A bottle of bubbly is considered an easy start to any celebration. But what would be more thoughtful and inspiring than to put a personal spin on your choice of inebriant, and then pair it with easy-to-put-together tapas? We know about pairing food and wine, and that concept can be expanded to include cocktails. This can enhance the ambience of a tapas night with your loved one or a casual backyard barbecue with friends.
According to Matthew Biancaniello, famed bar chef and author of Eat your Drink, “you make better drinks at home than you buy at bars simply because you control the quality of ingredients.” Matthew also believes that the edible experience in liquid form is the most powerful experience, as there are so many possibilities. Basil is his favorite versatile ingredient—it can be muddled, infused with a spirit or simple syrup, converted into an oil, and used as a garnish amongst other things. There’s a bit of art to it, but it’s also not difficult, especially if you simply start exploring possibilities.
Make exploration your guide to success
Your first cocktail pairing dinner can be intimidating. So, start small by hosting a tapas party with a limited menu that can be paired with a couple of easy to make cocktails. A great starting point can be to take a cue from the last craft cocktail you enjoyed at a restaurant or bar. “Although you can explore the world of cocktails and spirits completely on your own at home, doing so can get expensive quite quickly. By having a couple drinks at a craft bar, you can get a sense for what you like without investing in the whole bottle” says Clair McLafferty, author of Romantic Cocktails. “Having one bottle of good booze at home is a great jumping off point for playing with cocktails.”
Compare and contrast
Mixology is understanding flavors; you do not have to go to university to curate your favorite pairings. Ami Shroff, head mixologist at London Taxi Gastropub in Mumbai, calls for “playing with the ingredients in your refrigerator or dry storage.” Ami says, “Crispy tempuras would go well with a beer-based cocktail or something refreshing like mojito; whereas a sour and spicy cocktail like a Bloody Mary would be ideal for chips and dips.”
If your appetite for risk is low, go with a cheese and charcuterie board and load it up with the cheese mongers’ recommendations. Include a good variety of pickled bites, flavored nuts, olives, seasonal fruits, and cured meats. “This assortment can pair with anything from an Old Fashioned to a French 75. It’s versatile, easy to throw together, and always impressive,” says McLafferty. Finally, apply your own logic and creativity to dream up exciting flavor combinations.
Let the seasons be your guide
Hot toddies spiked with cayenne are delicious with truffled mac-n-cheese bites during the colder months, whereas blood orange margaritas paired with crab cakes would be the perfect way to bid adieu to winter. Cucumber and mint mojitos scream summer, and pairing them with cilantro chutney barbecued oysters has triumphant party written all over it!
Make your neighborhood farmers market a starting point to conjuring your menu. Apart from getting beautiful produce, you might also find a friendly ‘shrub’ seller. Shrubs are adjacent to mixers and are prepared by steeping fruit with sugar and vinegar. A proper shrub has a flavor that is both tart and sweet, so it kindles appetite while satiating thirst. Shrub based beverages please both the booze and non-booze beverage lovers.
Take advantage of fresh herbs and edible flowers in season. Do not stop at mint for mojitos but try pairing rosemary with a gin-based cocktail. Burning a sprig of sage and lightly adding it to a bourbon-based nightcap would subtly complement barbecue bites.
Batch tapas & cocktails
A little planning and mise en placewill ensure that you are not just the most innovative host, but that you also have time to enjoy and mingle during the party. A rule of thumb is to prepare three types of tapas which can be prepared at least 6 – 24 hours in advance. Pair these with two types of cocktails which can also be prepared in advance and in a batch size. Also, since these cocktails are lower in alcohol, prepare more than you think you will need. A sherry-based drink called Adonis, gin-based Bee’s Knees, Champagne Punch with a DIY garnish bar (from McLafferty’s book) are all brilliant ideas for batch cocktails for an elegant party. Pair these cocktails with seasonal veggie bruschetta, brie puffs, char grilled swordfish batons, sesame salmon skewers, pink peppercorn meringues, key lime macarons, and whatever your imagination deems fit.
It is also important to know recipes of basic cocktails and own key tools of the trade. Asccording to McLafferty, “Most craft beverage recipes are fine tuned to suit a particular liquor. Although many classics can be made with simple ratios (a Manhattan is typically 2:1 whiskey: vermouth and most Daiquiris, Gimlets, and other Sours are 2:1:1 spirit: sweetener: citrus juice), many contemporary drinks rely on very specific measurements. Having a set of jiggers that actually go through quality control will help make your tipples much more consistent.”
