoke with some sherry influence and red fruits. On the nose, the sherry stands out like I found with the Glendronach, but it’s accompanied by a very complimentary peat smoke. Very nice. I can still sense the peat on the palate, with the whisky maintaining a nice body and not being overwhelmed by the spices. Then things get magical on the finish. Coming up through the back of the nostrils, the flavors from the lamb and dried fruits are served up on a bed of sweet smoke. Excellent!
The two Speyside single malts are pleasant enough with the meal, but they quickly get lost in the stronger flavors provided by the pepper and turmeric. The Talisker stands up to the spices, but the flavor profile is at odds with the food and it just doesn’t work. Highland Park, on the other hand, has a nice mix of complimentary flavors and sufficient body to be enjoyable from nose to finish. I can easily recommend HP 12 and HP 18 with this meal.
In the end, Bowmore 12 was an easy pick as my favorite whisky with the Moroccan lamb. Not only was the flavor of the whisky thoroughly enjoyable, but the way it brings out the best in the meat and fruits made it stand out from the others. Finally, I enjoyed the Bowmore 12 with this meal more than I ever seemed to enjoy it on its own. If that’s not a strong case for combining whisky and food, I don’t know what is.
Thanks to the guys at foodnwine.co.il for the great recipe and cooking pointers, and for helping me realize that I can actually cook something from scratch. I’m obviously no expert on food/whisky pairings, but this was a fun experiment, and I’d strongly encourage you to try it yourself sometime.
we’d like to thank Jeff from “the scotch hobbysit” blog, for this great joined post.