I was recently invited to take part in the Chablis blogger challenge, an initiative designed to get food bloggers who are not wine experts thinking about food and wine pairing; specifically, creating dishes to partner Chablis. As someone who knows very little about wine and even less about pairing it with food, I was intrigued and a little excited by this prospect. I love having something to give my cooking a focus; a particular ingredient to showcase, a certain technique to perfect, or a concept to follow, and this sounded like the perfect opportunity to take up a challenge and get a little bit creative.
Plus, there was wine involved, so why wouldn’t I say yes? As French chef Julia Child apparently once said: “I love cooking with wine. Sometimes I even put it in the food”.
I received two bottles of Chablis in the post to help inspire the sommelier that I’m sure is lurking somewhere within me, just waiting to break free and dazzle the world with her quirky yet fabulous wine-and-food matches. The bottles were immediately labelled with ‘DAD, DO NOT DRINK’ stickers (a customary ritual every time I receive or purchase alcohol that I don’t want to find gone several days later), placed safely in the wine cupboard, and I was ready to start racking my brains for recipes that would showcase them to their full potential.
A bit of background first. Chablis is produced in the Burgundy region of France, in an area that was once covered by an ocean and now has fossil-rich limestone soil. Its viticulture was developed by Cistercian monks, and now over 300 vineyards exist in the region. 35 million bottles of Chablis are produced every year, and three out of every ten are sold in the UK. I found this quite surprising, seeing as I don’t think I’ve ever drunk Chablis before, nor have I really encountered it while eating out or working behind a restaurant bar. However, that statistic would suggest we’re not all as hooked on our Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc as I’d have thought. The wine is produced from Chardonnay grapes, and there are four different appellations: Chablis Grand Cru; Chablis Premier Cru; Chablis and Petit Chablis.
The first wine I received was Domaine Bois d'Yver Chablis 2008. This is a dry wine and a classic example of the Chablis style, described as possessing a ‘flinty’ quality, with apple and herby flavours. I was particularly interested by the story behind this wine: the vineyard is family-owned and, as of 2007, completely organic. Suggested food pairings included seafood, particularly oysters, and white meat in a creamy sauce.
The second wine was Chablis J. Moreau & Fils 2009. This is a younger wine and therefore slightly fresher, with an almost creamy, buttery roundness. It has aromas of pear and citrus, as well as floral, almost blossomy notes. It’s sweeter than the Domaine Bois and lighter, but is also recommended for seafood and white meats.
Both these wines are available at Marks & Spencer for around £12-13, and I’d especially recommend the J. Moreau, which was the all-round favourite in my family.
Unsure where to start devising food pairings for these wines, I turned to terrior, that elusive and nebulous concept that conjures up images of lush vineyards, terracotta-coloured earth, balmy summer days and luscious, fat grapes coiled seductively around gnarled, creeping vines. It seemed only natural to use the home of Chablis – Burgundy - as a starting point, and so I began a heady online adventure into the region’s cuisine; as with all areas of France, Burgundy has its own culinary specialities.
“Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are”, remarked Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, a famous French gourmet who hailed from Dijon, Burgundy. Having found out what the Burgundy people like to eat, I could tell them what they are: undoubtedly happy, and probably quite fat. The region is blessed with pungent mustard from Dijon, ideal for cutting through rich meaty cuisine such as andouillette (intestine sausage) and various offal dishes; inky and mysterious blackcurrant Cassis, grown-up Ribena for making Kir or flavouring desserts; beef from Charolais cattle that ends up in the famous beef bourgignon; that peasant classic Coq au Vin, reputedly invented by Julius Caesar; and a wide variety of artisan cheeses such as Epoisses, Chaource, and various types of chevre. I figured it would be common sense to take some of these flavours and pair them with my Chablis, reuniting several wonderful products of the same gastronomically fertile region.
This, then, is my specially designed Chablis tasting menu, which sounds incredibly posh but is basically just a four-course menu of dishes that I think go very well with these wines. It is themed around flavours of Burgundy, given a modern twist, but the essence is simplicity, allowing the complex and sometimes delicate aromas of the wine to shine through. Chablis features quite prominently, both in the starter and dessert, as it seemed only right to inject an undercurrent of that lovely wine into the food to complement the drink. I hope you’re encouraged to give one or even all of these recipes a go, and to see if you agree with me that they’re a wonderful way to showcase this type of wine.
