Dinner Dance

September 10th, 2007

We love wines made from the malbec grape and just bought one new to us at the monthly tasting we attended Saturday at our nearby fine-wine boutique, Michael’s Wine Cellar: Felipe Rutini 2004 from the Rutini family’s La Consulta vineyards in the Mendoza region of Argentina.

Michael Garey, representing, Transatlantic Wine and Spirits, was pouring samples at his table. For our taste, we found the Felipe Rutini to be the class of the field and favored it over several fine California and French Cabernets (Transatlantic was one of eight distributors, each of whom offered half a dozen wines.). We thought the malbec would pair well with the Asian-fusion fish we had planned for the evening. Yes, fish!

Because malbec is virtually synonymous with the wines of Argentina, wines made from it are usually suggested as accompaniments to grilled steaks and other flavorful red meat dishes, for which Argentina is also renowned. But we think the spice and berry notes of malbec also complement assertive Asian flavors—specifically garlic, ginger, and Szechuan pepper.

Most often, wine sellers, food writers, and restaurant staff counsel diners to pour a fruity white—like a Gerwurtztraminer or Semillon—with Asian food. That’s when they are not suggesting something fizzy—a sparkling white or beer. We think that a balanced red wine can be a more interesting pour, especially when a dish contains flavorful fats.

Steelhead trout has a high fat content and browns easily in a sautée pan, without need for additional oil. In fact, it releases enough fat to stir-fry accompanying vegetables. We’d served Shiraz and lighter zinfandels with grilled salmon and were keen to experiment with a malbec. So, this is what we did:

An hour before cooking, we gave our red-fleshed, skin-on trout filet a light coating of ground black peppercorns, Szechuan pepper, minced garlic & fresh ginger, and a pinch of salt. The fish went back into the fridge till frying time. Our very simple treatment took just a few minutes. Later (after our usual evening swim), all we needed was 20 minutes before dinner was ready to serve.

First we parboiled, rinsed, and set aside some Japanese soba (buckwheat noodles).

In a non-stick pan over medium-high heat, we browned the steelhead trout, skin side first. When the fish was nearly done, we set it aside. The pan had just a light coating of released fish fat, enough for us to stir-fry a little more chopped garlic and ginger, slivers of red bell pepper, slices of star fruit, and whole leaves of baby bok choy. The star fruit gave up a little of its distinctive astringent, floral juice, but kept its shape.
Steelhead Trout & Star Fruit
To pull it all together, we slid the noodles into the pan with the vegetables to warm them through as we added dashes of soy sauce, toasted sesame oil, and our own basil-infused vinegar. Snipped fresh basil leaves and some grated lime-rind finished the dish.

We poured our malbec and sat down to the fish with its colorful accompaniments. The silky trout and earthiness of the buckwheat soba were absolutely right with the malbec—dark, a little smoky, with some bite and spice. Altogether, a very satisfying tango.

Again, the wine we purchased and poured was 100% Malbec, Felipe Rutini 2004 La Consulta vineyard in Mendoza ($15.95 at Michael’s Wine Cellar in Sarasota).

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