The Mediterranean Diet made headlines again in 2018 as the world’s healthiest diet. And I’m not mad about it. Olive oil, red wine, cous cous, salmon, yogurt, nuts. Did I mention wine?
Many of the more traditional Mediterranean diet plans barely even make mention of meat—especially beef or poultry. This should come as no surprise, because the rocky Mediterranean coastline doesn’t afford much open grazing ground for cows and the like, but it offers plenty of opportunities to enjoy Neptune’s bounty.
If healthier eating is on your list this year, and giving up wine isn’t, allow us to proffer some suggestions for excellent tips fish and wine pairings that will let you have your cake and eat it, too…so to speak.
Consult Your Herbs and Spices
How you’re preparing your fish may be the most influential factor in selecting an accompanying wine. Are you going for a classic dill and lemon butter? Or perhaps a salty olive sauce? Skin on and seared? Fish has so much versatility, and this is perhaps its best and most intimidating quality. The blank canvas of such a lean and healthy protein means virtually no wine is actually off limits, despite some purist opinions.
If you’re going for a heartier grilled menu, red wine will stand up just fine with most fish since there will be plenty of woody, smoky flavor, especially if you grill your fish on a plank. Pinots and Syrahs are excellent places to start. The same holds true for a sesame crusted tuna steak, where extra texture and earthy flavors will bear a more savory wine. If, however, citrus and aromatic herbs, like thyme are on your menu, you might want to consider a Riesling or rosé.
Let your flavors guide you, and dare to be creative in the kitchen.
Fish varies wildly in texture and consistency unlike any turf-eating eating animal. Poultry, like chicken and turkey, present similar textural profiles across the board. But because there are so many species of edible fish, home chefs are blessed and cursed with choice overload and nuanced differences in texture that can cause a wine-clash.
Fish are most easily categorized as lean or fatty, much like cuts of steak. Lean fish include white, flaky favorites like grouper, tilapia, and mahi mahi. Tuna is also a lean fish. Fatty fish include salmon, herring, Chilean sea bass and even sardines and anchovies. These fish often—but not always—have a firmer texture and slightly richer natural flavor.
Harmony is key to avoid a faux pas. Heavier wines with bolder profiles are better suited for heartier fish. You’ll find that a nice Chilean sea bass, pan-fried with skin, will feel like a natural fit with a pinot noir, because—while flaky—it has a firmer texture that can contend with sturdier wines. Very tender fish with a smaller flake will generally be lighter on the palate, needing a lighter bodied accompaniment.
Surf and Turf
If you’re afraid of diving into the deep blue sea on your first attempt and pairing wine and fish on your own, choose another meat to bolster the menu—one you know well. Pick a wine you know and love, and a traditional chicken, pork or steak pairing that you can rely on. Then, do your best to prepare a fish dish minding the flavor and texture guidelines above that will go along swimmingly (too much?).
Confidence is key in the kitchen, and experimenting often leads to rewarding discoveries. If it doesn’t work out, you can certainly try again. Worst case scenario, even if the fish presents a challenge, you’ll have wine by your side.