Following on from our saison blind tasting last month, our resident food and beer expert Paul Kasten has put together a few dishes perfectly matched to saisons for you to try at home, including two featuring the top two beers from that blind tasting: Boatrocker Saison du Bateau and the beer often thought of as the benchmark of the style, Saison Dupont.
From a food matching standpoint, it is hard to think of a better style with which to ring in the springtime than saison. With so many fresh and green things starting to roll in again from the fields, its typically soft, dry malt profile, pronounced fruity esters, peppery phenolics, and bright carbonation are a perfect match to this time of year so full of newfound warmth and optimism.
As we are now entering the warmer months, I will guide you through five food and saison pairings. They can be enjoyed individually, or as a fun springtime dinner perfect to share with a group of friends. Three of the beers chosen are excellent, readily available examples of the style. The other two require a bit more legwork and patience to track down, but are well worth it.
All the pairings are what you would typically describe as complementary. While beers like these lend themselves to contrasting pairings also, if you plan to experiment I would suggest you keep two things in mind.
First is the level of maillard (browning) in your dish. If you make something extremely rich – think pork belly sandwich with cream cheese – a saison will pair well and clean it up nicely, but once you go beyond a point with "caramelised" flavours in your food, they will start to interfere with the malt profile of the beer and make it drink out of balance. This may result in some interesting interactions, but I believe first and foremost in respecting the beer and the craftsmanship that went into it, as a lot of care was clearly taken with getting the balance of these beers just right.
The second thing to watch out for is the overuse of garlic, particularly cooked garlic. I have found that, in many cases, an assertive garlicky flavour will knock the esters and phenolics in the beer right down, stripping the saison of much of what makes it special.
With those two thoughts in mind, read on for five dishes and saisons to match.
Boatrocker Saison du Bateau
mussels steamed in saison, shallot, fines herbes, malt butter
(Serves four to six as a light entree, two as a main)
As with wine, always cook with a beer of good enough quality you would happily drink it. Using the very same beer or even the same style is not necessary, but will result in a tighter pairing of the beer and food. This is such a crisp, dry saison that it lends itself well to a light seafood preparation. The addition of malt infused butter to finish the sauce helps to carry beer flavour through the dish and the pairing, while the citrus and herbs match wonderfully with the aroma of this beer. The malt butter can be made in larger batches, rolled into logs in plastic wrap, and frozen. A slice of it over a grilled steak will not disappoint.
- 1kg local mussels, cleaned and debearded
- 200ml Boatrocker Saison du Bateau
- 1 medium shallot, thinly sliced
- 1T parsley, chiffonade
- 1T chervil, large stems removed
- 1T chives, 1cm lengths
- 1½t tarragon, chopped
- 2t salted butter
- 1t malt extract (or wort reduced to a heavy syrup)
- ¼ medium lemon
Soften butter. Whip malt syrup into it until thoroughly combined.
In a large fry pan or wide stock pot, place mussels, beer, and shallot over medium high heat and cover. Stir once or twice to ensure that mussels are cooking evenly and all opening. When mussels are nearly ready, about five minutes, add the malt butter. Have a warm bowl and toasty sourdough or baguette slices ready. Squeeze the lemon wedge into the pot, toss in the herbs, fold together, and transfer to the bowl.
creamed snap peas and new potatoes, spanish chorizo, savory, lemon, chicharron
(Serves six as light entree, three to four as a generous side to a main)
One can never go wrong with this classic, benchmark saison. In this pairing we have added a bit of richness in the form of creme fraiche and Spanish chorizo. The spicing of the chorizo, fresh green snap of the peas, and herbaceous summer savory will pair nicely with the beer’s bright, estery flavour profile, and the high carbonation and dry finish will cut right through the round, creamy flavours, cleaning up your palate for the next bite. If you cannot find summer savory at the market, thyme (particularly lemon thyme) will make a fine substitute. The chicharron can be found at Mexican markets or made cheaply at home.
