Expect the Unexpected?

November 15, 2021 Leave a comment Go to comments

Wine is meant to go with food.

Food is meant to go with wine.

Together, food and wine are supposed to give you a much better experience than two individually.

You already know all of this.

And yet this is theory. When met at the table, sometimes food and wine actually work together and deliver a heavenly, memorable experience. Sometimes, food and wine just coexist without interfering. And sometimes they clash, ruining the experience completely.

The food and wine pairings typically work in one of two cases:

  • Food and wine are professionally paired. The chef and sommelier work together, adjusting the flavors of the dish to work with the wine which was selected as a pairing.
  • Food and wine come from the same place and had been playing together nicely for centuries. Think about Beef Bourgogne paired with Bourgogne wine – I think we can trust this combination, don’t we? Or would you ever question Chianti with the pasta with nice red sauce?

Now, for most of the time, we are not traveling and we are not eating at the high-end restaurant, yet we still should be able to enjoy the elevated food and wine experience at home – the rules are simple, right?

Maybe the rules are simple indeed, but we need to tread carefully. Beef Bourgogne is made with Bourgogne wine, and all Bourgogne reds are made from Pinot Noir. So what would happen if we will make the dish with actual Bourgogne, and then try pairing it with a nice big Pinot from California? There is a good chance that you will not enjoy that combination, not at all.

Chianti is made out of the Sangiovese grape (predominantly) – but don’t try to pair your pasta with the Sangiovese from California – again, there lies a great opportunity for disappointment.

I’m not saying that Beef Bourgogne will never work with the California Pinot – find a more restrained version, such as Sanford Pinot Noir, for example, and you might be fine – or better yet, simply cook the dish using the same wine you want to drink. Similarly, there are some California Sangiovese that might perfectly complement and elevate your favorite spaghetti dish, such as Castello di Amorosa Sangiovese – but you should expect some trial and error on the road to perfection.

I love Georgian wines. I would gladly drink Georgian Saperavi on any day. I love Georgian cuisine – properly made, the flavors are incredible and so is the pleasure you will derive out of each and every dish. And considering that wine is an indelible part of the Georgian lifestyle literally for thousands of years, it is rather logical to assume that Georgian wines should work perfectly with Georgian dishes.

While I love Georgian cuisine, this is not the food I would generally try to make on my own, I prefer to defer the cooking to a few of the Georgian restaurants which we have in reasonable proximity, even though the experience is typically a mix of hit and miss. However, when my sister in law sent me the video with the recipe of the Georgian dish called Odjakhuri, the video looked so good that I decided that I must make the dish as soon as possible, considering that the main ingredients are near and dear to me from the childhood – meat and potatoes.

Back in 2015, we visited a winery in Pennsylvania called Fero Vineyards. In addition to all of the traditional east coast wines, the winery also was making the wine out of my beloved Georgian grape, Saperavi. I tried the wine during our visit, liked it very much (Fero Saperavi made it to the 2015 edition of my annual Top Dozen wines of the year list as #12), and brought home a bottle. After I decided that I will make an Odjakhuri for the Friday night dinner, I realized that I have no Georgian wines on hand – but then I remembered that I had a bottle of Fero Saperavi which I had been looking for a good reason to open for quite some time – and what can I be a better reason than trying it at a family dinner with Georgian dish?

To tell you the truth, I had no idea how it is going to work. First, the bottle I had was the 2013 Fero Saperavi. Who knows if the wine from Pennsylvania can age for 8 years? The wine might be gone already, way gone. But even if the wine is not gone, would Saperavi from Pennsylvania work with the flavors of the dish? Local wines work with local dishes because they went through a slow process of alignment over hundreds of years – well, maybe that is one of the reasons. And here we have a dish with the supposedly proper flavor profile, and proper grape from totally different terroir – everything is possible…

When I was opening the bottle of Fero, I had no expectations. Let me take that back. When I was opening the bottle of Fero, I was expecting that the wine will be past prime. And even if it will be still drinkable, that it will not work with the dish, not for a second. And I’m glad I didn’t make any bets with anyone because I lost on both counts.

The wine was perfectly fresh. It had a ruby color, not hinting at any age. On the nose, there were cherries and herbs, nicely restrained. On the palate, the wine showed a hint of cherries, sage, gamey undertones, tobacco. Perfectly live, perfectly fresh, excellent acidity, medium-plus finish.

The wine also perfectly complemented the dish, enhancing and elevating the flavors and creating a better experience.

Was this pure luck on both counts? The wine was perfectly drinkable and it complimented the dish very well? I don’t have an answer, I’m just reporting on the experience, and raising the question – where are the wine and food pairings created?

This pretty much ends my story about expecting the unexpected, but before we part, I want to leave you with the recipe for this simple and delicious dish.

Disclaimer: Odjakhuri in translation from Georgian means “family”. So as a family meal, I’m sure there are tons of “correct” recipes for this dish. The recipe which I’m sharing is exactly the one we made, thus this is the one I recommend.

Apology: I would love to share a video with you, but an actual video that I have is in the Russian language. Still, I believe it will be useful even without understanding the language, so here it is:

Odjakhuri – Georgian meat and potatoes family dish

Ingredients:

  • Meat (pork, beef, chicken) – 2 lb
  • Potatoes (Russet would work the best) – 4 lb
  • Red onion, medium size, sliced – 4
  • Garlic, chopped – 4 cloves
  • Cilantro (can be replaced with parsley), chopped – 2 tbsp
  • Hot pepper, sliced – 1
  • Coriander, ground – 1 tsp
  • Sweet paprika – 1 tsp
  • Cayenne pepper – 1/2 tsp
  • Dill (dried) – 1/2 tsp, optional
  • Black pepper, ground – 1/2 tsp
  • Salt, by taste
  • Olive oil

Steps:

  1. Potatoes: Preheat oven to 375F. Peel potatoes and slice them into the pieces about 1 inch in size. Put into a large bowl. Add olive oil (you can use any oil you like for roasting), coriander, black pepper, cayenne, paprika, dill (if using). Mix everything together. Line roasting pan with parchment paper and arrange potatoes preferably in a single layer. Roast for 45-50 minutes – check readiness, potatoes should be crispy but shouldn’t be overlooked. Once ready, get it out of the oven and put it aside.
  2. Meat. Meat should be prepared as it would be for a kebab. Ideally, it should be sliced into 1-inch cubes and marinated overnight. You can, of course, just roast the meat without marinating it, but marination will add to the flavor of the dish. In our dish, we used bone-in pork loin, I just cut the meat off the bone. If you will be using pork, look for darker meat, it is less prone to drying up while frying.
  3. Once you put potatoes in the oven, you can start on the meat. Heat a small amount of oil on medium-high heat in the cast iron dutch oven, and fry the meat until ready. If meat is not marinated, use salt, pepper, and any other spices you would like. When ready, get the meat out of the pan. make an effort not to overcook the meat.
  4. Reduce heat to medium-low, add 3 sliced onions and sauté them slowly, pay attention not to burn them. When almost ready, in about 12 minutes, add garlic and let it cook for another 3 minutes. Now it is time to assemble the dish.
  5. Reduce heat to low. Return meat to the dutch oven, add roasted potatoes. Add fresh cilantro (or parsley), sliced hot pepper, and last sliced onion, mix everything lightly (try not to crush the potatoes). Let the dish heat up, uncovered, for about 10 minutes, to let the flavors meld. In 10 minutes, turn off the heat, serve and enjoy!

There you have it, my friends. If you don’t have Saperavi on hand, try it with any wine you’d like, and expect the unexpected. Cheers!

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