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Lightly Toasted: Chronicles of the Friday Night Cocktail Club

pairing chef john's short ribs 
May 15, 2012 1:08 pm 
Updated: May 21, 2012 4:51 pm
So here it is, part one of my slightly boozy quest to pair wines with Chef John’s videos.

Today’s Episode: Curried Short Ribs and Cauliflower

My first pairing was a little crazy. I dove right into the deep end with this one: Garam masala-rubbed short ribs braised in a red curry sauce with cauliflower. So what is that? Kind of an Americanized version of an Indian and Thai composite recipe? Holy moly. Possibly not a genius choice to lead off with, but everything after this one should be easy, right?

So many dominant, type-A personality ingredients in this dish. Red wine-wise, my main concern here was the heat from the red curry paste--the spiciness could really murder a tannic red wine. So Cabernet Sauvignon, typically nice with a short rib, was out. For the reds, we went with a Zinfandel and an Italian blend with 60% Nero d'Avola, an Italian grape that can produce soft reds. The Zin we picked was all bright red berry and low tannin, but maybe a little high in alcohol (14.4%)—high alcohol also cringes in the heat.

Was it crazy to try a white wine with a beef dish? Maybe. But I chose Riesling for two reasons: one, the spices in the rub and the curry paste (a little sweetness in the Riesling will offset the heat) and, two, the coconut milk. Actually, three reasons: I had a bottle in the fridge. And Riesling is always my go-to white wine for Thai and Vietnamese food, also for Indian food, and there were elements of both in this dish. But pairing it with short ribs? That was maybe a stretch.

In the end, we put it all on the table. Literally, the reds and the whites, and let the best vin win.
And the results? First, I would have bet on the Zinfandel, which is a reliable choice with beef curries. But it was actually the Italian red that took the prize, hands down. The Italian was supple and with each bite and sip, layered itself in with the food, honestly and easily, without seeming to be crow-barring itself into the meal. It was friendly. It reminded me of a soft merlot—which I think could be a good choice as well.

The Zin, which I was so sure would work best, was actually just fine. I can’t say anything bad about it. In fact, if I had not had the Italian red to compare it to, I would have been no worse for the wear and probably very happy with the zin, possibly never noticing that the zin tasted just a little like a red berry soda compared to the subtle, more interesting adult-beverage qualities of the Italian red. The label of the Zin, by the way, says that it starts off "silky berry fruit and spice," yes, all true, and ends with a "sexy oak finish," which I’m slightly less clear on but probably explains the vanilla I was tasting, but only later, when I poured a wee sipper after dinner. As always, this wine created a completely different experience enjoyed apart from the wine. I liked it better away from the food, actually.

And what about that white wine? Surprisingly, the Riesling worked pretty well here, too. Balanced well between the sweet and the acidic, it could handle not only the spiciness of the curry and rub but the fatty, beefiness of the short rib. Again I would've been happy enough to drink this Riesling with my curried beef if I had not that Italian red whispering at me from two glasses down. I kept gravitating back to the Italian. And you know gravity, it’s the law. At one point, I was going to open a bottle of no-oak chardonnay, too. But I was told by SLS in no uncertain terms to knock it off.

Pairing Cheat Cheat:
Recipe: Curried Short Ribs Braised with Cauliflower
Pairing Champion: Cerasuolo di Vittoria Classico, 2007
Grapes: Nero d' Avola and Frappato
Place: Sicily, Italy
Price: $11

Stat Sheet for Other Contenders:
Wine: Columbia Winery, Small Lot Series, 2007
Grapes: Riesling
Place: Yakima Valley, WA
Price: $8

Wine: Four Vines OVC (Old Vine Cuvee), 2009
Grapes: Zinfandel
Place: California
Price: $10

Chef John's Curried Short Ribs and Cauliflower
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About Me
My wife and I and our two devilish kittens live on Capitol Hill in Seattle. A few years ago, I got a masters in gastronomy. I'm a food/wine writer. I’m also blogging about cocktails.
My favorite things to cook
We cook fairly simple dishes using fresh local ingredients that we pick up at the Seattle farmers market. My favorite thing is making a nice slow-braised or long-roasted something on a lazy Sunday afternoon. I like cooking with wine (in the dish and in the glass...and in the cook).
My favorite family cooking traditions
My mom never liked to cook, but she did well despite herself. Her mother, my omi, was from Munich and made delicious rouladen, sauerbraten and other traditional German and American dishes. Always bins and bins of home-baked cookies at Christmas. Wonderful rye bread. And beer. Opa would say, "Brotzeit ist die beste zeit."
My cooking triumphs
We’ve made the signature timpano dish from The Big Night a couple times. And for Thanksgiving 2007, we made Turducken. My wife and I are always volunteering to cook the big holiday meals with the family. We mix a signature cocktail, and get down to it.
My cooking tragedies
I made Thanksgiving Dinner for myself once when I was snowed-in in Denver. I nearly burned down the neighborhood.
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