Friday, February 16, 2007

A Classic Burgundian Pairing

First of all, it's good to be back, after four agonizing days without internet service at home. Imagine that folks, you just had a beautiful baby girl and you're at home for a couple'a weeks with your new family, working as hard as you can to eat, sleep, and take proper care of the new little one. You only real escape is at the computer, reading wine blogs and updating your own, and then...poof! At the blink of an eye (or disruption of a modem router, or something), you are isolated from that world. I actually read the print version of the NY Times Dining and Wine section this Wednesday! And I was surprised to find that The Pour is not included, until I remembered sadly that it is a blog, short for "Web-log."

Okay, you can stop feeling sorry for me now, and check out this neat bit of cooking we did the other night, paired well with a regional wine from Burgundy. And I should tell you that Marcus at Doktor Weingolb sort of challenged me, if you will, to list my favorite Pinots at the $25 and under price point. This pairing was also my first directed bit of research in this area. It would probably be more fun to wait until I have compiled my list and do one post, which is exactly what I will do, but I can't resist sharing some notes about this wine because of the food pairing and the story behind it.

I have always had a thing for chestnuts. As a little kid, near the end of the year holidays, I would walk past street vendors selling roast chestnuts. They looked kind of gross, their dark brown skin cracked a little to reveal glimpses of this tan/pink brain-like interior. They didn't smell so good either, roasting in all of that rock salt. I never wanted to eat them, but I was fascinated by them, and it wasn't lost on me that I never, ever saw anyone buy them and eat them.

Maybe NYC's street vendors never really figured out how to do good chestnuts, because roast chestnuts are delicious. Chestnuts are delicious, period, pureed in savory dishes, in desserts, as garnish on sweet potato puree, you name it. In Burgundy, I was so glad to see chestnuts pop up so often on menus and in grocery stores. I promised myself I would experiment with chestnuts in my own cooking, and here is my second attempt - roast chicken with chestnut stuffing.

I didn't use a recipe, instead imagined the flavors I wanted: simple earthy and sweet chestnuts, some strong herbs like sage or rosemary, something acidic, like lemon zest, and that's it - keep it simple. So I bought pre-cooked peeled and vacuum sealed chestnuts, finely minced them, and mixed them with an equal part of chopped up day-old baguette. One small onion finely minced, and about a tablespoon of fresh minced thyme (rosemary was too strong - that was part of what went wrong with attempt #1). One finely sliced celery stick for texture, and half a stick of melted butter to bind the mixture. No garlic, no lemon zest, a milder herb - those other things got in the way of the simplicity of the earthy chestnut flavor. Uncooked chestnut stuffing, upper right.

I stuffed the entire cavity of the bird, trussed it up tight (all trussed up bird, left), and rubbed a little of the extra stuffing under the skin on the breasts and thighs. I was so proud of all of this trussing, so happy about our impending dinner, that I didn't think about the fact that all of that stuffing might add to the overall cooking time of the bird. So this chicken had a great many thermometer holes in it's little thighs before it reached 165 degrees F. It added an extra 20 minutes.

But when it was finished roasting, let me tell you that our apartment smelled so great. And since we don't open any windows in an attempt to create a heat spa-like atmosphere for our tiny daughter, it still kind of smells like my chestnut stuffing in here (my wife might not agree as to the provenance of the smell to which I refer). We decided to eat this rich chicken dish with only the stuffing as a side dish, and a green salad with bitter cucumbers and a bright vinegary dressing, something to cut through the richness of the rest of the meal.

So what wine to serve here? Although there are many possibilities, we were definitely opening a Burgundy wine, in honor of the inspiration for this bit of cooking. But white, as seemed proper, or red? I came close to opening a young Chablis (I'm looking for any excuse since I had my mind blown by that incredible Chablis at the Sotheby's tasting), but in the end, decided to go with what I hoped would be a bright and lively red.

2002 Domaine Joseph Roty Bourgogne Cuvee Presonnier, $28 at Crush.
Domaine Roty, located in Marsannay, is known for serious wines from the Gevrey-Chambertin appellation, including several 1er Cru and Grand Cru wines. This is not, strictly speaking, their entry level wine. That would be simply the Bourgogne, whereas this wine is Cuvee Presonnier, a higher grade made with grapes from plots near 1er cru vineyards in Gevrey.

