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Mar 19, 2013
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Wine With…Pork Chops and Sriracha Butter

Many of us have wrongly supposed that the potent chili concoction known as Sriracha is a traditional Chinese sauce. In fact, the spicy elixir is named for Si Racha, a coastal town in Eastern Thailand, where it may have been first produced as a condiment to go with the fish served at local restaurants. The ubiquitous bright red American version, which is packaged in a plastic squeeze-bottle decorated with a rooster, is a product of Huy Fong Foods, a Southern California company founded in the 1980s by David Tran, an immigrant from Vietnam (Huy Fong was the name of the freighter on which Tran and his family left their homeland in 1979). According to a New York Times article, the proper pronunciation of the spicy sauce is SIR-rotch-ah. Its main ingredients are chili peppers, vinegar, garlic, sugar and salt, plus a smattering of stabilizers and thickening agents.

Like many other enthusiasts, we remember every detail of our first encounter with Sriracha (Dallas, February 2008, scrambled eggs). Sriracha may have distant Asian roots, but it has become a pet American ingredient in mainstream cooking, street food (i.e. lunch trucks), Asian restaurants, and even some of the country’s top temples of gastronomy, where haute cuisine chefs use it to spike everything from Hollandaise to crab cakes. Sriracha can be found at most grocery stores, including Wal-Mart.

Few would argue that a certain amount of pungent spice lifts flavors in food and excites taste buds, but what makes Sriracha so very adaptable to a variety of foods? And what makes it such a surprisingly appealing partner to wine? Well, there’s the obvious spicy kick, which is concise but not as debilitating to the palate as many commercial hot sauces. Nor does Sriracha, unlike many competitors, pucker the mouth with too much vinegary acidity or numb it with cloying sweetness (an overabundance of acid or sugar effectively negates many of wine’s gustatory elements). Instead, Sriracha’s balanced flavors can form a bridge between opposing elements in a recipe -- the tang of lemon juice and the richness of olive oil or fatty meat, for example. Sure, beer is great with Sriracha enhanced food, but you’ll be surprised by what a good accompaniment wine can be too.

Pork Chops with Sriracha-Butter

Serves 2

This delicious compound butter turns the simplest steak or chop into a gastronomic delight. It is equally good on chicken, fish, or vegetables (try it with roast Brussels sprouts, tuck some in a baked potato, or slather on an ear of corn).

The only trick is that the butter must be very soft. Ideally you’ll have butter that has already been brought to room temperature, but if not, you can zap it in the microwave to soften. Prepare the butter at least a couple of hours ahead so that it has time to re-harden before being served.

2 tablespoons soft butter (preferably good quality and unsalted)
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon rice vinegar
2 teaspoons Sriracha
2 grilled, broiled or pan-fried pork chops (preferably bone-in)

Place the butter, soy sauce, vinegar and Sriracha in a small mixing bowl. Using a fork or a wooden spoon, whip or mash the ingredients together until they are as well combined as possible. Transfer to a piece of plastic wrap and roll the butter into a small cylindrical shape (this is never going to be an especially neat process, but never mind, it will be delicious). Refrigerate for at least a couple of hours, or until the butter has hardened. When ready to serve, divide the cylinder in two and place each portion on top of a sizzling chop.

* * *

Because the s butter is both rich and spicy, we guessed that two types of wine likely would pair well with it – off dry, fruity whites and deeply flavored, spicy reds. Well, at least with the butter melting atop a pork chop, we were only half right. The whites we tried, which included a Torrontes, a Riesling, and a Vouvray all turned out to be too light to make a successful match. Flavors that seemed alluring when the wines were sipped on their own faded too much, and the wines turned thin and watery. On the other hand, earthy, spicy reds worked great. They echoed the character if not the flavors of the dish, and never had to play second fiddle to the s. Four of the five wines we’re recommending thus come colored red. The one other wine is a sparkler. It pleased us less because of its complementary character than because its bubbles and acidity proved a bright, lively contrast to the s butter’s richness.

Selection

Approx. Price

Comments

Ergo, Rioja (Spain) Tempranillo 2010

(Imported by Martin Codax USA)

$14

Juicy and overtly fruity, with echoes of savory herbs and spices and a refreshing jolt of acidity, this Rioja meshed nicely with the spicy, buttery chop. It’s not an especially complex wine, but it proved very friendly at the supper table.

Foppiano, Russian River Valley (California) Petite Sirah “Estate Bottled” 2009

$20

The most substantial because full-bodied wine we’re recommending, this Petite finishes on a tangy, piquant note. It seemed initially to be too powerful for pork, but the s butter gives this dish added depth, so the match turned out just right.

Gascón, Mendoza (Argentina) Malbec 2011

(Imported by Gascon USA)

$15

Very fruity, with hardly any noticeable oak influence, but an undercurrent of black licorice and summer violets, this Malbec tasted zesty and satisfying. It brightened the dish, while complementing it at the same time.

Gloria Ferrer, Carneros (California) Blanc de Noirs NV

$22

Fresh and lively, with none of the coconut character that mars many California sparklers, this Blanc de Noirs gave the dish a bright lift. It served to remind us that bubbles make a great many wines excellent food partners.

Tenuta di Arceno, Chianti Classico (Tuscany, Italy) 2010

(Imported by Majestic Importers)

$20

With a dusty, earthly finish coupled with dark cherry fruit, this wine tastes very true to type. That finish is what made it such a good partner for this particular dish, as it added a sort of gravity to the fiery s butter.