My starter is inspired by Burgundy cheese. It’s a common misconception that cheese should be paired with red wine only; in fact, white wine can be an excellent partner to many cheeses, allowing their complex flavours to feature without masking them with heavy tannins. I was intending to use Chaource, a cow’s milk cheese that is creamy in the centre with a soft white rind, similar to Brie. However, I stumbled upon something even better at the market. Affiné au Chablis is a cow’s milk cheese similar to the classic Burgundy Epoisses, but with an intriguing difference: it is washed in Chablis before its maturation period. The result is a gorgeous cheese with a pale orange crinkly rind and melt-in-the-mouth centre. Its aroma is much more pungent than its flavour, which is pleasantly creamy and nutty and possesses a slight sweetness from its bath of Chablis. I loved the idea of pairing a Chablis-drenched cheese with my Chablis wine; a match made in heaven.
To showcase this cheese, I used a classic Burgundy recipe: Gougères. Gougères are wonderful little cheese puffs; like profiteroles, but savoury. They’ve existed for centuries, evolving from a more primitive mixture of eggs, cheese and breadcrumbs, and are often served alongside wine as a canapé. Gougères are made with a basic choux pastry dough (butter, flour, water, eggs) enriched with cheese, and can be served hot or cold. When hot, they are delightfully crispy and burnished on the outside, while fluffy and molten in the centre. You can eat them as they are, enjoying their unadulterated contrast in textures, but I decided to go a step further and slice each steaming gougère in half as they emerged from the oven and stuff them with a generous slice of Affiné au Chablis cheese.
I made my gougères with a mixture of strong cheddar and Parmesan, but true Francophiles could use Gruyère or Comté. I added a generous amount of fresh lemon thyme and a pinch of cayenne pepper to cut through the richness of the cheese trio. They turned from blobs of sticky dough to wonderful puffed-up whorls of feathery pastry in the heat of the oven, possessing a subtle tang from the thyme and the cheese. Whilst delicious on their own, the combination of crispy cheese puff with a creamy, molten piece of Affiné au Chablis was heavenly. Imagine the ripest, creamiest, nuttiest, runniest Camembert or Brie you’ve ever eaten, or your favourite ever cheese fondue, and add tangy savoury pastry to it. An utter joy to eat.
These gougères paired wonderfully with the J. Moreau & Fils 2009. I was originally intending to tuck a small piece of caramelized fresh pear into each along with the cheese to take the edge off all that richness, but once I coupled the gougères with this wine I realized there was no need. The pear and slight citrus notes of this very fresh, floral, slightly sweeter wine pair absolutely perfectly with the onslaught of cheese, providing the necessary sugar, acidity and fragrance to cut through the creamy nuttiness. I was utterly blown away by the success of the combination, and it took a lot of willpower not to polish off the whole tray of gougères before I’d even started cooking the next course.
It’s sad that fish courses seem to be no longer a mandatory component of meals. We stick with our starters and dare not to ditch our desserts, but we seem satisfied with a single course in between. As a huge fan of fish, I couldn’t bring myself to design a menu that didn’t feature it in some capacity, particularly as white wine (including Chablis) and seafood is such a perfect combination.
I wanted to feature blackcurrants in this menu as a nod to Burgundy’s famous export, Cassis. Dessert wouldn’t be the right place, as they’re too acidic to pair well with wine. However, I suddenly remembered a recipe I’d seen in the Telegraph by Diana Henry last year, featuring salmon cured in a mixture of blackcurrants, Cassis, salt, sugar and dill. I’d never seen anything like it before and I’ve never seen anything like it since, but I thought it would be a fabulous way both to include Cassis in my menu and to involve fish. I scaled down the recipe rather a lot, only using two small salmon fillets rather than over a kilo of the stuff, and changed a couple of things, but essentially I owe my inspiration to her recipe.
Curing your own salmon sounds complicated, but it’s really very easy – you mix together the components of the cure, spread them over the salmon, wrap it tightly in cling film then put it in the fridge in a dish with some heavy weights on top. Over a few days, the salt in the cure draws the liquid out of the salmon and the weights squeeze it out into the dish, leaving you with firm-textured flesh and a simply gorgeous purple tinge around the edge of the fish. You can then just slice it thinly, like smoked salmon, and serve.
If you’re skeptical about the idea of salmon and blackcurrants, please don’t be. This is absolutely wonderful and really unusual. The colour alone, that fabulous purple bleeding of berries into fish, is worth making it for, and the flavour is intense and intriguing. There’s a hint of the zingy, almost grassy flavour of blackcurrants, a tang from the salt, and an underlying sweetness from the fruit and the sugar. It’s like the best smoked salmon you will ever eat, yet there’s no smoking required.