Clear dark ruby color, with smells of flowers upon opening, simple sweet red fruit flavors. I left this open for two and a half hours, banking on the excellent quality of the 2002 vintage to provide the necessary structure for the wine to improve in the glass. When we sat down to eat, the wine had indeed become far more complex, offering herbal and pine smells, and something I have never before identified: creamy smells. Bill Nanson at Burgundy Report uses this descriptor quite often and I always wonder if we are using different words to describe a certain aroma, or if he, as is more likely, simply has the ability to identify a far broader set of aromas. Anyway, this wine definitely smells creamy after a few hours open. The palate had broadened too, to include cola, lots of spice, and some foresty-underbrush flavors. There is nice balancing acidity, and the texture is smooth also - just lovely. There is, however, a noticeably hollow midpalate, which is fine and understandable, as this is (merely) a regional wine.

So at $28, I know this doesn't exactly fit Marcus' challenge, but I suspect that Crush might sell this at a higher price than you will find it out of NYC (or even at certain stores in NYC). One nice thing is that Crush offers several vintages of this wine, 1999, 2001, 2002, and 2004, for starters, all except the 2004 (stronger Euro) at lower prices. I imagine that the 1999 (another great vintage) is a huge value at $20, and that will be my next foray into the wines of Roty. This is not the top wine on my list of $25 and under Pinots, but it is certainly a good wine and worth buying. So it's on my list, in other words. And by the way, the chicken with chestnut stuffing was rich, but delicious. Sage instead next time.


Joe said...

Sounds like an excellent meal, and a nice match for Pinot (the Chestnuts would have pushed me to the red side). Also glad to see you are taking up that challenge, as I am very interested in finding Burgundies of value. Roty is not available here (sorry Marcus), but I will keep an eye out for it.

Brooklynguy said...

Hey Joe - are you guys able to order wine for delivery from the US?

Anonymous said...

I am wondering about the bitter cucumbers salad you mentioned. Is it the same as bitter melon readily available in Chinese markets? If not, where can I find such vegetable in Brooklyn?

Brooklynguy said...

Hi Andrew - I do not mean the bitter melon from Chinese markets (although that is a really interesting idea). I used Persian cucumbers, a skinny variety with lower water content than typical Kirbys, for example. They are kind of bitter. I buy them at the Park Slope Food Coop, but I imagine that they are available at Fairway in Red Hook or other good grocery stores, like that nice produce place on Court Street and Baltic, for example. I also know that at the Farmer's Market in Sunset Park there is a Japanese lady who grows interesting cucumber varieties. I have never gone looking myself, however. Thanks for stopping by.

Joe said...

No, we can't (or it is such a nightmare that it is not worth pursuing). I am in NYC all the time for work, so I usually stuff a few bottles in the bag (now more difficult with the @#$%! rules about carry on liquids. I have ordered stuff to my buddy in NYC and I pick it up when I come down -not optimal, but workable.

Brooklynguy said...

What sort of work do you do in NYC? If you haven't checked out Chambers Street Wines, you should next time you come.

Joe said...

I am in financial services, so NYC is the center of the universe. I have not checked out Chambers Street Wines yet - will do next time 'round.

Marcus said...

I always fear the demon that takes away one's connection to the Internet... But Mr. Big Apple, you should know that I have to wait until after lunch if I want to get my print copy of the daily NYT up here in Montreal, so imagine how that feels. Booneyville.

I do at least have fairly easy access to crème de marron (chestnut paste), once a staple in my kitchen. I loved to smear it on everything and always baked it into homemade cookies. Your stuffing requiring the whole chestnuts sounds great and it's very evocative. Nice work with the bird.

Thanks for making wine suggestions with me in mind. Although this one is not available, I am patient.

By the way, my late response here is not because I was cut off -- hungover was more like it. I drank the lion's share of a weekend's worth of bottles -- eight bottles plus port. Luckily I always had at least one other drinker alongside me as I went headlong into it. (And I know your ungodly-comsumption-of-water-before-bed trick so it wasn't as bad as it could've been.)

Brooklynguy said...

wow, sounds like you had quite the weekend. is that creme de marron used only for desserts, or can you do savory with it too? i will put together an affordable pinot piece as soon as i can.

Marcus said...

I don't think I ever incorporated it in savoury things. It's more of a baker's ingredient (and I've stopped baking entirely over the last few years).

Don't worry about those affordable pinots -- don't I owe you something more about Chablis? We should do a swap next time I'm down there whenever that may be.

Brooklynguy said...

yes, swap is good, but joining forces for some sort of tasting would be even better. if you're interested, give me a little lead time to try to get organized...

Marcus said...


I've taken three small vacations to New York over a five-month period and now I'm out of holidays for while. (Sob.) Would definitely give you head's-up once I see an opening though!