Want To Make The Experience Of Eating Steamed Whole Fish with Ginger, Scallion, and Soy Even Better? Here’s How.
Like we always do here at PairCraft, to find out if and how you can make this dish even better, we rounded up all of the best ideas and most popular recommendations for wines to pair with the dish, added a few more promising ideas, and then had a sommelier with a great pairing palate and tons of experience evaluating food and wine pairings blind taste test all of these ideas and recommendations with the dish. In this case, we tasted 45 wines to see what they added to the experience of eating the dish and to see which ones, if any, made the overall experience of eating this dish even better.
For this study, we worked with Barbara Wong, a sommelier at Le Bernardin. We think Le Bernardin—whose wine and pairing program is led by Aldo Sohm—is the absolute best place to go if you want to check out what food and wine pairing can really do to make a great food experience even better. Barbara was a swift, no-nonsense judge, and proved to have a spot-on palate and very high standards for evaluating pairings.
We used Charles Phan’s Steamed Whole Fish with Ginger, Scallions, and Soy recipe from Epicurious for the dish in our taste testing. If your recipe is similar, you should get the same pairing results that we did.
So, what did we find? We found one great way to make this dish even better.
We found that you can make the experience of eating this delicious dish even better by turning it into a more layered, complete, and pleasing composition by pairing it with:
2018 or 2019 Scribe Pinot Noir (SRP $40) or a wine that has the same pairing characteristics. This wine builds a better composition by adding a liveliness, a great flavor combination, and a pleasing echo of the flavors of the light soy sauce.
What is this experience like?
When you eat a bite of the steamed fish, you get the pure, clean, and delicious taste of the fish and the more delicate soy sauce taste of the light soy sauce—both of which are lightly flavored and scented by the cilantro, scallion, and ginger. When you take a sip of the wine, it delivers enough acidity to create a pleasing sense of liveliness. This liveliness contrasts with the broad, bass note you get from the dish, and this juxtaposition is one of the ways that a pairing can create pleasure. We mention liveliness here, and so often with all of our pairings, because it is an almost essential characteristic of a good pairing.
The wine brings red fruit flavors to the mouth, and it turns out that these flavors and the food flavors create one of those delicious flavor combinations that just work. They make the dish even better and more interesting.
There’s a flavor echo here too. In this case, the wine creates an echo of the savory and umami flavors in the soy sauce.
It’s interesting to note that the red wine does not blot out, overshadow, or otherwise get in the way of the experience of the food the way one might expect.
Did we break any new ground here? Absolutely.
- This is one of those dishes where you can’t find a lot of guidance for what should pair well with it. There are a lot of ideas for what to pair with Chinese food and lots of ideas for what to pair with soy sauce. But not this dish. The new ground we broke here is that we found some great pairings for this specific dish.
- Right now, the widely held belief is that you want riesling with Asian food, but we didn’t find any rieslings that were great with this dish—and we tested a wide range of them. So, the new ground here is that while some rieslings may be okay with this dish, there are wines out there that are much, much better.
- There are red wines (this one and others with the same pairing characteristics) that are great, really great, with this dish. In fact, these red wines are better—a lot better—than all but one of the white wines we tested—and these were white wines that many said would create great pairing results with this dish.
Selection of The best pairings
Scribe Pinot Noir 2019
About PairCraft, our process, and our thoughts and beliefs about pairing.
We test the recommendations that serious home cooks and wine-savvy people are likely to receive if they ask the sources that they typically ask for pairing advice. We collect these pairing suggestions by doing what these folks typically do. They ask their local or favorite wine store; they ask restaurant wine staff and sommeliers; they ask their wine-smart friend or partner; they look in food and wine-pairing books; they ask themselves (if they have a sense for what the common wisdom is); they consult magazines; and they search the Internet.
We strive to get test results that will be the ideal indicator of the taste experience most people will have. To do this, we find a sommelier who has the education and experience for discerning top food and wine pairings and a palate trained for determining them. In many cases these sommeliers have been recommended to us by other sommeliers because of their taste and experience in food and wine pairing. Since we want our testing to be as objective as possible, we blind taste all of the pairings.
We choose specific recipes to use as the foundations for all of our taste-test sessions, because what’s in the dishes and what the dishes taste like matters. We select recipes we think serious and discerning home cooks would use. As long as the dish you make is similar to the one our recipe produces, the results we share should hold up.