I would serve this either au naturel, or with some good bread (thinly sliced baguette, perhaps, to carry on the French theme, or rye bread for a nutty contrast) and cream cheese mixed with a little horseradish. It doesn’t need any more to adorn it, as the focus is really on the delightful melody of flavours and textures. This salmon works best with the Domaine Bois Chablis, which provides a refreshing acidity as a counterpoint to its richness. I was amazed by how well the wine worked with the dish; it really complements the fish perfectly, enhancing its intense flavour while preventing it from cloying on the palette.
My main course is inspired by a classic Burgundy dish, making use of a classic Burgundy ingredient: Dijon mustard. Rabbit cooked in a mustard sauce is a traditional dish from the region, and one I’ve made before. It involves braising a jointed rabbit in a mixture of cider, mustard, bacon, stock, vegetables and herbs until it becomes tender and delicious. You’re left with a rich, creamy sauce with a pleasant tang of mustard to cut through the richness of the rabbit meat.
However, this is a very rich dish, particularly if you make it with wild rabbit which is a lot more gamey than its farmed counterpart. I decided to take the traditional Burgundy recipe and make it lighter and fresher, a perfect complement to the lovely zesty Chablis wines. The result is a mustardy wild rabbit and wild rice salad with peppery watercress and caramelised Russet apples.
The shredded meat from the braised rabbit is scattered over a bed of nutty wild and brown rice, which provides a lovely contrast in texture and flavour. You then have the tang of watercress to perk it all up, and finally some beautiful slices of Russet apple caramelised in butter and brown sugar to bring out their flavour. The sweetness of the apples marries perfectly with the very rich rabbit and the mustardy sauce, and the end result is a really unusual and delicious salad. I scattered over some toasted hazelnuts at the end for a little textural contrast.
I wanted to include a lot of sharp, sweet and peppery ingredients to contrast the richness of the meat, but this job is also admirably performed by the Domaine Bois Chablis. Its acidity and appley flavours provide the perfect foil to the strong flavour of mustard and rabbit, and you end up with a really harmonious pairing that works on every level. In fact, I’d suggest that this wine is mandatory with this salad; it really enhances the whole eating experience. You can make this delicious recipe with either wild rabbit or farmed rabbit, or if rabbit eludes you then try chicken thighs instead, but if using farmed rabbit or chicken I’d suggest adding a little less mustard as the flavour isn’t as strong.
My dessert is light, sweet, fruity and refreshing: the perfect end to a meal of bold flavours and the final chance to show off the complexities of Chablis. Pears poached in wine is a classic French dessert; not only that, it’s actually a classic Burgundy dessert, a fortuitous coincidence that I discovered while watching Raymond Blanc’s new show, The Very Hungry Frenchman (all in the name of research, of course, and nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that I am certain my life will be a wasteful mass of despair unless Raymond proposes to me some time in the very near future).
Instead of the normal red wine I decided to use Chablis (you could use Chardonnay, or any similar white wine if you don’t want to splash out too much). To the wine I added sugar, a cinnamon stick, cloves, bay leaves, sprigs of rosemary and some strips of orange zest. Into this heady mixture went some elegant, tapered Conference pears (I’m more of a fan of Comice for eating, but Conference are great for poaching as they hold their shape and look more slender and refined), which simmered for around half an hour until their grainy flesh yielded into sweet, unctuous, translucent softness.
The real finishing touch for this dessert comes not in the gorgeous poaching liquor which forms a syrup that can be drizzled over the pears, though this is delicious, but in the addition of a hazelnut crumble sprinkled over the top. Given the slight hazelnut notes of the J. Moreau Chablis, I felt hazelnuts would work perfectly in my dessert. Pears and hazelnuts are also a fabulous combination, and the coupling of crunchy, buttery hazelnut crumble with the soft pears is wonderful. The dessert still feels light, but rather more indulgent for its addition of butter, nuts and sugar.
I baked the crumble in a tart tin to make a whole crumbly hazelnut biscuit – the recipe makes at least twice the quantity you’ll need for the pears, but the biscuit is fabulous broken off into chunks and coupled with your afternoon tea or coffee. It’s a simple combination of toasted hazelnuts, flour, butter, sugar, a little cornmeal for texture, a hint of vanilla, and two egg yolks to loosely bind it and give it that crumbly quality. Snapped and scattered over the pears, it makes an excellent ending to a Chablis-themed meal, and the perfect partner to a glass of the fruity J. Moreau.
Incidentally, you don’t have to make the pears if you don’t have the time or inclination – this hazelnut biscuit is utterly delicious served on its own in crumbly chunks with the J. Moreau, its buttery richness perfectly complemented by the fruitiness of the wine.
