Sultry days in July and August are ripe for a classic summer picnic.

We are so lucky here in Maine to have extraordinary places to spend our summer days, so why pack an ordinary picnic?

The spectacular views and cooling ocean breezes of the Maine coast will look and feel even more spectacular when you take a break to find artisan cheese and a nice bottle of wine in your picnic basket instead of peanut butter and jelly.

I asked three Maine chefs, a local cheese expert and a wine consultant to make some recommendations for a delicious spread. Their menu includes buttermilk fried chicken, Mediterranean couscous salad, strawberry gazpacho soup and a selection of summer cheeses.

Beneath each recipe are suggested wine pairings and comments from Jen Flock, a local wine consultant and aspiring master sommelier (flockandvine.com or flockandwine.blogspot.com).

Now all you need is a blanket and some sunglasses.

 

Melissa Bouchard, chef at DiMillo’s on the Water in Portland, usually works with seafood. Here, she shares her recipe for buttermilk fried chicken, a childhood favorite that she has made her own.

“When I was a child, I thought my mother made the best fried chicken ever,” Bouchard said. “As I got older and my tastes evolved, I tweaked the recipe. I love the Southern twist of brining chicken in buttermilk and spices. It’s a timeless and delicious method. My mom’s was good, but I love the juiciness and slight tang the brine gives the chicken, and the depth of flavor the herbs add to it.”

 

BUTTERMILK FRIED CHICKEN

From Melissa Bouchard, chef at DiMillo’s on the Water in Portland

FOR THE BRINE:

1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon onion powder

1 teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper

1 tablespoon sugar in the raw

2½ tablespoons course sea salt

3 cups buttermilk

SEASONED FLOUR FOR DREDGING:

2 cups of flour

2 teaspoons onion powder

1 teaspoon garlic powder

½ teaspoon cayenne

1½ teaspoons paprika

FOR THE CHICKEN:

6 chicken thighs and 6 drumsticks

1 quart of canola oil

To start the brine, add the buttermilk and all of the spices in a large mixing bowl and beat well. Transfer mixture to an extra-large resealable bag and add chicken. Seal the bag and be careful to release as much air as you can. Make sure all of the chicken is evenly covered in buttermilk by gently massaging and flipping the bag over and over. Chicken should marinate at least six hours, but overnight is ideal.

Remove chicken from brine and pat completely dry. Save the remaining buttermilk and place in a large mixing bowl. Assemble seasoned flour simply by adding remaining ingredients (except the oil) together in a large mixing bowl. Dip the chicken in the buttermilk, roll in the flour and repeat. Place on a sheet pan and let rest for about a half hour. The chicken will cook more evenly if it is brought to room temperature.

In a large enameled cast-iron pot, add the oil. Bring the temp of the oil to 340 degrees slowly over medium heat. You may want to use a thermometer if you are unsure. When the oil is up to the proper temperature, add the chicken one piece at a time, being careful to drop them slowly and away from you. Fry four pieces at a time for about 12 to 15 minutes.

The chicken should be golden brown and cooked to 165 degrees. Remove a piece of chicken and test with a meat thermometer just to be safe.

When the chicken is done, remove from oil and drain on paper towels either on a rack or a sheet pan. Resist the urge to eat the chicken for 3 to 4 minutes so it can rest and will be perfectly juicy and delicious. Serve with biscuits, local honey and broccoli slaw.

 

FLOCK’S WINE PAIRINGS:

Domaine de Petit Rimauresq Cotes de Provence Petit Rose 2011, Provence France, $15

“In the summer I love, LOVE pink wine! I always get disheartened when I suggest one to a client and they say, ‘I don’t like sweet wine.’ The Petit Rimauresq is lovely, with a bit of red fruits and earth on the nose. The palate has a watermelon Jolly Rancher quality without being sweet. The finish is clean and refreshing. I thought the acidity would pair well with the fatty content of the fried skin.”

Qunita do Crasto Flor de Crasto 2009, Portugal, $12

“This Portuguese table wine is great. Many people think red wine from Portugal is only Port, but their unfortified, dry reds are great food wines. Its concentrated berry notes mingle with hidden spices. It’s a great value wine.”

