I’m thrilled to be hosting Chef Jason Wyrick on his Vegan Tacos blog tour today. Jason is her with tips on pairing drinks with tacos, a recipe for margaritas from his new book, and a chance for you to win a copy of Vegan Tacos.
If you don’t have a copy of Vegan Tacos yet, run, don’t walk, to the nearest bookstore and buy one, because this is one cookbook you’re going to want in your collection. Chef Jason Wyrick says this book isn’t just about tacos, “it’s about bringing the authentic Mexican taco experience into the vegan world.” He did tons of research, improved his Spanish skills, and even traveled to Mexico in order to write about and veganize traditional tacos. Some of the tasty tacos you’ll find within the pages of Vegan Tacos include Vampire Tacos (named after the way the tortilla curls up and resembles bat wings), Guacamole Tacos, Cactus Tacos, and Tacos Veracruz. There are fusion tacos, dessert tacos, and even breakfast tacos. You’ll also find recipes for everything that goes with tacos, from fresh tortillas and drinks to hot sauces and salsas. It’s not all just recipes though, Jason also delves into taco history and anthropology, and taco culture, and he also talks about his family’s personal experience with Mexican cuisine.
Without further ado, here’s Jason…
Tacos, Tequila, and Mezcal: How to Pair Your Tacos with the Right Drink
While there isn’t really a wrong drink to serve with tacos, the right drink can make the experience truly memorable. Coffee, tea, handcrafted sodas, beer, tequila, mezcal. Where to start? When it comes to choosing the right drink to serve with your delicious taco creations, a few simple guidelines can point you in the right direction.
1. Choose Similar Flavor Elements, Not Combative Elements
I think a good drink should serve as a palate cleanser between bites, but it should absolutely never serve as a palate fighter. More important than choosing a drink that contains elements found in your food (high notes, citrus notes, caramelization, etc.) is choosing one that does not actively fight those notes. For example, a crisp vanilla soda served with some spicy tacos tempura dressed with lemon or lime sounds pretty good. A crisp vanilla soda served with tacos topped with pickled onions sounds, let’s just say, not so good. That’s why this rule is the most important of all.
2. Dark Roasted vs. Smoky vs. Crisp Beers
While there are seven different major flavor-profiles for beer, I typically parse them down into these three categories when deciding what to serve with my tacos. Here’s a simple set of rules. If a taco has heavy, deep flavors, like caramelization, roasted garlic, grill char, etc., then go with a heavier flavored beer like a dark roasted beer or a smoky beer. If the tacos have bright, clean flavors that you get from ingredients like lots of lime, pickled onions, or fresh herbs, pair them with a clean crisp beer. This way, the flavors of the beer complement the flavor of your food instead of fighting with it.
My Recommendations: Stone Smoked Porter and North Coast Brewing Brother Thelonious Ale for the heavier flavored tacos. For the brighter tacos, Dogfish Head 90-minute IPA is perfect.
3. Two Types of Heat Call for Two Types of Drinks
I find there are two types of heat. There’s that intense heat that hits you right up front. It makes your tongue jump and if you’re a spice addict like I am, you can’t wait to take another bite. Think chiles de arbol, fresh serranos, and habaneros. Then there is the type of heat I call a back-end heat. It takes a few seconds to build, but when it does, it feels like it suffuses your entire mouth. Think chipotles, roasted guajillo chiles, and fire-roasted chiles.
For the up-front heat, I prefer crisp light beers and wines. Like the intense up-front heat, they tend to show their flavor profiles right away. For the back-end heat, I prefer full-bodied beers and wines. These drinks tend to take a few seconds to assimilate, just like tacos with a back-end heat. It’s all about matching elements.
My Recommendations: For the up-front heat, I like Dos Equis, Tripel Karmeliet, or a Gewurtztraminer or a Sauvignon Blanc. For the back-end heat tacos, I like Bohemia Obscura, Gulden Draak, or even a strong Riesling. The wines are all white because they tend to play nicer with all the elements of a taco.