I really enjoyed coming up with these recipes. It’s been an interesting education in the world of food and wine pairing, as well as a delightful little mental voyage around the farms and fields of Burgundy. I have to say, I was wonderfully surprised by how well my dishes worked with the wines, given my lack of experience in such matters - it just goes to show that with a bit of an imagination anyone can create food to complement wine. The trick is to think about the flavours and aromas of the wine, and then try and echo or contrast these in the food. A nod to terroir also helps; it makes logical and gastronomic sense to me to reunite ingredients from similar regions; there's something pleasingly neat about the concept.
I hope these dishes have inspired you to give them a go, or at least to try these lovely Chablis wines, which I would heartily recommend as something a bit different for a special occasion. And if you can’t be bothered to cook anything to accompany them, get some good bread, some good cheese, and some good friends - the ultimate match for any type of wine.
(For the Chablis recipes discussed above, read on).
Lemon thyme gougères stuffed with Affiné au Chablis (makes around 20)
(Gougère recipe adapted from David Lebovitz)
One Affiné au Chablis cheese
¼ tsp salt
A generous pinch of cayenne pepper
70g plain flour
2 large eggs
2 tbsp fresh lemon thyme leaves (or normal thyme)
100g cheese, finely grated – a mixture of Gruyere, Comte, strong Cheddar and Parmesan is ideal
Pre-heat the oven to 220C. Line a baking sheet with baking parchment or a silicon mat. Mix the grated cheese and lemon thyme together in a bowl.
Heat the water, butter, salt and cayenne gently in a saucepan until the butter melts. Add all the flour and stir quickly until the mixture forms a smooth ball. Turn off the heat and let this rest for 2 minutes.
Add the eggs and stir very quickly and constantly to make sure they don’t scramble. Keep at it – the batter will turn from lumpy to smooth after a couple of minutes.
Add ¾ of the grated cheese and thyme mixture to the dough and stir well to mix. Place the mixture in a piping bag (or a sandwich bag with a 1cm hole cut in the corner) and pipe the dough into small blobs about 1.5-2 inches in diameter, leaving at least 1.5 inches in between each to allow room for spreading out.
Sprinkle the remaining cheese over each blob of dough, then bake for 10 minutes. After this time, turn the heat down to 190C and bake for another 20-25 minutes, until they’re crispy and golden brown.
Remove from the oven and slice each gougère in half horizontally. Place a small slice of Affiné au Chablis between each half. Place the stuffed gougères on a plate, garnish with a little extra lemon thyme, and serve with a glass of lightly chilled Chablis J. Moreau & Fils 2009.
Blackcurrant cured salmon (serves 4)
(Recipe inspired by Diana Henry's version, here)
This recipe can easily be adapted to serve a greater number of people – you can use larger salmon fillets from a fishmonger and just increase the cure mixture in proportion.
2 fillets of good-quality salmon (around 200g each)
80g caster sugar
50g coarse sea salt or rock salt
1 tsp coarsely ground black pepper
5 tbsp finely chopped fresh dill
2 tbsp Cassis (optional)
Mix the sugar, salt, pepper, dill, blackcurrants and Cassis (if using) in a bowl, squashing the blackcurrants so they burst and release their juices into the mixture. Rub this mixture all over both salmon fillets.
Place one fillet skin side down (if you’re using skinless fillets, ignore that part) on a large piece of clingfilm and spread half the cure mixture left in the bowl over it. Place the other fillet on top, skin side up, and spoon over the remaining cure.
Wrap tightly in clingfilm then put in a dish. Find something that will fit inside the dish that you can place on top of the salmon – if using a round dish, a plate should work; if using a square dish, a small chopping board – then put it on top of the fillets and place several weights on top (you can use tin cans).
Place in the fridge and leave for 3 days. Liquid will seep out of the clingfilm – pour this away every day. By day 3 the salmon should have lost most of its liquid and firmed up. Unwrap from the clingfilm, rinse away the cure, then slice thinly and serve with your choice of garnish (cream cheese mixed with a little horseradish would be perfect), and a glass of Domaine Bois d’Yver Chablis 2008.
Wild rabbit and wild rice salad with mustard dressing, watercress and caramelised Russet apples (serves 6)
Don’t be put off by the longish ingredients list – this is pretty simple. You could use chicken thighs, or farmed rabbit. If so, use less mustard in the sauce – you can always add more at the end. You could also try replacing the wild rice with pearl barley or lentils. Any apples are fine for the garnish, but I like Russets because of their interesting flavour and because they’re less juicy than many other apples, so caramelise well.
