I’m not sure what happened. One day we were enduring another 90º heat wave, and then the weather Gods made an abrupt shift to fall with cool, cloudy 65º days and even cooler, damp nights. Last week I was grilling figs and prosciutto, this week I want comfort food.
We usually have a more graceful seasonal segueway, but I can’t complain when cooler weather allows me to drink some of my favorite wines and indulge in my favorite comfort foods.
Comfort food is different things to different people, depending on each person’s cultural background. Generally, comfort foods have a definite textural element – whether it’s crispy fried foods or soft meatloaf and mashed potatoes, that first bite can transport us back to our childhood kitchen. Fat often plays a role, so smooth on the palate and satisfying in the tummy. For some, spicy flavors from Asia and Mexico work magic, for others, it’s braised stews or simple roasted chicken.
My informal poll amongst my friends revealed definite categories and preferences. I’m sure you’ll recognize your own favorites in this list:
Spicy Chili - Zinfandel
Ceviche - Dry German Riesling
Fried – Crispy, salty and savory, fried foods top many comfort food agendas. From fried chicken and French fries to Fritto Misto, it’s a double whammy of satiety when we bite through that crispy crust to the soft interior of properly fried foods. You’ll need a crisp wine to match these foods, so go with a sparkling wine, Pinot Grigio, or dry Riesling
Chicken Soup – We’re talking rich, deeply flavored broth, shreds of softly poached chicken, chunks of veggies and wide egg noodles. Or gingery Won Ton soup, with savory broth and noodle packages filled with pork and vegetables. Try a Chardonnay with that American chicken soup, and a Gewürztrainer with those Won Tons.
Soft and soothing – One of my favorite categories, this includes mashed potatoes, either straight up, spiked with herbs and cheese, or stuffed into potato skins for twice baked potatoes. The good news is that potatoes (unless heavily spiced) are neutral, so drink what you like, or look to your main dish for the pairing.
The other favorite in this category is Mac & Cheese. No longer confined to the blue box, this comfort food favorite now stars on upscale menus made with complex cheese blends, even flecked with truffles. Either way, you’ll want to serve it with something to cut through that fat – a lightly chilled Beaujolais, unoaked Chardonnay, or Pinot Grigio.
Roasted Chicken – The easiest comfort food – just pop the bird into the oven and walk away. Spend the afternoon curled up with a book or movie, and then your no-fuss dinner is ready. Chicken is a culinary chameleon that can accommodate just about any wine but the heaviest reds, and a meal of roasted chicken and mashed potatoes is perfect when you want to feature the wine.
Braised – Braised meats are soul food – think about a hearty beef stew, a rustic Coq au Vin, or pot roast. This one’s easy – serve the same wine you used in the dish – a nice no-brainer for the frazzled cook.
Spicy – Are Tamales, Curry, or Szechwan dishes your idea of comfort? Spice and wine go well together – if it’s the right wine. Chili spiced Southwestern and Mexican dishes pair well with a fruity Zinfandel, while Ceviche goes with a dry German Riesling. Spicy Asian foods cry out for Rosé or Viognier, while curries need a Pinot Gris or Sauvignon Blanc.
Chocolate – Everyone’s favorite. Delectable in all its forms, when we’re talking comfort, we’re talking about slam-bang, full on chocolate at its most intense. Think warm brownies, rich chocolate cake, or deep, dark ice cream. Banyuls, that sweet red wine is perfect, as is Framboise or a vintage Port.
It’ll soon be dark before dinnertime here, but that’s ok. Grilling is fun, and I love summer’s produce, but there’s nothing like filling the house with aromas of roasting meats, braises with wine and herbs and fresh baked brownies. Bring on the cold weather. I’m ready for it.