Wine with Classic British Food
British cuisine is not what it used to be: in the last decade it has improved beyond recognition!
We have fantastic food served up in pubs, some of the best restaurants in the world and many of us eat better and healthier in our homes as well. Okay yes it`s true, in our busy world nowadays much of the nation relies too heavily on “ready-meals”, but there again these are better than ever before, healthier and tastier, created by the supermarkets and farm shops in response to new consumer demand. The changes in our tastes have been brought about in part because of the media promoting good food and healthy eating. As we know there`s been a boom in cooking programmes and chefs like Jamie Oliver are TV personalities and celebrities. We are encouraged to cook at home and, as a result, a great many more of us are experimenting and eating a good, balanced diet. We still have a long way to go as a nation, but the stage is set: It`s cool to cook. We have a choice of foods from around the world now, giving us greater scope to try out international dishes which continue to influence the way we cook and eat. And these we discover as we travel more frequently and wider than ever before, returning to recreate those dishes here in Britain. We enjoy the diversity and collectively we are broadening our horizons. All this is great news for Britain. No longer can the French sneer at “la mauvaise cuisine d’anglais”! Moreover, the growing trend for drinking wine with food has burgeoned as the world of wine has simultaneously opened up to more of us – and now even the average pub-restaurants are offering a range of wines by the glass. As a nation our relatively new love affair with good wine and food in Britain has been a cultural explosion which in part reflects the new multi-racial society we have become.
However, most recently, in these last few years, we have witnessed a small about-turn in the trend for internationalism. There has been an instinctive, almost atavistic, return to our roots. Once again we long for what is quintessentially British food and local produce. We are seeing the return of the seasonal veggie box; there`s a new spate of cries to Buy British; consumers are demanding more information – they want fair treatment of animals, there`s the desire for “organic” and “low carbon count”. All these factors have led to the return of our classic dishes as we have never seen them before. Nowadays a more discerning and demanding consumer has insisted on quality and the best of British food can be counted amongst the greatest cuisine in the world. Now acknowledging this return to our roots I felt it time to look again at our classic dishes and the wines to serve with them. No longer pie and chips swimming in gravy washed down with brown ale…. this is a bold new world.
Let`s celebrate our classic dishes
I have selected a list of our favourite classic British dishes and made some wine recommendations to go with them. My recommendations are meant as a guide, but they are neither emphatic or complete, because there are many ways of looking at a dish and pairing a wine with it; and because I have my favourites and draw largely from my own experiences. My Desert Island wine region is Cotes du Rhone, for instance, so you might well expect to see recommendations from there. Such as it is, I hope you will find it useful.
Fish` n ` Chips
I suppose it has to be said, our national dish as seen by the world outside of Britain is probably still ‘fish and chips’ served in a newspaper! Well I`ve not had a newspaper wrapping for a long time, have you? More is the point, the fish and chips are better than ever. With the very necessary batter and grease and salt and vinegar your only hope as a wine match is a crisp, acidic dry white which will cut through it all and cleanse the palate. If the occasion warrants it – on the beach at Aldeburgh perhaps? – pop open a bottle of bubbly and spare no expense: there is a certain hedonism like no other in slumming it with `fish and chips` and fine Champagne! My first choice: Joseph Perrier “Yellow Label” (it is light and super-fresh), alternatively for the Englishness of the occasion why not our own local Carter`s Vineyard English Sparkling!
Oysters are a local famous dish here in Colchester. Chablis and Muscadet Sur Lie are both text book because of the “pebbles in a glass” quality of the former and the “ yeasty lees” character of the latter (both shell-like); but truly any dry white will work with oysters provided it has a degree of minerality. Champagne also works well if you are in the mood for bubbles.
