When it comes to food and drink pairings, most of us tend to be pretty old-school. As in, red with beef, white with fish.
But that’s a pretty broad brush with which to paint the way we eat and drink. Most meals are comprised of a symphony of flavors and textures, any one or more of which could be the inspiration for a drink pairing. Seasonings, for example, often play a bigger role in determining the flavor profile of a dish than the main ingredient does.
This is particularly true in summer, when we are wont to slather barbecue sauce onto whatever we throw on the grill. At this point, the meat or veggies are far less important to a pairing than the ingredients used in the barbecue sauce. Which is to say, a brown sugar-bourbon barbecue sauce would want the same drink whether it’s on a chicken breast or a beef tip.
To help you start thinking along these lines, I created three deliciously different barbecue sauces that are versatile enough to be used on whatever you care to grill – a tangy apricot and brown sugar barbecue sauce; a Central American recado rojo, which is rich with oregano, cumin and ancho chili powder; and a balsamic strawberry jalapeno sauce.
Then I sent off these recipes to Davin Affrunti, a mixology master and bar director for Prospect Restaurant in San Francisco.
“In considering what to pair with each sauce, I definitely think about what might be the most prominent flavors when completed,” he explained via email. “Spices can react tricky depending on the preparation, as can citrus and acid. Finding ways to complement these flavors is crucial.”
And when it comes to barbecue sauces, that isn’t always easy. By definition, these sauces tend to be big and bold. That can be a lot to consider. The tangy apricot barbecue sauce is a great example.
“There appears to be a lot going on here, from stone fruit like apricot to tropical fruit like pineapple, to various spices,” he said. “My initial goal would be to find something that subtly cuts through the spices, yet still leaves a refreshing zing at the end. I’m thinking something like ginger beer would be a great go-to.”
One choice would be a dark and stormy, a classic cocktail that blends dark rum, fresh lime juice and ginger beer (try 2 ounces rum and a squeeze of lime over ice, then top off with ginger beer). Or there is his own creation, the Sword and Stone, which blends 11/2 ounces Old Overholt rye, 1/2 ounce sweet vermouth, 1/2 ounce Yellow Chartreuse, 1/2 ounce apricot shrub (a blend of fresh apricots, cider vinegar and sugar) and bitters.
For the recado rojo, Affrunti wanted to work with the sweet, peppery and slightly nutty profile of the sauce.
“Because of the tangy cider vinegar component, something fresh and aromatic would be a great pick,” he said. “Circling back to the prominent annatto of Central and South America, Brazil’s signature caipirinha (a Brazilian drink that muddles fresh lime wedges with sugar, then tops with 2 ounces cachaca and ice) seems appropriate.”
He also suggests his own Golden Gate Julep, which starts by muddling 5 mint leaves, 3/4 ounce wildflower honey and 3 dashes orange flower water, then stirring in 2 ounces of Buffalo Trace bourbon and ice.
Finally, there is the balsamic strawberry barbecue sauce, the very definition of “lots going on.”
“This is perhaps the wild card of the bunch. I feel that sticking to darker spirits (like rum and whiskey) generally work best for barbecue, but in this case I will make an exception,” he said. “I want to lean toward tequila because of the jalapeno, yet I feel like something with basil might be awesome with the strawberry, especially to tame the heat. So I will give you both.”
In this case, both means a strawberry-basil gimlet (muddle 2 strawberries and some fresh basil then shake over ice with 2 ounces of gin, 1 ounce of lime juice and 1/2 ounce simple syrup) and his own recipe for Road to Rosarita, his version of a strawberry margarita (2 ounces Ranchero tequila, 1/2 ounce simple syrup and 1 ounce strawberry juice, shaken with ice and double strained into a glass rimmed with chili powder, salt and crushed freeze-dried strawberries).
TANGY APRICOT BARBECUE SAUCE
This tangy-sweet barbecue sauce is just right for grilled chicken breasts, turkey burgers or salmon steaks. If you can’t find fresh apricots, substitute frozen apricots.
Start to finish: 20 minutes
Makes: 3 cups
3 large apricots, pitted and chopped
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
3/4 cup (6 ounces) pineapple juice
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
In a small saucepan over medium-high, combine all ingredients. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring often, until the onions are tender and the apricot chunks begin to break down, about 10 minutes Transfer to a blender or food processor and puree until smooth. Return to the saucepan and simmer over medium heat until reduced by a quarter. Transfer to a bowl and use immediately or cover and refrigerate up to a week.
This rich, red paste is a classic seasoning in Mexico and Central America. It gets its bold color from achiote seeds (also called annatto) and deep flavor from blend of oregano, ancho chili powder and cumin. Use it on chicken, fish, pork or even stirred into stews.
Start to finish: 15 minutes
Makes: 1 cup
2 tablespoons achiote (annatto) seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon ancho chili powder
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic
1/4 cup orange juice
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 tablespoon molasses
1 tablespoon brown sugar
In a small, dry skillet over medium-low heat, combine the achiote, cumin, oregano, chili powder, coriander, cinnamon, allspice and peppercorns. Toast, stirring constantly, until just fragrant, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a spice grinder and grind until reduced to a fine powder. Transfer to a food processor or blender and add the onion, garlic, orange juice, vinegar, molasses, brown sugar and salt. Process until smooth.
Transfer to a bowl and use immediately or cover and refrigerate up to a week.
BALSAMIC STRAWBERRY JALAPENO BARBECUE SAUCE
Heat and sweet combine beautifully in this barbecue sauce. And while it is wonderful on chicken or ribs, there’s no need to stop there. A dollop of this and a slab of blue cheese can turn a basic burger into a truly transformative grilling experience. To tame the heat a bit, don’t include the seeds or inner ribs of the jalapeno.
Start to finish: 1 hour
Makes: 11/2 cups
2 cups balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup strawberry jam
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 large shallot, minced
1/2 fresh jalapeno, chopped
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
Salt, to taste
In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine the vinegar and jam. Bring to a simmer and cook until reduced to about 3/4 cup. Stir in the tomato paste, shallots, jalapeno, mustard, olive oil and Worcestershire sauce. Simmer for another 5 minutes, then transfer to a blender and puree until smooth. Season with salt.