4. Tequila or Mezcal?
Tequila typically has a smoother taste than mezcal, while mezcal is a little more complex and smoky. When a taco has grilled, smoky, or caramelized flavors, I prefer the smoky complexity of mezcal or tequila anejo. Tequila anejo has been aged one to three years, allowing it to develop fairly complex flavors. When a taco has citrus flavors, fresh herbal flavors, or lighter veggie flavors, like lightly cooked zucchini, I prefer tequila blanco or tequila reposado. Tequila blanco has only been aged for about a month and is pretty straightforward and clean in taste and reposado is right between a blanco and an anejo. The cleaner flavors of these tequilas seem to pair well with fresher flavors in tacos.
Note: Don’t waste your money on expensive tequila or mezcal if you are serving those with your tacos. Your tacos will overwhelm some of the nuance of those drinks. Either serve those higher end drinks before or after taco time so you can fully appreciate them. During taco time, I typically go for a mid-range tequila or mezcal. Keep in mind that because mezcal is not as popular as tequila, it’s produced in small specialty batches, so it’s a bit pricier. Finally, make sure your bottle does not say “gusano de maguey.” That means it has a worm.
My Recommendations: The Casa del Sol and Casa Noble lines of tequila are reasonably priced, outstanding tequilas. For Mezcal, I’ve been enjoying Los Amantes and Del Maguey.
5. Playing Nice with Capsaicin Means Stronger Drinks!
Capsaicin is the molecule in chiles that generates heat. The more capsaicin, the hotter the taste. Capsaicin, however, is not water soluble. That means if you drink your tacos with water, tea, coffee, or soda, they are going to taste spicier because the water will wash the capsaicin molecules all around your mouth. Because soda is fizzy, it will pop that capsaicin around even more! If you want your food to taste spicier, these drinks are perfectly fine.
Capsaicin is, however, alcohol soluble. That means the more alcoholic your drink is, the more the heat will be toned down, and not just because you consumed copious amounts of it. The alcohol will dissolve the capsaicin and tone down your food. To notice an effect, though, you’ll need a drink with a strong alcohol content. Beer does not usually do the trick. Plus, it’s fizzy and mostly water.
One exception to this is agua frescas. Agua frescas are cold, sweet, smooth drinks. Usually, they are based on pureed fruits or berries. Because they are cold, they are refreshing and because they are sweet, they balance the sensation of heat.
My Recommendations: Consider a sipping drink like tequila blanco or even something strong like whiskey. My real preference, though, is to keep a pineapple or mango agua fresca on hand.
Grilled Lime Margarita with Mesquite Smoked Salt
Margaritas are great when they are made with fresh lime and good alcohol. It’s a classic drink that’s now part of the Mexican experience. I wanted to change things up a bit and make something a little darker, a little more mysterious and alluring. That’s what the mezcal and the smoke are to me. It permeates the entire drink, from the char of the grilled limes to the smoky mezcal to the shot of smoked salt on the rim of the glass. You can, of course, forgo grilling the limes and just use regular salt and good tequila blanco to make the classic margarita, but I hope you find the smoky version I created here to a sultry companion to your tacos.
Makes 4 Drinks
- 8 large limes, cut in half diagonally (see note)
- 1/4 cup agave nectar
- 4 shots mezcal or tequila reposado or añejo
6 tablespoons (2 shots) Cointreau or other good quality orange liqueur
- Mesquite smoked salt
- Sprinkle coarse sugar
- Option: Make it spicy by placing a dried chipotle meco at the bottom of each glass
I cut limes in half diagonally because it exposes more surface area of the lime to be grilled and it also makes them easier to juice.
Grill the limes until they develop blackened char lines. This will take about 5 minutes. Ideally, you should do this over a wood fire, but you can still do it with a gas grill. Flip the limes over and grill the round sides of the lime halves. This will further cook the lime and mellow out the flavor. Juice the limes into a pitcher or a bowl. Keep the lime rinds Stir the agave into the lime juice until they are thoroughly combined. Mix in the shots of mezcal and Cointreau. Take the inside of the juiced lime rinds and rim 4 margarita glasses. Sprinkle mesquite smoked salt and just a touch of sugar around the rim of the glasses. Add the margarita mix to the glasses and serve. This should be served at room temperature and not over ice, which does not play well with the smoky components.
From Vegan Tacos by Jason Wyrick. ©2014 Jason Wyrick. Used by permission from Vegan Heritage Press.
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