- 500g freshly dug potatoes, washed and cut into wedges
- 300g sugar snap peas, cleaned
- 1 clove garlic, sliced
- 1 medium shallot, sliced
- 2T salted butter
- 1T summer savory, chopped
- 50g dried spanish chorizo, small dice
- 300ml creme fraiche
- ¼c chicharron
- ¼ medium lemon
Wedge potatoes and place in a pot of cold, salted water. Bring to a simmer and cook until tender, roughly 10 minutes. Set aside.
Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to the boil. Add snap peas and cook for roughly 20 seconds. Remove from pot and shock in an ice bath to set the colour and stop the cooking. Set aside.
In a wide fry pan or sauté pan over medium heat, bloom the butter. Add shallots, garlic, and chorizo, and cook until tender but not browned, about one minute. Add savory and cook an additional few seconds. Now add the creme fraiche and raise the heat to medium high. When it has reduced by about half, add potatoes and snap peas to heat through. Salt to taste and finish with the lemon juice.
Plate in a wide bowl and garnish with crumbled chicharron.
Bridge Road Chevalier Saison
roast chicken, mexican flavours, spring panzanella, scorched cream
(Serves six as a light main or three to four as a generous one)
I found recent 330ml bottles of this beer to be a little fuller in body, lower in carbonation, with a touch more residual sugar, and lower on yeasty esters and phenolics than I recall from past tastings, but it is still an entirely tasty beer and good craft example of the style. This also allows us to move in a bit of a different direction with the food also, so to pair with it we are bringing in some more round and roasty flavours to match. This springtime take on panzanella stands in for stuffing in our roast chicken main. We lightly toast the bread and toss through lightly cooked broad beans and raw pea tendrils for a fresh vegetable driven alternative to the standard. The soft spicing that comes through in the finished chicken tie nicely into the phenolic profile of the beer, while the light roasted and toasted flavours bring the malt bill forward and make for a strong pairing.
- 1 trussed whole chicken, 1.5kg
- 4L water
- 200g salt
- 100g castor sugar
- 1 large bulb garlic, crushed
- 12 guajillo chillies, toasted and torn
- ½c cumin seeds, toasted and cracked
- ½ stick cinnamon
- 6 cloves
- 2 large brown onions, diced
- 3 star anise
- 500g loaf sourdough, hand torn into roughly 2x2cm pieces
- 2c pea tendrils, torn
- 2c broad beans, shelled, blanched and peeled, roughly 1kg whole
- 500g field mushrooms, cleaned and thickly sliced
- ½c good sherry vinegar
- 1c olive oil
- Juice of 1 medium lemon
- 1t dijon mustard
- 2 stalks spring garlic, white and green separated
- 1t oregano
- 2c pure cream
- Zest of one lemon, finely chopped
Combine all brine ingredients in a large stock pot. Bring to a simmer and cook covered until onion and garlic are tender. Chill brine fully, then add the chicken to the pot. Weigh the chicken down with a plate if needed to keep it fully submerged. Refrigerate for 48 hours. This will produce a juicy chicken in 24 hours, but for better transfer of the flavourings, the extra day is needed.
Prepare the bread for the panzanella by tossing in a light coating of olive oil and toasting in the oven at 180 degrees fan-forced (200 degrees conventional) until lightly toasted and crisp.
Coarsely chop the garlic greens and blanch them as above with the snap peas. Place all vinaigrette ingredients into a blender and thoroughly puree. Strain through fine mesh and set aside.
To make the cream, warm a large non-stick fry pan over high heat until very hot. Pour in cream and reduce without stirring until it is browning around the edges and quite thick. Transfer to a bowl and cool to room temperature. Fold in lemon zest and salt to taste.
Remove chicken from the brine. Rinse, pat dry, and transfer to a roasting pan. Place in cold fan-forced oven (or air dry in refrigerator for six to eight hours). Run oven on its lowest setting for 20 minutes before raising temperature to 200. Roast until a probe inserted in the thickest part of the breast reads 72 degrees. Remove from oven and rest for ten minutes before carving.
