You win some, you lose some.
Yesterday, I threw caution to the wind. I exuberantly unsheathed my fish-grilling pan, bought last weekend on Kappabashi-Dori, Tokyo's half-mile-long mecca to kitchenware geeks and chefs. Searching for a sharkskin wasabi grater or a plastic representation of spaghetti carbonara? Now you know where to go.
In a jetlagged stupor, I determined to make a Bangkok-street-food inspired squid dish with spicy sambal. Did I know how to use my new pan? Not really. Was I working from a recipe? No. Had I tried the wine, the 2009 Casa Marin Miramar Vineyard Riesling? Not until we sat down to dinner. But I figured that spicy Southeast Asian fare paired with a dry Riesling is likely the next obvious pairing after Napa Cab and steak, so it would probably work.
Well, I didn't think about one key factor, which was level of spice. Even though I de-seeded the Thai bird chilies and Scotch bonnet used in the sambal, it was a solid medium spicy, the kind that quickens the heart rate and keeps it up until you take a cooling sip of the right beverage.
Had the sambal been sweet-spicy versus spicy-spicy, this wine would have been perfect for the dish. Also, I underestimated how intriguing the wine would be on its own: honeysuckle was the first aroma that occurred to me when I smelled it, whereas
petrol was the first aroma that my dining companion mentioned. Lemon curd lingered on the bright finish. Had I tasted the wine before dinner, I would have just served the squid without a sauce as it developed a beautiful charcoal-smoked flavor from the yaki ami, the proper name for the grilling pan. There is a wire sheath that goes into the bottom of the pan that, once red hot, radiates heat like charcoal. If you don't have outdoor space, this is an awesome gadget to have. And it was only ¥871, or $11! But you must have a good exhaust fan or plenty of windows because your kitchen and any room attached to it gets smoky fast.
Although the pairing was not a success, experiences like last night's dinner are why I started this series: to figure out why certain pairings succeed or fail. For pairing with the 2009 Casa Marin Miramar Vineyard Riesling, I'd try a fattier protein like mackerel and tone down the spice in any accompanying sauce. For serving with the exact same dish, I'd try a Riesling with more residual sugar. And were I not more than ready to sleep after dinner, I would have gone out for ice cream to quell the lingering warmth from the sambal.
One big shallot, minced
One Scotch bonnet and three green Thai bird chilies, deseeded and sliced
Four fat cloves garlic, chopped
Five tbsp minced ginger
Lime juice from half a lime
Two tbsp brown sugar
Four tbsp peanut oil
Heat the peanut oil in a high-sided pot and slide in the shallot, garlic and ginger just before the oil starts to smoke. Turn the heat down to medium high and stir the mixture intermittently for 3-5 minutes. Don't worry if you forget about it for a minute; the shallot will start to crisp and brown, which is exactly what you want to happen. Add the sliced chilies after 3-5 minutes and stir for another few minutes before turning the heat off and putting the sambal into a bowl. Put the brown sugar and lime juice in the pot and turn the heat on to melt the sugar; this should take just one minute. Once melted, add the sugar to the sambal, mix and garnish with crushed peanuts.