Jellied eels - a famous Twickenham dish, not unlike oysters (as above)
Traditional chicken casserole has comforting herby dumplings and a good deal of root vegetables – turnips, carrots and onions – which makes it so fabulously hearty and seasonable. My first choice is Cotes du Rhone Rouge. With Lancashire hotpot or lamb casserole I would choose a red with a little more weight, example Rioja Reserva. With a very rich and heavy dish such as beef or game stew, I would go bigger still, top Australian Shiraz, Chateauneuf du Pape or Barolo….. in fact the choice is endless, but the point is I would match the weight, richness and power of the dish with similar robustness in the wine, so that one doesn`t swamp out the other.
Typically our Sunday Roast, when family gets together. As such it is deserving of good wine and a great feast.
Where chicken and turkey are concerned there is often a ridiculous number of vegetables and sauces on the plate and very often sausage meat and bacon as well – the whole caboodle a waft of smells, flavours and textures – pointless therefore to match with the meat precisely. Instead I would choose a good fruity red to wash over it all, quite possibly another Cotes du Rhone. With the turkey on Christmas Day we will either have a good Rhone, a Pinot Noir, Cru Beaujolais or some other similarly delicious red fruited wine from another part of the world. If my father is offering, however, with the Pattock`s Farm bronze turkey we might well break the seal of his case of 1990 Pomerol!
Incidentally, the precise match with roast chicken, turkey – or indeed pork – would be, for me, my favourite White Burgundy or a good New Zealand Chardonnay.
Roast Lamb is the natural choice partner with claret, and not just because the salt marsh lamb is raised on river banks of Bordeaux. But a juicy lamb chop is delicious with Pinot Noir – and in NZ the Kiwis more often than not enjoy their lamb with Pinot.
Roast Beef deserves, arguably, the best of reds: My favourites Northern Rhone, claret, burgundy and Italy`s Amarone. Recently, I enjoyed Sunday Roast Beef with Heru Pinot Noir from Chile and it was delicious. But if I am having Sunday lunch in a gastro-pub I will, in all honesty, enjoy the local bitter. Two pints of Adnams and Roast Beef in one of our locals and i`m set for the afternoon!
Beef steak – rump or fillet, with all the trimmings (I like chips & salad, but tomatoes & mushrooms instead of salad is topper), with Northern Rhone, other Syrah, possibly Cabernet Sauvignon or good Chianti.
Steak & Kidney pudding – don`t want anything too big and tannic because of the suet; besides, straightforward Cotes du Rhone is fresh against the stodgy pudding.
Game takes us back to a time when we were all hunters! Whether game-bird (duck, goose, pheasant, grouse, quail…) or big game (venison, wild board, moose!….) my instinct is to reach for the old vintages: a good mature claret, burgundy, Northern Rhone or Chateauneuf du Pape.
Game pie – we are a pie nation after all – an occasion for a good Pinot Noir, yes probably red burgundy.
Though the spices which give us curry are not home grown, the dish has a place in British psyche and surely therefore deserves a place in this list. Frankly lager can be bloating and anyway an Aspall cider would be a better choice of the two. My wine choice, however, would be a white with plenty of aromatics, such as Riesling, Pinot Gris or Viognier. With lamb or beef curry I would choose Shiraz, Pinot Noir or Cru Beaujolais. These wines serve well for spicy foods generally.
Our seasonal vegetables have given rise to some of our classic dishes – but one particular vegetable is often served as the centre piece of the dish in its own right and we look forward to its arrival with a degree of anticipation: asparagus. The first asparagus with a pinch of salt, a nub of butter, possibly a shaving of parmesan or even our own cheddar, is sublime. Sauvignon Blanc works perfectly for the occasion. Alternatively if you are for all things English try Carter`s Bacchus, its elderflower and citrus character works a treat.
Pork pies and scotch eggs are great British snacks, the first coarsely chopped, grey-coloured spiced pork in a pastry casing, the second egg wrapped in sausage with orange-coloured bread crumb shell. Both great with real ale in pubs – but with wine at home a Cru Beaujolais.