While chicken is resting, first toss ½ of the vinaigrette through the toasted bread in a large bowl, then cook mushrooms for the salad. Warm 3T canola oil in a large fry pan over high heat. Add mushroom slices in a single, even layer, and cook until deeply browned on one side. Add broad beans to the pan and toss together, salting to taste, until the beans are warmed. Transfer mushrooms and beans to the salad bowl, toss together with remaining vinaigrette. Add pea tendrils and transfer to a large platter or bowl for presentation.
Remove the chicken spine and split the keel bone with shears or a boning knife. Save the spine for stock. Cut the wings from the breasts, cut each breast in half, separate the legs and thighs. Spread the cream across a large platter and place the chicken pieces on top, garnish with torn coriander leaves, and serve.
seared asparagus, fried egg, fish sauce caramel, cashew cream, crispy shallot
(Serves six as light entree, three to four as a generous side to a main)
The vegetable that for me best signifies the arrival of spring is fresh, local asparagus. This dish is basically asparagus with a soft, runny take on Son in Law Eggs. The small nutty and caramel elements tie nicely into the barrel character of the beer, while the asparagus, chillies, and creamy richness of the egg and puree make a great match for the base beer.
- 50g palm sugar
- 75ml thai fish sauce
- 2T lemongrass, thinly sliced
- ½ medium shallot, sliced
- 6 thin slices galangal
- 2 dried thai chillies
- 2 kaffir lime leaves
- ½ lime
- 18 spears asparagus
- 2T canola oil
- ¼ medium lemon
- 4 eggs, soft boiled and peeled
- ~1L canola oil
- 1c crispy shallots, or 3c fresh shallots thinly sliced
- 6 dried thai chillies, crisped in oil
- ½c coriander leaves, coarsely torn
- 50g cashews, roasted
- 1c milk, full cream
Place the palm sugar in a small saucepan with the lime juice and enough water to cover. Bring to a simmer and slowly reduce until a syrup is formed and begins to brown. When the syrup has reached a deep golden brown, remove from heat. Add lemongrass, shallot, galangal, chillies, and lime leaves. Now add fish sauce, return to heat, and simmer until it has reduced back to syrup consistency. Strain and set aside.
Roast cashews at 160 degrees fan-forced or 180 degrees conventional until evenly golden brown straight through. Crush in a mortar and pestle or food processor. Place in a saucepan with the mild and bring to a simmer. Puree, salt to taste, and set aside.
If not using purchased crispy shallots, bring 1L of canola oil to 160 degrees in a large saucepan. Thinly slice 3c of shallots, add to the oil, and stir frequently until a light golden brown. Shallots will continue to brown a bit after being removed from the oil. Fry the dried chillies in the same oil.
Warm a large fry pan over high heat. Add the canola oil and asparagus spears. Cook until blistered and browned but still snappy in texture. Salt to taste and finish with a good squeeze of lemon juice.
Bring a saucepan of canola oil with a depth of at least 5cm to 180 degrees. Drop eggs in and fry to a deep golden brown.
Spoon the cashew puree onto a large platter. Place asparagus on top. Arrange the eggs on and around the asparagus. Spoon on 2T of the fish sauce caramel. Garnish with crispy shallots, fried chillies and coriander.
La Sirène Wild Saison
milawa cheese co ceridwen, baguette crisps and honey
(serves six as a final course, or four as a casual cheese tasting)
Choose a bottle with at least six months of age on it and a fairly ripe piece of the cheese. The combination of the bone dry brett saison and creamy, funky white mould goats cheese is a match made in heaven. Have the patience to track down an aged bottle to really make this pairing sing. At time of writing this article, there were some on the shelf at Swords in the South Melbourne Market.
Have a great food and saison adventure. Remember that all our palates are a bit different, so there will surely be a lively conversation about what works best with what. As with so much of life, tasting, experimentation, and having fun with it are the most important things to keep in mind. Cheers!
And if you're a Crafty Cabal member, you can enter November's main prize draw to win three cases of saison from Boatrocker, Exit and Wolf of the Willows. If not, you can become a supporter of The Crafty Pint here.