 

MEDITERRANEAN COUSCOUS SALAD

From Rick Hirsch, chef at the Damariscotta River Grill in Damariscotta and the Anchor Inn in Round Pond

COUSCOUS SALAD:

2½ cups vegetable stock

2 cups Israeli couscous

 

DRESSING:

½ cup olive oil

½ cup vegetable oil

¼ cup red wine vinegar

2 tablespoons white wine

1 teaspoon fresh garlic

1 teaspoon dried basil

½ teaspoon mustard powder

¼ teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon black pepper

2 teaspoons fresh chopped parsley

 

VEGETABLES:

1 pint grape tomatoes, quartered

½ cup scallions, sliced thin

½ cup fennel bulb, shaved

¼ cup yellow pepper, small dice

½ cup red onion, sliced thin

Bring vegetable stock to a boil and add couscous. Cover and simmer 6 to 8 minutes, until all stock is absorbed. Remove from heat and chill.

Combine all the dressing ingredients in a food processor or blender and blend well.

When couscous is chilled, combine with dressing and vegetables and mix well.

Adjust salt and pepper to taste.

 

FLOCK’S WINE PAIRINGS:

Domaine de Pouy Cotes de Gascogne 2011, France, $9 to $10

“Southern France is a great place for inexpensive drinkable wines, and this bottle is nothing short of that. Its refreshing acidity and fruit characters make it perfect for summer salads, hanging on a picnic blanket, watching the sun set waiting for the fireworks!”

Couly Dutheil Chanteaux Blanc 2010, Loire France, $28

“I tasted this Chenin Blanc recently and fell in love. It had beautiful notes of melons and grapefruits, with slight viscosity in the mouth without being cloying. Every sip made me want to take another. Now how can you not want to try it?”

 

STRAWBERRY GAZPACHO

From Nicolas Nappi, chef at Local 188 in Portland

1 quart fresh local strawberries

½ red bell pepper, coarsely chopped

½ green bell pepper, coarsely chopped

1 cucumber, coarsely chopped

1 clove garlic

¼ cup white balsamic vinegar

1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Salt and pepper to taste

Blend until smooth. Chill for 2 hours before serving.

Garnish with a sprig of mint.

 

FLOCK’S WINE PAIRINGS:

Tegernseerhof/Mettelbach Family “T” Rose, 2011, Austria, $15

“Rose made from Zweigelt is bold and flavorful with a spicy finish, just like gazpacho. With dusty strawberry on the nose and cherries in the palate, the wine is incredibly refreshing.”

Michel & Stephane Ogier Condrieu 2008, Rhone France, $95

“It wouldn’t be complete without Condrieu! One hundred percent Viognier from the best place in the world for it, Northern Rhone. With a nose of white flowers and stone fruits like peach and apricot, the palate promises honeyed flavors of citrus and pears finishing with minerals. Beautiful wine!”

 

SUMMER CHEESES

Suggestions from Vincent Maniaci and Jill Dutton, owners of The Cheese Iron in Scarborough

Maniaci and Dutton picked four American artisan cheeses for our picnic, two of them from Maine. (The Cheese Iron carries all four.) The Maine cheeses can also be found in local farmers markets and specialty shops. Check the Maine cheesemakers’ websites to find out where their products can be purchased locally.

Liberty Fields, Saco Bay Mist and Dusk by Ann Tripp of Saco. Pastured goat’s milk cheeses. (mainecheeseguild.org/map/liberty-fields.html)

Kennebec Cheesery goat’s milk cheese, plain or rolled in herbes de Provence. (kennebeccheesery.com)

Summer Snow from Woodcock Farm, Weston, Vt. Soft, creamy sheep’s milk cheese. Soft ripened, bloomy rind, similar to a camembert.

Fiscalini Bandaged Cheddar from Modesto, Calif. Raw cow’s milk, aged 16 months. Classic English-style cheddar from master cheesemaker Marino Gonzalez. (fiscalinicheese.com).

 

FLOCK’S WINE PAIRINGS:

Chateau Musar Blanc 2004, Lebanon, $40

“One of the most interesting wines you’ll ever come across, the Chateau Musar label has persevered in climates (like war zones) we hope to never know firsthand. The white is a blend of grapes called Obaideh and Merwah – yes, really.

When you open the wine, it has a certain sherry-like character, with a slightly oxidized note. The fruits are candied apple and pear intertwining with olive brine and ocean water. Any of the goat and sheep cheeses would make a great accompaniment.”

Domaine de La Berthete Cotes Du Rhone Cuvee Sensation 2010, Rhone France, $15

“A mini Chateauneuf de Pape, without the price tag of one, is what you’ll find in this bottle. With a blend of Granche, Syrah, Carignan and Cinsault, it is fruit driven without over concentration. It is tannic with balance, and velvety without being flat. A very drinkable red. Wait, aren’t they all drinkable?”

 

Staff Writer Meredith Goad can be reached at 791-6332 or at: [email protected]

Twitter: MeredithGoad