British tomatoes are amongst my Top Ten favourite ingredients as a cook, but as a food and whisky writer could the challenge of matching whiskies to tomato based dishes be a match too far? Click on each image for the recipe.
Why are tomatoes difficult for any drinks matching?
Tomatoes, or love apples, when truly vine ripened in the sun, are complex bursts of flavour almost as demanding on the palette as whisky. They have a balance of sweet and acidic tastes, and your choice of favourite tomato depends on whether you like an easy sweet variety or a more complex and challenging bite. Tomatoes are native to the Andes and Mexico, so they shared common ground with chillies, cocoa and potatoes. They are a Number One ingredient in every great cuisine of the world except Chinese cookery. Don’t ask me why that is!
The acidity of tomatoes often badly affects the flavour of wine: I think whiskies work much better. These are some of my favourite tomato-based dishes with the whiskies that I have selected to go with them. What do you think?
Squid Goulash uses tomatoes in their potentially richest form, passata, for a long slow cooking of this delicious seafood seasoned with paprikas - use a mixture of sweet and smoked for the most complex flavour. I have chosen Bruichladdich’s The Classic Laddie (about £42/70cl) for this dish as it is slightly salty, a little bit feisty-cum-resinous and the complexity of it copes with and cuts through the richness of the spiced tomato to find and season the gorgeously tender squid.
Salsa Tabouleh is a salad of finely diced veg, salted to bring out their juices which are then absorbed by warm, partly-cooked cracked wheat or smoked freekeh. The salad is finished with olive oil, lemon or lime zest and juice and fresh herbs. Mint adds an even greater whisky matching challenge, so I suggest sticking to parsley and coriander for the final bright high-notes in the salad - then to try it with the Glengoyne 12yo (about £38/70cl). This distillery is very keen on food matching with their whiskies, and I like this 12yo as it is partly matured in American oak (unusual for Glengoyne) which adds an extra deep platform to the zesty, peppery, rich and spicy complex flavour of the whisky.
Osso Buco is a dish of veal shin in a rich tomato sauce, usually served with a saffron yellow, very buttery and cheesy Risotto Milanese. I like to make it with turkey steaks which are cheaper and easier to source. The richness of the risotto is as much a challenge for the whisky as the tomatoes but here I have chosen an east coast whisky from just about as far north on mainland Scotland as you can go - Old Pulteney’s Navigator (about £41/70cl). This is a rich, slightly salty whisky which develops on the palette and lingers, revealing its depth of flavour as you savour it: just as the risotto and fine tomato sauce develop on the palette as well. They match and complement each other remarkably.
Tomatoes make wonderful salads and garnishes in all Mediterranean culinary styles. Here they are both in and garnishing an aubergine dip, and my selected whisky, the Aultmore 12yo (about £50/70cl), would accompany this just as well as it would a salad of tomato, mozzarella and avocado, or tomato, orange and chicory. When I first tasted this whisky I was blown away by its herbaceous notes and almost olive oil flavours, which I find makes it a perfect match for almost any salad. It is a new whisky (Jan’15) from Dewar’s in The Last Great Malts range: it seems to be in slightly short supply so snap it up if you see it.
Whisky is traditionally a night-cap and it is perfect with a snack like Tomatoes on toast. You can add as much seasoning to the tomatoes as you like: garlic, basil or even freshly chopped rosemary. A blend is called for to complement this and I favour Great King Street The Artist’s Blend from Compass Box (about £35/70cl). It is smooth and elegant, with a slightly oily mouthfeel - always a good sign when food matching - and a vaguely aniseed/absinthe background flavour which is almost a seasoning for food. It is a blend of grain, Highland and Speyside whiskies, ensuring that it will rise to every flavour-matching challenge.
Whilst you might buy enough tomatoes to cook all five of these dishes I fear you will not purchase all five of the whiskies! If the descriptions themselves do not help to make your choice I would suggest the Aultmore if you can find it, simply because of the impact that its herbaceous character made on me at first taste. For Islay lovers go for the Bruichladdich and if you are a sailor go for the Navigator. The Artist’s Blend is an elegant all-rounder and I find the Glengoyne the most complex of the five so perhaps it is the one for the more established whisky drinker?
Whichever whisky you chose, enjoy it!
I buy most of my whisky on-line from The Whisky Exchange.