That pre-dinner Negroni you always order while waiting for your table to become available can be more than just a happy hour drink. Cocktails add interest to any meal and there is fun world of cocktail and food pairings out there that make some pretty killer matches.
Cocktail Pairing: 101
This may conjure up an image of a party atmosphere room from the 1970s with an hors d'oeuvres table loaded with shrimp cocktail; and while that is pretty dreamy, there are many more possibilities when it comes to cocktail and food pairings. Cocktails are incredibly diverse and their individual characteristics can be adjusted to match a specific dish, resulting in a delightful gastronomic experience. Whether you are sipping a sultry rum-based cocktail or a garden-fresh, gin-based drink, there are some basics to consider when it comes to pairing them with food.
Matching & Contrasting Flavors
Like often goes with like, but contrasting profiles can make good matches, as well. A smoky Mezcal cocktail with a charred eggplant enchilada makes a brilliant pairing as smoky flavors align. On the other hand, the contrasting flavors of a spicy pulled pork sandwich are great when countered with the cooling characteristics of a watermelon margarita.
You want your drink to vibe on the same frequency as your food, enhancing each other rather than competing. A powerful drink needs an equally powerful plate. Otherwise, the duo will be out of balance. An airy French 75 would get lost if paired with ribs and barbecued beans, but when served with a brunch of frittata and waffles, the flavors sing.
Taking Into Account Body
Another important piece when pairing cocktails and food is to take into account the body of the cocktail. Just as certain flavors can overpower others, the body of a drink can do the same with food. A Manhattan is full-bodied and warm; it needs a substantial pairing so as not to overshadow the food. A classic charcuterie board (which also pairs well with wine) loaded with cured meats, cheeses, and salted nuts is a great option for a Manhattan, whereas a lightly seared piece of Lingcod with green goddess dressing would be best with something like a white vermouth spritz, which is a much lighter drink.
Thinking Within a Cuisine
When in doubt, think about matching within a cuisine or region. Food and drink flavors that originate within the same cuisine or region are innate matches. Finally, as with most pairings, keeping it light and fun and using your intuition about flavors is an important part. This is food and drink, after all! It should be a creative outlet and allow for some playful pairings.
Classic & Creative Cocktail Pairings
It's no surprise that margaritas are on the menu at a taco joint. It's an obvious match. Whether you are looking to pair up some classics or make more of an unexpected match, these cocktail and food pairings pack a flavorful punch.
Classic Pairing: Charcuterie board with piquant, aged Parmigiano Reggiano
Unexpected Pairing: Mac & cheese spiked with chili flakes
Classic Pairing: Al Pastor tacos
Unexpected Pairing: Hot fried chicken sandwich
Classic Pairing: Oysters on the half shell
Unexpected Pairing: Herby potato salad with red onion
Classic Pairing: Potato and caramelized onion pierogies
Unexpected Pairing: Smoked trout smørrebrød
Classic Pairing: Grilled prawns & crab cakes
Unexpected Pairing: Pad Thai Gai
Dark & Stormy
Classic Pairing: Spicy chicken gyoza
Unexpected Pairing: Sushi with pickled ginger
Classic Pairing: Brisket with lemony roasted carrots
Unexpected Pairing: Radicchio, orange, fennel, and feta salad
Classic Pairing: Bacon, eggs, and biscuit
Unexpected Pairing: Fritto misto (fried small bites of fish and vegetables)
Classic Pairing: Sashimi
Unexpected Pairing: Lemon ricotta stuffed squash blossoms
Classic Pairing: Margherita pizza
Unexpected Pairing: Lavash, falafel, tzatziki, and hummus
Making That Match
The next time you make your way over to the bar cart to mix a drink, think about pairing that concoction with your dinner. Consider matching or opposing flavors as well as the body of the drink to create your own fun and playful combinations.