Sausage Rolls, sausage meat in flaky pastry, the nation`s party snack, is delicious with an easy drinking Zinfandel.
Cheese on toast is another favourite snack of the nation, with or without sliced tomato on top, or a mustard-spiked variation on the theme, Welsh Rabbit. My first choice a glass of cold milk. But in the spirit of adventure I would guest Chardonnay – possibly Pinot Gris with Welsh Rabbit.
Baked beans on toast [optionally with cheese on top] as above with cold milk – for wine, if pushed, Beaujolais Villages? Okay i`m struggling now….
Fruits, Nuts & Cheeses…
The nation`s most anticipated favourite British fruit is the Strawberry! The one fruit we all really look forward to – and rightly on this list, a classic, with meringue and cream. In season this is a classic with a hot cup of tea – alternatively serve with Italian Moscato d`Asti, Moncucco, its sweet-tasting, grapey flavour and light sparkle the perfect accompaniment. Also works well with Bakewell Pudding, its distinctive layer of jam and its egg-almond filling a favourite of mine.
Apples are also so very British, aren`t they? Goodness knows why we find foreign imports on our supermarket shelves! Apple pie is a classic like no other, served hot with vanilla ice cream or help-yourself cold out of the fridge! Alternatively apples and pears, baked and poached, are delicious traditional farmhouse fodder, the apples often spiced with cloves and cinnamon for the festive aromas. Or simply apples (or pears) served with cheeses, a splendid cheese platter and a chance to show off our fine British cheddars and stiltons. Explosive combinations include Sweet Vouvray and Late Harvest Riesling – and of course the famous matching of vintage port with stilton.
Nuts – autumnal and festive, at Christmas, especially walnuts, brazil nuts and almonds, – best enjoyed with an old British fancy: Amontillado or Oloroso.
Fruit & Nut Cake (Dundee Cake, Christmas Cake with icing) – all packed full of nuts and dried fruits and laced with brandy… there are a host of these, for which a wine match might include a number of amber to dark sweet wines and fortified wines.
And suet puddings too….. many of these British puddings date back to early eighteenth century, notably Christmas Pudding – originally with plum, dense with raisins, sultanas, currants, candied peel and nuts, with dark sugars, black treacle, stout and sweet spices, cinnamon and nutmeg; Spotted Dick – suet pudding and currants; and Jam Rolly-Polly- a flat-rolled suet pudding spread with jam (both served with custard), these last two requiring a golden Muscat.
Other old favourites:
Sticky Toffee Pudding and vanilla ice cream (a steamed sponge pudding with dates, prunes and toffee saunce), served with vanilla ice cream or custard (alternatively Treacle Tart); Victoria Sponge, with strawberry jam; Bread-and-butter pudding – day-old bread with sultanas, cinnamon, nutmeg and lots of cream; and Sussex Pond, suet pudding with lemon butter and brown sugar-crumb custard. Again these last puds requiring golden Muscat or possibly Late Harvest Riesling.
All so homely and comforting…..
All so heavenly and gloriously British … a match with intensely sweet dark wines such as Pedro Ximenez, Sweet Oloroso, Maury, Banyuls, Tawny port & Madeira Bual, or for the lighter alternative try a golden sweet wine.
Now let`s reinvent them……..
The best part about returning to our roots is we can do so with experience and an open mind to develop them into better dishes than they ever were. It is good to reminisce – to hanker for a smell, flavour and texture which we crave for comfort and satisfaction. But we can do so without regressing. This is being proven in our greatest, award winning British food restaurants and we can be proud. The best are traditional – classic – but still innovative and delivered with flare. Of course, all that is British and good is not limited to these few old classics. We have a great range of local produce – and we can make the best of these very special indeed by importing ideas, skills, recipes and ingredients, in part reflecting our new multi-cultural society, enhancing not diminishing what is quintessentially new, modern day Britain.
Food for thought
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