Steak and Cabernet Sauvignon go together like Eric Clapton and a Fender Stratocaster. I mean that as a complement, but also as a critique. Like Clapton and his iconic guitar, they are inseparable, but often hobbled by how well they go together. Clapton does what he does and does it well. But over the last 20 years, I can’t decipher any new territory in his music. That’s fine. It is what it is. But its also the Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse of music. Familiarity at the expense of creativity.
With just a few weeks left of summer, I’ll probably be grilling a steak at least once or twice before the leaves start to fall. You might be, too, and you might be keen to grill a porterhouse and uncork a Napa Cab to go with it. I’m not hear to stop you, but here are some alternative pairings to shake up the old steak-and-cab archetype.
Steak + Fra Diavolo Sauce + Nero d’Avola
It might seem incongruous to take a beautiful cut of steak and slather it with a sweet-and-spicy tomato sauce — and then dress it with a piquent pepper relish — but those doubts are seared away with a 500-degree grill and a glass of Nero d’Avola. The sauce caramelizes and the flavors of a medium-rare filet mignon or porterhouse are hearty enough to still cut through the sweetness. This is my favorite steak to cook, and Nero d’Avola, the beloved black grape of Sicily, is supple enough to let this dish’s toppings come to the fore.
Steak + Coffee Rub + Cahors
I dig coffee. In fact, I would have a coffee website if I was at my most creative first thing in the morning (well, not really). I love cooking with dry coffee rubs because they’re so brainless. Take ground coffee and mix it with cayenne pepper, onion or ginger powder, oregano, mustard seed, salt, black pepper and brown sugar, then cover your favorite cut of steak and slap it on the grates. Pairing it with Cahors (the original Malbec from France) brings out the spiciness and smoky notes of both the meat and the wine.
Steak + Avocado Salsa + California Zinfandel
“If it grows together, it goes together.” I’m not sure who originally said this, but it is a pretty poignant statement that holds a ton of truth. And while I’d never say that Zinfandel has “notes of avocado,” these two standard-bearers of Californian produce complement each other because avocado is fatty and buttery, and Zinfandel is so strong and alcoholic it cuts through fat like a chainsaw. You can make this dish as tacos, but with such a plush salsa and hefty wine, I find it is better to ditch the filling tortilla and serve the salsa on top with a side of grilled squash.
Steak + Harissa + Toro
Harissa is a North African spice paste that tastes wholly unique. It’s signature is the sweetness of blended red peppers, coriander and hot chili peppers. Adjust as you see fit with this recipe, then cross the Mediterranean for an inspired pairing from Spain. Most Spanish reds are buddy-buddy with steak — it makes sense: the Spanish are a bit obsessed with bovine — but for this one, go for Toro, an inky and aromatic take on Tempranillo from northern Castile and León.
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