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‘Tasting Cider’ and other goodies

Cider isn’t something I get too choosy about pairing with food. If it’s nice and dry with a little funk, I’d drink it with Cheetos.

But given CIDERCRAFT Magazine editor Erin James’ brilliant effort in Tasting Cider: The Cidercraft Guide to the Distinctive Flavors of North American Hard Cider, I feel a more careful pairing of cider with food deserves my review.

The first half of James’ book is committed to cider, its production, top producers and how to find the perfect cider for you. My better half details this here, but I was tasked with tackling the latter portion of the book — the recipes.

Flipping through the book, the first recipe that grabbed my attention was the Woodchuck cider pulled pork sandwich with pork roast slow cooked in cider. With plans for football and family the following day, I decided this was the perfect make-ahead meal. That evening I enjoyed tender flaky pork with a subtle sweetness from the cider. The pork was so good, I ate it plain over brown rice.

The next day we finished the recipe, and here I encountered some issues. The sandwich is pictured with coleslaw, the recipe says it’s optional, and no coleslaw recipe is included. The main recipe had also asked me to use my favorite barbecue sauce, not a big deal in my mind, but the coleslaw, too?

I whipped up a slaw from memory and we plated our meal. With the addition of more barbecue sauce, as specified, the sweetness from the cider was drowned out. If you make this, and you should, I’d say lay off the sauce and bring on your best slaw.

I did a bit more digging into the recipes. James has gathered these from a variety of chefs, restaurants and cideries across the country. Most of the recipes are very thorough and ready for the home cook or bartender, others seem like they’ve gone straight from the chef’s notebook to publication.

Such is the case with the deliciously pictured maple bread pudding — a recipe James suggested I try, as it’s one of her favorites. The full recipe says it serves four. That seemed all right, until I read the ingredient list: eight eggs, a quart of heavy cream, 1 cup of sugar, 2 cups of dark maple syrup and a pound of brioche with vanilla ice cream for serving. This sounded more like a dessert to serve four families! Plus, I balked at the sacrifice of 2 cups of pricey dark maple syrup.

Suffice it to say, by the time we’d licked the platter clean, I understood why they left the recipe in its exceptional size — it’s exceptionally good! If you’ve got a Costco-sized jug of syrup, this wouldn’t be the worst way to part with it, just be prepared for an embarrassment of riches.

The bread pudding isn’t the only dessert to require sacrifice. A French pear tart asks you to part with a $17 wine-sized bottle of WildCraft Perry. It’s a recipe from the cidermaker and chef of WildCraft Cider Works, so I imagine he’s just fine with tapping vats of his delicious cider to cook down with pears for this delightful dessert. But I’m sadly without said vat and devoting an entire bottle of his amazing cider is cringeworthy.

I ran into this issue with several of the recipes. It’s like the recipe was prying my precious bottles of cider from my cellar, ones I’d rather sip and enjoy, not cook away. Here I’ll note that this is an issue easily avoided: Just swap the suggested cider out with one more fitting to your budget, and keep the refined bottles for the glass.

One place you’ll not want to do this is with Olympic Peninsula’s Finn River Solstice Saffron cider. While I’ve enjoyed this cider before, pairing it with James’ smoked salmon asparagus hush puppies was life-changing. While I’m wary of using up an entire bottle of drinking cider, I don’t flinch at dedicating a bottle of frying oil to the cause. The smoked salmon and bits of sweet red onion are a perfect partner for the saffron aioli (recipe included). The cider’s own saffron flare popped with the combination, and we enjoyed a frying party with a couple of bottles of this seasonal cider.

Since I was set up for frying, we also tried the kimchi rice balls followed with a cider-laced cocktail James recommended — the pear-fect rye fizz. James suggests pairing the kimchi balls with a Texas-born Ciderweizen, which she describes as merging green fruits and citrus flavors with the floral hoppiness of a German hefeweizen. We opted for the Cider Summit collaboration cider, also from Finn River. A cloudy farmstyle cider made with saison yeasts, it has a briteness and beer-like body that paired easily with these Korean-inspired bites.

For the rye fizz, I went with a local favorite of mine, the dry and complex Dragon’s Head Perry. Recipe creator Kathy Casey of Liquid Kitchen in Seattle suggests a perry from Vander Mill cidery in Michigan, which she describes as “a dry, tart perry with light bubbles (that) adds a fizz to a modern play on a whiskey sour.” I knew this cider would swap easily with a dry perry like one from Dragon’s Head on Vashon Island or that from Wenatchee Valley’s Snowdrift Cider Co.

With the beginning half of the book devoted to better understanding and finding North American ciders — many of which come from the Northwest, I was easily able to navigate substitutions. As far as other resources, along with this book, attending the Seattle or Portland Cider Summit is a must. Here you’ll gain a crash course in cider with the smorgasbord of cideries who attend this annual event.

There are many other local and smaller events around, like Whidbey Is. Ciderfest later this month. As well as restaurants, beer shops or grocery stores with robust cider selections like those at Everett’s Sno-Isle Co-op or Cider Summit sponsor Whole Foods. And if you’re open to a cider pilgrimage, try Capitol Cider in Seattle or Elizabeth Station beer market in Bellingham, which boasts 6-8 taps devoted to cider and a wall of refrigerated shelves stacked with all variety of ciders. Of course you can always take the Olympic Peninsula cider tour which includes Finn River, Eaglemont and Alpenfire cideries and with James’ book you’ll be able to pack your own carefully curated selection of cider inspired eats.

