You’ve tried wine pairing. Now try rice wine pairing.
The idea of pairing food with liquor isn’t something straight off the boat. It’s been going on for a couple of centuries and several top-end restaurants in Vietnam’s major cities have been giving it a go for years.
Now Vietnam, a country that frequently demonstrates its ability to take on the rest of the world, is remaking this gastronomic staple in the most Vietnamese way possible.
Mot. Hai. Ba…
Pairing Vietnamese cuisine with rice liquor is extremely common in the ‘let’s chug this plastic bottle of moonshine with our barbeque’ kind of way; but careful, deliberate flavour pairing… not so much.
The team at Highway 4 restaurant didn’t let this demoralize them, however, as they set about creating a seven-course Liquid Rice Dinner in mid-December. The dinner was not only paired with their signature Son Tinh rice liquor, but cooked with it as well.
The event was a first of its kind. Each course was taken straight out of the Vietnamese list of classics, and each dish was paired with one of their 12 different varieties of liquor to bring out the special flavours in each bite.
Yet it didn’t just start and end with the pairings. Using liquor as a cooking ingredient unlocks a world of possibilities, and adding it to the cuisine created an extra sense of flair. The flavours in Son Tinh liquor are derived from Vietnamese herbs and fruits, as well as beans and rice. This makes them the ideal ingredient for infusion into Vietnamese cuisine.
The dishes had taste aplenty. The grilled fillet of seabass was cooked with kumquat, and Son Tinh Chanh Leo (passion fruit) liquor sauce. The simple fillet was turned into a mouth-watering meal with the presence of the sweet, fruity liquor.
A stronger and more aromatic Son Tinh Nhat Da was used in the dressing of a buffalo salad. The strong flavours in both the dressing and the buffalo meat balanced to the point where drinking a shot of the liquor alongside the dish didn’t feel the least bit invasive. The fusion of juices from the meat and the herbal liquor left on the plate made for a fiendishly good finish — you pick up on the booze in the juices, and it’s a match made in heaven.
“People make the mistake of thinking that when you cook with alcohol, the booze disappears,” says Dan Dockery, the brains behind the dinner and the owner of Highway 4. “That’s actually not true. It takes four hours of braising to get it down to 5 percent.”
Another interesting infusion was the crab soup with Son Tinh Nep Phu Loc. This is Son Tinh’s original liquor, and the closest to traditional Vietnamese rice wine created by the distillery. Its presence in the crab soup was interesting. The rice wine retained its strong notes, especially once you got to the bottom of the bowl, where most of the liquor had sunk to.
Ants in Your… Cocktail.
Vietnam’s finest rice liquor doesn’t just work well in your food. Highway 4 have created a whole bunch of cocktails using the stuff as well, including our aperitif, the Highway #25. This exotic concoction mixed Son Tinh Nep Phu Loc with tamarind sauce, and was rimmed with salted ants. The three ingredients worked perfectly together, the ants giving a salty kick that balances out the tamarind.
The Liquid Rice Dinner was a first for Highway 4, but they intend to host more of these events. To keep yourself updated visit their Facebook page. No ants were harmed in the writing of this article.
PHOTOS BY TEIGUE JOHN BLOKPOEL