The human tasting apparatus is a screwy thing. The result of tens of thousands of years of evolution, we all have reached a stage where there is no standardization. You would think after all that time, we, as a species, would have reached some consensus.
But no. We are as individualistic in our abilities to “taste” as we are in fingerprints. The whole mechanism is unique to each owner. My love of strong coffee cannot match your dislike for the beverage. I can only look at you and mutter, “You don’t know what you are missing.” Then again, it’s likely you really do.
Very short detour here: we humans can truly only discern five items with our mouth. Sweet, sour, bitter, savory (sometimes referred to as “umami”), and salt. Every other flavor you perceive is given to you through a complicated arrangement of odors and textures. The nose, in fact, is responsible for more than 85 percent of what you “taste.”
Okay, back to the discussion at hand. There are foods that go together very well. We seem to adore peanut butter and chocolate. Sugar and iced tea are favorites this time of year. How about hot dogs and mustard? And can you ever have French fries without salt?
There are also combinations which are unique to us individually. Elvis’ love for peanut butter and bananas as an example. Not bad, but not the first thing which springs to mind pleasing the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll. All in all, the natural partners are too numerous to mention, and the individual combination favorites are off the charts in raw numbers.
Here are some combinations that on the surface do not appear to be good pairings, but don’t denigrate their ability to delight.
- Salty Potato Chips and Champagne – Seems more like two completely separate classes of enjoyment more than not making a good match. Don’t sell this short. Delicious and perfect.
- Watermelon and Vinegar – In a salad? It does not get better in the summer.
- Watermelon and Tequila – While we are on the melon topic, let’s do another “something else” with everyone’s favorite summertime fruit.
- Serrano Chiles and White Rum cocktail – Unexpected but try this:
- 1 ounce simple syrup
- 1 hot chile, such as Serrano, halved and seeded
- 5 cherries, pitted, plus 1 cherry for garnish
- 3 mint leaves, plus 1 sprig for garnish
- 2 ounces white rum
- In a cocktail shaker, muddle the 5 pitted cherries, mint leaves and chile.
- Add ice and the rum, lemon juice and simple syrup; shake well.
- Strain into an ice-filled Collins glass, stir in the club soda and garnish with a cherry and a mint sprig.
(thanks to Food & Wine)
- Pineapple, sake, jalapeno – A cross-culture mash-up in a… wait for it… sangria. Whoa!!
- 3/4 cup water
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1 jalapeño, thinly sliced crosswise
- 4 1/2 cups pineapple juice
- One 750-ml bottle dry filtered sake
- In a small saucepan, bring the water to a boil with the sugar and jalapeño, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Let cool completely, then strain the syrup; discard the jalapeño.
- In a large pitcher, combine the jalapeño syrup, pineapple juice and sake and stir well.
- Refrigerate until well chilled, about 1 hour.
- Serve the sangria over ice in tumblers, garnished with pineapple and mint.
(Again, thanks to Food & Wine.)
The point, if there is a point, is that we should not discount unlikely couplings of items at least until we have tried them. We have the ability to both please and surprise ourselves, which is a lot more fun than making a nasty face. Most of the time.
Read Happy Hour here on myneworleans.com on Wednesdays, and listen to The Dine, Wine and Spirits Show, hosted by Tim, every weekday, 4:00 – 5:00 p.m. on WGSO 990AM and streamed, as well as stored (podcast), at www.wgso.com. Also, check out Last Call, Tim’s photo-feature about cocktails in New Orleans, every month in New Orleans Magazine.