Like many of you, I've been interested in the artistry of food-and-wine pairings for years now, and well understand the elements of flavor and character that create both memorable and not-so-memorable pairings.
The flavor profile of wine, spirits and beer is owed to the French word "terroir" - flavors that result from geography, history and climate. The character of wine grapes, coffee beans, tea leaves, and hops - even tobacco leaves or the mold that forms in cheese left to ferment in a cave - is the influence of things found in environment.
Ingredients culled to create quaffable liquids end up telling a very specific story and lend a sense of place when paired with food also grown and influenced by land and the interpretive hand of a chef.
If one enjoys the terroir of consumables and the artistry of flavor profiling, opportunities that pair food with artisan-inspired drinks (wine, beer, and spirits) are a treat. For me, it's a bit like walking into a gallery of exquisite art, yet all the more enticing for its ephemeral nuances.
I admit, beer has never been my go-to adult beverage. Yet dinners that forgo sommeliers for suds, and pair hoppy pours with high-end fare are incredibly fascinating for that reason.
I'd been to Big Sky Brewing dinners at Blue Canyon, but recently attended one at Paws Up that did so much more than expand my mind to beer paired with food.
Using hops in cooking may seem an obvious connection: Beer has hops, so using hops in course preparations, alongside a hop-driven beer would seem to spell success. But how often does one hear of hops used center stage in cooking?
The answer is never. I vaguely remember a Jamie Oliver recipe that substituted hops for yeast in a tasty loaf of bread. Big Dipper's hop-and-grain-inspired Cold Smoke ice cream - made from Kettle House Brewery's leftover mash - is another, but cream and sugar take center stage.
Short of that, I had never heard of anyone using hop flowers in edible bites. Consider the challenge: Unlike squash blossoms, hop flowers are bitter, so using them in food can be difficult.
But here it was: Rainbow trout with hop pesto purses, paired with Bayern's Maibock Lager. That's hop flowers and leaves, pureed with shallots, garlic, mascarpone and soft mozzarella cheeses, brought together with mild grapeseed oil, bundled inside tender hop leaves tied off with chive stems, battered with tempura and fried golden.
Recipe creator Pat Combs is something of an unsung kitchen hero. He's worked in the resort's Greenough kitchen for five years, but not as executive chef. Sixteen years in kitchens, and nary a day of culinary school, he has been the kitchen's character actor - waiting quietly in the wings perfecting his craft.
These purses emerged in the first course and I wanted to forgo all other food that night to happily pop these leafy, herby, cheesy, deep-fried purses into my mouth and swill beer all night. Yes. S-W-I-L-L.
I begged for this recipe, and now here it is for you:
Fried Hop Pesto Purses
1 cup Mascarpone cheese
1 cup fresh Mozzarella Ciliegine (soft mozzarella loaf)
3/4 tablespoon shallot, minced
1/4 tablespoon garlic, minced
1/4 tablespoon roasted garlic
1 cup of fresh hop flower petals
35 fresh hop leaves
3/4 cup grapeseed oil
Add first six ingredients into food possessor along with 20 of the hop leaves. Blend for one minute. Place mixture into regular blender, and blend on low while adding oil in a slow stream. Lay out remaining hop leaves on a work surface. Spoon a small amount of pesto mixture onto two leaves crisscrossed. Fold leaves up so sides can be tied with a chive. Be very careful not to tear the leaves or chive shoot. Prepare oil for frying to 340 degrees. Carefully dunk each bundle into tempura batter, dabbing extra from each pouch. Fry until golden, then blot with paper towels and season with sea salt immediately. (Note: Taste mixture and add or subtract ingredient amount, as this recipe is from memory). Find hop plants at various farmers market vendors, but don't use dried flowers.
1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup rice flour
1 teaspoon cake flour
Sift flours, and add soda water by half cupfuls, turning the mixing bowl as you fold the flour into the water and reach desired consistency. Batter should look like fluffy, runny pancake batter. Batter consistency is choice.
Reach columnist Lori Grannis at 360-8788 or firstname.lastname@example.org.