Last week, Lisa Donneson DWS, owner of North Fork of Long Island AVA brand Bouké Wines and I got together at her home in Brooklyn Heights to dish, cook and drink wine – it was hard work, really it was! The goal was to pair some dishes I grew up eating with some of her wines. My family on all sides –mother, biological father and stepfather – hails from the tiny and bucolic Commonwealth of Dominica in the eastern Caribbean (I’m first generation American). Growing up in south Brooklyn, my childhood memories recall sunny Saturday mornings with my parents eating Accra, also known as fishcake, saltfish fritters or to my latino peeps “bacalao-itos”, while listening to Carl Anthony spin reggae and soca tunes on 1190AM WLIB before starting the chores and cleaning. Then it was smoked herring with plain bagels – 6 for $1.00 back then purchased on Flatbush Avenue near the corner of Flatlands – after Sunday mass. It was family time over heritage food. No wine was involved back then. My stepfather, who is a chef by trade and an awesome cook (he currently operates his own bar and restaurant in Pointe Michel, Dominica called The Curve), taught me how to make all the dishes I grew up eating, and today I incorporate them into my wineLIFE with a lots of love.
Lisa and I chatted the previous week to decide the menu and she asked me for a shopping list. For a heartbeat, I was stumped. These are not “recipes” per se, so I gave her what I thought I’d love to have on hand in the house if I was in the mood for any of these dishes, more akin a wish list than an ingredient list. I let her know I would bring along some homemade pepper sauce to give everything its authentic spice kick, but the rest was up to whatever was available in Brooklyn Heights. As a result, the nature of the actual food items was left up to some interpretation. I’ve been buying saltfish and smoked herring for decades now, its almost a reflex.
She emailed me to say that her fishmonger instructed her to start soaking the salt cod immediately on Friday so that it could be cooked and eaten on Monday. When I arrived, I was delighted to find that instead of the dried tail cuts available in supermarkets (labeled bacalao, usually not even real cod), there was a lovely, fleshy belly cut soaking in a ceramic dish. I knew I’d stepped into something marvelous!
These dishes were to be paired with her off-dry rosé, under the Bouquet label in her line. The 2010 vintage we tasted is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot with a spot of Gewurztraminer for aroma (the brand signature). It’s just off dry, just enough to lift the fruit, and the finish is squeaky clean. We got to work on our little island feast.
We enjoyed the rosé best with the sautéed salt fish, which we cooked with onions, garlic and bell peppers and finished with cilantro and a squeeze of lime. The spicy, savory, salty dish awakened all the marvelous fruit notes in the wine and put the acidity to work cleaning and freshening up the palate for the next bite. Perfect pairing!
The fishcake was a natural with Bouké Perlant 2009, which is a slightly effervescent blend of three Pinots – Gris, Blanc and Noir. Sparkling wines and fried foods usually make happy couples.
The smoked herring, which I made with tomato paste and fresh Roma tomatoes, found a partner in Bouké Red, a wine that often goes well with tomato-based dishes. The Bouké Red is a wineLIFE fan favorite, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Syrah and Petit Verdot, and the 2008 vintage is still drinking beautifully!
1. Wine and West Indian food can work well together – and we don’t all have to drink sweet to enjoy it!
2. The white wine with fish rule is officially broken!
3. When buying saltfish, spring for the belly cut of real cod– it makes for a much nicer finished product!
It was a big meal! I walked it off over the Brooklyn Bridge, past Liberty Plaza (Occupy! Salute!) and down to the Ferry to head home.
Visit Lisa’s blog for the full ingredient lists and methods of preparation: