How To Pair Food With Vodka
Eat. Drink. Repeat.
Spirits are a bit harder to pair with food than cocktails, mostly due to their higher alcohol content—flavor profiles and the sensation of “heat” can overwhelm nuances in food. But that doesn’t mean it ins’t worth exploring. As we learn once we start really tasting spirits, they tend to have a lot of complexity of flavor, which means a lot of opportunity to marry spirit to dish. As a ‘neutral’ spirit, different vodkas can have a surprising depth of flavors from peppery, to citrus, salty and even buttery. These are all perfect elements to combine with food, and through that combination be emphasized and taken to a whole new level for the drinker.
In fact, in Russia, vodka isn’t commonly sloshed into a glass with cranberry juice or club soda, but instead presented with an assortment of foodstuffs. The “zakuski,” or “tastes” meal, is a traditional array of Russian appetizers meant to be consumed, almost tapas-style, alongside vodka. The clean, pure vodka goes down your throat and you follow it with some fortifying pickled tomatoes, blini and caviar, or herring and mayonnaise. The result is a surprisingly robust and varied culinary experience from a spirit that we’re commonly told doesn’t have any flavor at all.
The key with pairing food with vodka is that this isn’t your traditional meal, per se. What we’re talking about is an assortment of small plates that can be mixed and matched with different vodkas, allowing you and your guests to experience how different one pairing may be from the next, and what they reveal about the spirit and it’s underlying flavors.
Some tried and true foods are:
– Dark breads w butter: European style ‘black bread’ or dark rye is a fantastic pairing with vodka. Full of flavor and with a rich nuttiness, these breads are perfect buttered and enjoyed straight up, or stacked with some of the ingredients below.
– Smoked or salted fish: A staple of many European cultures, smoked sprats, pickled or salted herring or breaded and fried sardines help to ignite your taste buds with their combination of salt and fat, allowing you to truly taste the vodka consumed alongside it.
– Pickled vegetables: In parts of Europe, it’s not uncommon for a toast to be followed by a shot and…a dill pickle? The fact of the matter is that the combination of salty, vinegary goodness of pickled vegetables goes perfectly with your more vegetal vodkas (think potato, corn, etc.)
– Fatty Meats: Okay, let’s face it: pretty much everyone likes a nice salty, fatty piece of cured meat on their plate, pairing be damned. The reason for this isn’t just because it’s delicious, but because it goes with pretty much anything. Try pairing these with so-called ‘bread’ based vodkas, ie: wheat, rye, barley.
– Savory pancakes: This isn’t your IHOP short stack we’re talking about here. These are rich, buttery pancakes that have been seasoned with spices like salt, onion powder, and paprika. Basically, they’re the Eastern European equivalent of a taco. Serve them with a side of sour cream and some diced chives, then pile them with the ingredients listed above. But be warned, after having a good savory pancake, a fluffy stack coated in syrup will feel sacrilegious.