2 tbsp olive or rapeseed oil
6 rashers streaky bacon, diced
1 rabbit, jointed, or 8 chicken thighs
1 carrot, roughly chopped
1 onion, roughly chopped
1 celery stick, roughly chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely sliced
3 bay leaves
Sprig of rosemary
Several sprigs of thyme or lemon thyme
10 juniper berries, crushed
400ml chicken stock
3 tbsp Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper
4 tbsp creme fraiche or double cream
200g mixture of wild and brown rice
100g watercress (or a mixture of watercress, baby spinach and rocket)
3 Russet apples (or any other apple)
3 tsp brown sugar
40g hazelnuts, roughly chopped and roasted in the oven for 10 mins until fragrant
Fresh thyme, to garnish
Pre-heat the oven to 160C. Heat 1 tbsp of the oil in an ovenproof lidded casserole dish and add the bacon. Once it starts to crisp, add the rabbit pieces (or chicken thighs) and brown well over a high heat. Remove and set aside, then turn the heat to medium, add the remaining oil, and add the carrot, onion, celery and garlic. Fry until golden and beginning to soften. Add the bay, rosemary, thyme and juniper, then pour in the cider and stock. Give the bottom of the pan a good scrape as the liquid bubbles away to release all the stuck-on caramelised bits, then return the rabbit (or chicken) to the pan and add the mustard and some salt and pepper. Put a lid on the pan and place in the oven, then cook for 1 hour and 45 minutes until the meat is tender and falling off the bone.
Remove the meat to a plate and put the dish on the hob over a medium heat to reduce the sauce. Meanwhile, once the meat has cooled slightly, shred it from the bones (be very careful as rabbit has lots of tiny bones which are deeply unpleasant to crunch down on unexpectedly). Once the sauce has reduced by about half, remove the bay leaves and tough herb stems, then add the creme fraiche or cream and check the seasoning. Return the meat to the pan and warm through gently, then set aside.
Put the wild and brown rice in a saucepan and add enough boiling water to cover by about 2 inches. Put a lid on the pan and simmer over a low heat for about 30 minutes until the rice is cooked but still slightly nutty. Drain and set aside.
Quarter the apples and remove the cores. Slice thinly. Heat the butter in a saucepan or frying pan then add the sugar. Saute the apples until golden and caramelised.
Divide the watercress between six plates and then top with the rice. Top the rice with a couple of spoonfuls of rabbit/chicken meat and sauce, then scatter over the apples and the toasted hazelnuts. Sprinkle with a little fresh thyme, then serve warm or at room temperature with a lightly chilled glass of Domaine Bois d’Yver Chablis 2008.
Chablis poached pears with hazelnut crumble (serves 4; makes enough crumble for more)
You don’t have to make both elements of this dessert – both the pears and the crumble biscuit are delicious on their own.
For the crumble:
140g hazelnuts, toasted in a hot oven and roughly chopped
150g plain flour
60g cornmeal or polenta
½ tsp salt
100g cold butter
30g brown sugar
20g demerara sugar
20g granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
Zest of 1 orange
2 egg yolks
For the pears:
4 conference pears, firm rather than ripe
1 bottle Chablis, Chardonnay or similar white wine
200g caster sugar
1 cinnamon stick
2 bay leaves
4 strips of orange zest
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
Pre-heat the oven to 180C. Grease a 20cm springform cake tin or tart tin with a removable base. Mix together the egg yolks, orange zest and vanilla extract.
In a large bowl, mix the flour, cornmeal and salt. Rub in the butter until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs, or blitz it all together briefly in a food processor. Add the sugar and chopped hazelnuts.
Add the egg yolk mixture and rub in with your hands until the mixture turns slightly sticky and crumbly. Pour into the prepared tin and press down very lightly around the edges, leaving everything quite uneven.
Bake for 40 minutes until crunchy and golden brown. Leave to cool in the tin.
Meanwhile, put the wine and sugar in a saucepan (taller rather than wider is ideal, so the liquid will cover the fruit) and bring to the boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Add the cinnamon, cloves, bay, orange and rosemary and simmer very gently for a few minutes.
Peel the pears then place in the saucepan; the wine should just about cover them, but you can keep turning them if part is left uncovered. Simmer very gently for 15-25 minutes, turning the pears occasionally, until tender to the point of a knife (keep checking them – how long this takes depends on the ripeness of your pears). When done, remove to a bowl.
Boil the poaching liquid until reduced to about 200-300ml. Serve the pears whole or slice each in half lengthways, then sprinkle with a generous amount of the hazelnut biscuit (you can either break it into whole pieces and garnish the pears with them, or crumble it over the fruit). Spoon over a little of the poaching liquid, then serve either au naturel or with crème fraiche, cream or ice cream. This is ideal with a glass of Chablis J. Moreau & Fils 2009.