Think cocktails and food – and aperitifs spring to mind. Why wouldn’t they? Nothing gets the appetite primed quite like a cheeky Aperol Spritz. Then there’s the digestif. Ah, the digestif. Those intense drinks, like an expertly mixed Manhattan or slowly and carefully stirred Old-Fashioneds, are the perfect way to round off a meal.

Cocktails with food - why not?

Cocktails with food – why not?

It’s the bit in the middle that’s a quandary. This is where even the most ardent cocktail lover will beckon the sommelier. While there’s nothing wrong with that – we love a glass of Pinot or a crisp Sauvignon as much as the next person – every so often it’s good to liven things up by matching your main with a cocktail.

At its simplest a Classic Dry Martini, with a twist rather than an olive for that essential citrus zing, works beautifully with fish and chips. Or how about a bourbon-based Mint Julep to accompany a burger? We’re rather partial to a Perfect Manhattan to keep our steak company, while we find the clean, minty goodness in a Mojito complements a Thai meal like a dream.

So far, so simple. What about something a bit more creative? Granted, this cocktail and food matching malarkey isn’t the easiest of things to pull off. Like wine, you can go in one of two directions: complementary or contrasting. Complementary flavours are easiest to think about when you don’t want to stress yourself out too much. If you regard your cocktail as a garnish to the dish in question you’ll invariably hit on a winning combo – smoky spirits to sit alongside barbecued meats for example; if lamb is on the menu, a minty cocktail works like a dream, while berries and currants added to a cocktail make a good accompaniment to duck.

Contrasting notes work equally well. If you’re going for something oily – fish dishes say, think about adding citrus notes to your cocktail, while a fruit-based libation provides an interesting pairing for earthy dishes like stews or casseroles, even grilled meats. And if you really want to take cocktail pairing on to another level, try marinating meats like pork and chicken with the herbs and spices found in gin. Crush juniper berries, add some cardamom, a sprinkling of lemon and lime zest, leave to infuse for half an hour or so, then grill or barbecue and serve with a gin Martini.

The Cocktail Lovers say:

Don’t be shy, ask your bartender for food and cocktail recommendations – a good one will always try their darnedest to come up with something to match.

This week we’re loving:

Attaboy, the brand spanking new bar occupying the old Milk & Honey site in New York. Headed up by two of its former bartenders, you won’t find any menus here. Just tell them your taste preference and mood and they’ll shake or stir something up to suit. We like it. A lot. 134 Eldridge Street, NY 10002.

Written for The Independent Dish of the Day blog 21/3/2013

The Independent

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