Remember to have fun
Simplicity leads to sophistication. In order to pair party bites with cocktails, the array of flavors should not confuse or exhaust the taste palate. Start with the theme of cocktails and pair the food accordingly or vice versa.
But rules are only made to be broken. Experiment and enjoy the process of curating pairings, and shake up things while doing so. Here are a few recipe-pairings to get you started:
by Meaghan Dorman, of Dear Irving, NYC
Makes 1 cocktail
0.75 oz Campari
0.75 oz sweet vermouth
1.5 oz bourbon
Build in glass and stir with ice. Garnish with orange peel.
Pancetta, Arugula & Tomato Toasty
3 thin slices of pancetta
3 rolls, sliced
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
¾ cup baby arugula
Drizzle of extra virgin olive oil
Pinch of sea salt, black pepper
Heirloom tomato, sliced
Cook the pancetta in a non-stick sauté pan over low heat until crispy. Place the pancetta on a paper towel to absorb excess fat and reserve for later use. Spread the bottom half of each roll with mayonnaise.
In a small mixing bowl, dress the baby arugula with the extra virgin olive oil and season with a pinch of sea salt and black pepper. Season the tomato slices with a pinch of sea salt and black pepper and place a slice of seasoned tomato on each dinner roll bottom.
Place an equal amount of the dressed baby arugula onto each slice of tomato, top each with a piece of crispy pancetta.
Recipe by Thomas Reyna of Saint Bernard’s Pub, Houston
Makes 1 cocktail
1.5 oz Tequila
0.75 oz fresh lime juice
0.5 oz Cointreau
0.25 oz honey
Barrel aged balsamic vinegar in a tiny spray bottle, for garnish
Shake tequila, lime juice, Cointreau and honey with ice. Strain into a chilled rocks glass full of ice. Mist the drink with 2-3 sprays of balsamic vinegar.
Salt Chili Prawns
1 ½ cups panko breadcrumbs
2 teaspoons chili flakes
2 cloves garlic
Salt and freshly ground pepper
24 raw tiger shrimp/prawns, peeled & deveined
2 egg whites, lightly whisked
Oil for frying
24 bamboo skewers
Combine breadcrumbs, chili flakes and garlic together in a bowl, then season with salt and pepper. Dip each shrimp into a little egg white and then the breadcrumb mixture to coat. Spear a couple of shrimps with a bamboo skewer. Heat a little oil in a wok or heavy bottomed frying pan and deep fry a couple of shrimp skewers until each side is golden and cooked through.
Chai Iced Tea
Recipe inspired by Matthew Biancaniello’s ‘Eat your Drink’
Makes 3 – 4 shots
2 oz Chai-infused Gin (recipe requires 2 tablespoons dried tea leaves of choice & 750 ml bottle of Caprock Gin)
2 oz condensed milk
3-4 cinnamon sticks for garnish
Put the chai directly in the bottle of gin and let it steep for about 1 hour, agitating it every 15 minutes. Strain into a clean bottle. This infused gin will keep in a cool, dark place for up to 6 months.
For the cocktail, in a shaker, combine together gin and condensed milk with ice. Strain into 3-4 shot glasses and garnish with cinnamon stick.
Dark Chocolate Dipped Blood Orange Crisps
2 large blood oranges or regular oranges (thinly sliced)
1/4 cup granulated or brown sugar
Salt to sprinkle
¼ cup Dark chocolate, melted
Preheat oven to 200F. Slice blood oranges thinly. Lay them flat on a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Sprinkle sugar & salt evenly over orange slices. Oven dry at 200F for 2 1/2 to 3hrs. Store in cool dry place.
Melt dark chocolate in a microwave in 30 seconds interval for 1 minute. Dip orange slices midway and place on a parchment lined tray. Let dry for an hour in room temperature. These can be stored for a week.
Chef Garima, an investment-banker turned baker-chef is the founder & CEO of breakingbread.co , an events & catering company. She is an alumni of Le Cordon Bleu, Paris & has been featured as Top 15 in reality television show- MasterChef. Chef Garima is a culinary innovator who speaks in various institutions, globally about smart & efficient ways to use food as an eradicator of health issues, poverty & induce employment.