For our process, we round up wines to test the pairing ideas we find; we select a chef to prepare the dish; and we have our sommelier sit down at our tasting table to taste and evaluate all the pairings. All our ratings come out of actual tasting sessions with the dish. They do not come from theories, guesses, logic, mental math, what we think will work, what we think should work, what the rules say works, or the prevailing or long-held wisdom. We eat a bite of the food, we take a sip of the wine, and then we evaluate the pairing result.
It’s not really that a specific bottle of wine alone creates the pairing result. If you look more deeply, it’s actually the chemical composition of the wine—what’s in it and how much is in it. Just like with a sauce, a spice, or an herb blend, it’s the composition or makeup of that wine that creates the pairing result with a dish.
If you want to create the experience we report on here, you don’t necessarily need the specific wine we tested—maybe you can’t find the wine we tested or maybe you want to buy a wine at a different price point. What you need is a wine that has the same or a very similar chemical composition as the one we tested. That wine’s pairing characteristics, which we show for every wine we test, and they are an indication of the composition of that wine.
We’ve found that, typically, people come up with food and wine pairing ideas by thinking about the dish and coming up with a mental list of wines that will taste great with it, or by thinking about which wines are widely thought to be great with a dish, or by figuring out which wines are the classic pairings with that dish, or by using the tried-and-true rules. What we’ve learned through all of our testing is that when you actually taste test these ideas with the dish, in most, if not all cases, you do not actually get the pairing result you think you will get. This is a big, big finding, and you see proof of it in the pairing results of all the wines we taste with a dish.
In most cases, the pairing result you get will be different from what you expect or hope for. Why? Because the wine is not static in the presence of the food. Or put another way, the wine, or maybe we should say the taste of the wine, changes when you take a sip of it after you’ve eaten a bite of the food. And why or how does this happen? Well, when you eat a bite of food, the food leaves a little bit of food and flavor compounds in your mouth. That’s why you have an aftertaste sometimes after you eat a bite of food. We call this bit of food and flavor compounds “the food residual”. Now, the alcohol in wine, ethyl alcohol, is a very good solvent, so it solubilizes this food residual and brings it into solution with the wine.
Now, you have a mixture of the wine and the food residual. This mixture is a new composition—it’s not the original wine anymore. And this new composition, of course, has a new taste. Finally, this new taste is not simply a matter of 1+1=2. What you get is not what you expect—in fact, you don’t know what you’ll get until you taste that food residual and that wine together. The taste you get is a characteristic of that dish and of that wine and wines that have the same pairing characteristics as that wine.
We’ve found that you simply cannot accurately predict the taste outcome of a pairing. Some aspects of the wine might be accentuated—say acidity. Some aspects might disappear—say the fruit flavors of a wine. Sometimes new flavors or sensations are created. We have found again and again that you don’t know what pairing result you will get unless—or until—you take a sip of the wine after you eat a bite of the food. That’s why we do what we do. We taste lots of wines with a dish and report to you what taste that pairing creates and whether it is good or not.
The type of pairing result we are looking for is one that is delicious—and nothing short of that. Some people ask how we evaluate pairings, and we say it’s the same way we evaluate food: It should taste great and provide lots of pleasure. (It can also be fun and interesting!) We’re not looking for what we consider to be lesser and insufficient standards for a pairing result. We’re looking for wine pairings that really elevate the food experience.
When the pairing idea is a general concept and not a specific wine recommendation, we select wines that will allow us to test whether that advice is true and to find out what kind of pairing result that advice creates. In some cases, we will pick a wine that is considered a benchmark for the wine recommended. In other cases, we will pick wines that represent the most common styles for the type of wine recommended. Either way, we always choose wines that will give the idea or recommendation a fair test.
Some people think that liking a pairing is about personal preference. What they seem to mean by this is that if one person likes and recommends a pairing, another person may not because their palate and preferences are different. If pairing was strictly about personal preference, then the same could be assumed for liking food—and we all know that’s simply not true. There are numerous cases in which a chef or recipe developer creates a dish and many people like it—diners with a range of palates and flavor preferences.
We think people will like the pairing advice we recommend because we work with sommeliers renowned for developing and selecting pairings that many people enjoy—they know good pairings, they know the types of pairing experience people will like, and they have good taste when it comes to both food and pairings. It’s just like a restaurant that hires a chef who is known for creating great tasting food. They hire that chef because they have good taste when it comes to food and they have a good sense for what their target diner will like.