. . .

Smoked salmon and asparagus hush puppies with saffron-cider aioli

​It’s worth hunting down a bottle of Finn River’s Saffron Solstice cider to pair with these. I found mine at Whole Foods. Call ahead to save a lost trip, or go anyhow and get whatever cider sounds interesting. These puppies are just as amazing with whatever you choose to imbibe.​ If you choose to season with cayenne, I’d test these with half a teaspoon before committing a full teaspoon to the dough.

For the saffron-cider aioli

Pinch of saffron (about 15 stamens)
2 tablespoons Finnriver Farm & Cidery Solstice Saffron cider, or fresh organic lemon juice
1 cup aioli or mayonnaise

For the hush puppies

Canola oil
1 cup freshly ground cornmeal
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon Piment d’Espelette chili powder, or cayenne
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon sea salt
Freshly ground pepper
1 egg
1 cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon honey
1 small carrot, diced
5 asparagus spears, trimmed and sliced into rounds
½ red onion, diced
5 ounces smoked salmon, flaked or roughly chopped
Additional salt and pepper, for seasoning

Prepare the aioli: In a bowl, crumble the saffron and steep in the cider for 30 minutes, then whisk in the aioli.

Prepare the hush puppies: Fill a small electric fryer or cast-iron skillet about a third of the way up with cooking oil, and heat to 375 degrees.

While the oil heats, whisk together the cornmeal, flour, chili powder, baking powder, baking soda, salt and pepper in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg, buttermilk, honey, carrot, asparagus and onion. Pour the egg mixture into the flour mixture and stir until just mixed, then fold in the salmon. The batter should be thick like cake batter, not runny like pancake batter. If it is too thick, add a little water.

To form the hush puppies, use a small ice cream scoop or two spoons, filling one with the batter and using the other to scrape it into the hot oil. Fry, turning occasionally, until golden, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and season immediately with salt and pepper. Break open samples from the first batch to make sure the fritters are cooked through, and adjust the cooking time as needed.

Makes 36 to 40 hush puppies.

193-LBorden_PearfectRyeFizz_TastingCiderPear-fect rye fizz

This cocktail makes use of what cidermakers call a “perry,” a cider made entirely from pears instead of apples. They tend to be sweeter than apple cider, so choose the driest perry you can find for more of the whiskey-sour type profile intended for the drink. You could also use maple syrup as a substitute for the vanilla brown sugar syrup, if you’re out of vanilla beans or just want to dirty fewer dishes. When your whiskey runs dry, bourbon pairs well here, too. I also enjoyed this served on the rocks.

1½ ounces rye whiskey
¾ ounce Brown Sugar–Vanilla Syrup
¾ ounce lemon juice
2 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
2 ounces Vander Mill Bon Chrétien perry
Fat piece of lemon peel
Thin slice of fresh pear, for garnish

Measure the rye, syrup, lemon juice, and bitters into a cocktail shaker. Fill the shaker with ice, cap, and shake vigorously. Strain the cocktail into a large coupe and top with the perry. Twist the lemon peel over the drink to release the oils, then discard. Garnish with the pear slice. Makes 1 cocktail.


Maple bread pudding with cider-soaked apples

As mentioned earlier, this will easily serve more than four. I halved the recipe and it fed eight nicely. Also, I forgot to soak the apples overnight, so I opted to still make the pudding, but cooked the apples down in the cider over medium heat until the liquid was gone. The result was delicious.

8 large eggs
1 quart heavy cream
1 cup granulated sugar
2 cups dark maple syrup, divided
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon pure maple flavoring
1 cup Fuji apples, peeled, diced and soaked overnight in Angry Orchard Crisp Apple cider
1 pound brioche, cut into 2-inch cubes
Vanilla ice cream, for serving

Whisk together the eggs, cream, sugar, 1 cup of the maple syrup, vanilla and maple flavoring in a large bowl. Add the soaked apples and brioche; stir to coat. Butter a 9-by-13 baking dish. Transfer the bread mixture to prepared dish and let stand at room temperature for 1½ hours.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Bake for 40 minutes, until golden brown, slightly risen in the center, and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Remove from the oven and, using a small knife or skewer, poke holes all over the pudding. Pour the remaining 1 cup maple syrup over the pudding and allow it to cool until just warm. Top with vanilla ice cream and serve. Makes 4 servings​.

Recipes from Tasting Cider by Sip Publishing reprinted with permission from Storey Publishing. Pear-fect Rye Fizz Photo Credit: Lindsay Borden Photography. Bread Pudding & Hush Puppies Photo Credit: Antonis Achilleos

Tasting Cider: The Cidercraft Guide to the Distinctive Flavors of North American Hard Cider by Erin James

Who should buy this? Anyone interested in branching out (no pun intended) after discovering a new love for cider. Any cider lover looking for amazing food to pair with what’s in their glass.

Publisher: Storey Publishing | $19.95


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