'Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine.'
A suitable opener from Casablanca, one of Hollywood's finest Golden Age films to kick off a little discussion about gin and things that go with gin. Suitable also because we are marking the second anniversary of Glory Days with our Hollywood Issue. But it is perhaps most suitable as an introduction to The Convivialist, our resident bon viveur, who will be writing for us now and then. Here he introduces us to one of his favourite gins, finds a surprising number of foods that pair with said drink, and then makes you an offer he expects you'll find difficult to refuse.
Following on from last week's piece about the Cucumber Cinema in which mention was made of a hamper filled with food that paired well with gin, I thought it would be a good idea, before we went any further, to reveal myself as the curator of that hamper and to describe the feast I had to endure in the course of its preparation.
I started, as many would, with the assumption that gin is a stand alone drink, best enjoyed as part of a cocktail or with tonic which, though lovely, are hardly members of any recognised food group. That assumption has been challenged however, and in the course of preparing the hamper, I have become convinced that while gin is wonderful on its own, it is also startlingly good with food.
But before we get to the food, let's open the bottle. And for this particular experience, I chose Hendrick's, which is certainly a most unusual gin. With a powerful cucumber profile and infusions of rose petals, its eccentric nature cries out for exciting food pairings and I sought locally produced artisanal accompaniments. These I found easily enough and started eating.
1) Smoked salmon - This one is almost too obvious and perhaps why it appears at the head of my list but the richness of the gin combines perfectly with the smokiness of the salmon from Aoraki Smokehouse. If you want to add a little something, I'd recommend a marinade including dill and pepper as accompaniment.
2) Rilette - Given that juniper is not only one of the spirit's principle ingredients but also one of the ingredients of this delicacy from Big Bad Wolf it makes sense that they would work together. When spread on crisp crackers of the kind you might find from Mash Tun the combination has great bite.
3) Goats cheese -The clean bitterness of the gin works well with salty foods and I love it when served with warmed goat's cheese. My favourite at the moment is from Over The Moon Dairy and should you have any of those crackers left after sampling the rillette, they will create a superbly edible plate for this great cheese.
4) Bread & butter pickle - Given that the key ingredient of this pickle from Maison Therese is cucumber, adding this treat to your warmed goats cheese on crackers makes complete sense. The sweet and sour nature of the pickle works perfectly with the gin and the three way combination will give your taste buds a real lift.
5) Cucumber sandwiches - Pairing these with gin and tonic is almost as English as putting Pimms & lemonade with strawberries while Wimbledon's on, but I prefer this combination and we can discuss the benefits or otherwise of Pimms another day.
6) Dark chocolate - I like chocolate, dark chocolate particularly, and until recently ate it without thinking about eating it with gin. Should you wish, you can get all gastronomic and mix wasabi and cucumber with chilli chocolate or you can keep it simple and pair something like a Dominican Republic dark chocolate from Wellington Chocolate Factory with Hendricks and finish the meal without coffee.
7) Coffee - That said, a cup of hot coffee would be a perfect end to such a meal but, if you feel like pushing the boat out, there is a cocktail that might be better. Enjoying it is as simple as mixing half gin and half coffee, perhaps a blend from Havana, in a shaker and shaking the contents. Known as a Midnight Espresso, this treat is guaranteed to speed you up rather than slow you down but in the right circumstance, there's no harm in that.
And that about wraps it up. But I wouldn't be much of a host if I didn't share with you some of what I've enjoyed while conducting the above matching exercise. To whit, I've persuaded the lovely folk at Glory Days to partner again with Hendricks and the artisans named above to curate a number of hampers of similar foodstuffs and offer you the chance to win one of them in the coming weeks. Keep an eye on the Glory Days Facebook page for more details.
Until next time...