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Sep 17, 2013
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Wine With…Steak Salad with Avocado-Buttermilk Dressing

The taste of this buttermilk-based green dressing is definitely divine, but it also can boast more tang (and fewer calories) than the traditional Green Goddess dressing it resembles. As long as you can procure a good ripe avocado and some buttermilk there is nothing ironclad about the rest of the recipe’s ingredients. Use what vegetables are in season and that appeal to you, but do emphasize the veggies rather than leafy greens -- this salad is more about crunchy textures and robust flavors than the delicacy of lettuce. While the wines we recommend here are compatible with sliced steak, you certainly could top the salad with chicken or salmon instead and adjust the wine selections accordingly.

Try for four to seven different salad ingredients (fewer might be boring, too many more could diffuse the effect by overwhelming the palate). On this particular occasion we used a small amount of arugula along with fresh fennel, cucumber, scallions, a yellow tomato, celery, and artichoke hearts. Alternate ingredients might include radishes, corn kernels, beans (lima or garbanzo, for example), raw turnip, beets, minced red onion, red or yellow bell pepper, and so on. Blue cheese or shaved Parmesan would be a delicious alternative to feta. We used a skirt steak, but slices of flatiron, hanger or flank steak would be equally tasty.

Steak Salad with Avocado-Buttermilk Dressing

Serves 4-6

1 ripe avocado

¾ cup buttermilk

1 teaspoon Dijon style mustard

salt and pepper

4-6 cups coarsely chopped fresh vegetables

½ cup minced pancetta or crumbled bacon

½ cup crumbled feta cheese

2 tablespoons minced fresh herbs such as parsley, chives and/or tarragon

1 pound skirt, grilled or pan-seared

Peel and pit the avocado and cut the flesh in chunks. Pour the buttermilk in a blender or food processor and add the avocado and mustard. Puree until the mixture is fairly smooth, season with salt and pepper, then refrigerate until ready to use (may be made up to two hours in advance). Sauté the pancetta or bacon and drain on paper towel.

To serve, toss the vegetables with the dressing and fold in the cheese. Cook the meat, cut it in slices against the grain, and arrange them on the salad. Top with the pancetta or bacon and the minced herbs. Serve immediately.

* * *

A somewhat tricky dish to match with wine, this entrée salad’s rich and creamy character goes well with equally rich, creamy whites, while the grilled steak atop it cries out for a hearty red. We tried a variety of different wines, representing different stylistic types, and found that the best matches tended to be light-bodied but very flavorful reds. We’re recommending three that fall in this broad category, and then two outliers--a succulent because buttery Chardonnay, and a full, fleshy Primitivo. All five prove that this somewhat idiosyncratic dish benefits from an equally idiosyncratic wine selection. So feel free to experiment. The one thing we’ll say with certainty, though, is that delicate wines, no matter the color, won’t work, as both the salad and beef will prove overwhelming.

Selection

Approx. Price

Comments

Neil Ellis, Stellenbosch (South Africa) Pinotage 2011

(Imported by Vineyard Brands)

$21

One of the best examples of Pinotage we’ve had in years, this wine exhibits an earthy depth that enhances its sweet, cherry-like fruit. That combination of an initial sweet impression followed by lingering non-fruit flavors is what enabled it to match well with both the salad and the beef.

Chateau de Paraza, Minervois (France) “Cuvée Spéciale) 2010

(Imported by The Country Vintner)

$13

Similar in style to the Pinotage we’re recommending but offering a very different taste profile, this southern French red feels plusher and less forceful, with darker fruit flavors and less obvious earthy undertones. It nonetheless has plenty of personality so stands up proudly alongside the dish.

St, Francis, Sonoma County (California) Chardonnay 2011

$14

Ripe, somewhat sweet fruit is enhanced here by echoes of butter, toffee, and popcorn. Though an obviously better partner for the salad than for the beef, it provides enough punch and energy to maintain flavor when sipped with the steak.

Tormaresca, Salento (Italy) Primitivo “Torcicoda” 2010

(Imported by Ste. Michelle Wine Estates)

$22

A fairly powerful red wine, this southern Italian is just the reverse of the Chardonnay — fine with the salad and dressing, but superb with the beef. Less showy than many Primitivos, or for that matter, Zinfandels, it nonetheless shows a long briary finish and a core of sweet, satisfying fruit.

Vina Pomal, Rioja (Spain) “Reserva” 2008(Imported by Aveniu Brands)

$21

Showing its age but not tasting at all tired, this traditionally-styled Rioja tastes sweet from extended aging in American oak casks but also earthy and smoky. That conjunction allowed it to shine brightly alongside this particular dish.