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May 19, 2020
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WINE WITH…Tom Yum Rice

The inspiration for this dish began when a friendly neighbor left a gift baggie filled with homegrown Thai red chili peppers on my doorstep.  Thai chili peppers may be small, about an inch or two in length, but they can deliver a giant punch of heat as they boast 50,000 to 100,000 Scoville Heat Units (SHU), making them 60-40 times hotter than the average jalapeño.  I am not much of a daredevil when it comes to fiery peppers myself--scorched tongue and flaming taste buds aren’t my idea of a good time, plus there’s no doubt that too much heat can effectively overwhelm the subtleties inherent in most wines.  But I do appreciate the gentle buzz that moderately hot peppers can deliver to the palate, akin, perhaps, to the way one values the tug of tannins in a good red wine from Bordeaux, or the relatively high acidity delivered by certain whites such as Muscadet.  And since my interpretation of Thai Tom Yum was designed specifically to be paired with wine, I did give the peppers I minced a brief bath in vodka, which I’ve heard can leech out some of the heat.  If you’re bolder than I, feel free to skip this step. 

With rules about isolating in place during the pandemic still holding, I wasn’t going to rush around town searching for some of the ingredients more traditional Tom Yum might call for (one thing most of us have learned about cooking during these past few weeks is flexibility).  Lemongrass, for example, which is usually available at my local grocery store, wasn’t there this week, so I left it out.  Even the usually abundant variety of mushrooms available in the produce section was missing so I made do with simple white mushrooms, but if you can find straw, shitake or oyster mushrooms by all means include them in the dish.  Despite the relative simplicity of this recipe it was immensely flavorful and soul satisfying, the way Tom Yum should be (maybe this one should it be called Tom Yum During the Time of Pandemic?). 

Makes 2 servings

2 cups thinly sliced red onion (divided use)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups coarsely chopped mushrooms
3-4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons fish sauce (or Worcestershire Sauce)
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 Thai red peppers seeded and finely minced*
2 tablespoons vodka (optional)
2 carrots cut in medium slices
1 bay leaf
2 cups cooked white or brown rice or a combination
About one cup minced fresh cilantro

* I highly recommend wearing protective gloves when cutting hot peppers

In a large skillet, sauté half of the onions in the olive oil until they are soft and just starting to brown (reserve the remaining onions for garnish).  Stir in the remaining ingredients (including the vodka if using).  Simmer the mixture, stirring frequently, for about 10 minutes, or until the mushrooms are soft and lightly browned. 

To serve, divide the rice between two bowls.  Top each with the Tom Yum and garnish with the raw onions and the cilantro.

*          *          *

The Wines

Because I wasn’t sure whether white or red wine would be most appealing with this moderately spicy dish, I sampled a few different possibilities.  Exceptionally tannic reds simply got in the way of the spice and of the overall delicacy of the dish while red wine that is balanced more towards fruit provides more palate pleasing accord.

White wines that were either notably acidic or overburdened by strong oaky flavors that might compete with the spiciness of the dish itself were quickly rejected.  In the end I settled on a Prosseco (admittedly the bubbles’ festive ambiance appealed to me since even a modest sense of celebration is welcome these days). 

Tenuta Sant’ Anna’, Prosecco DOC (Veneto, Italy) Brut NV ($18, Montcalm Imports):  Fizz is usually fun with medium-spicy fare, and this Prosecco proved no exception to this general rule.  With bubbles that aren’t overbearing plus sweet fruit reigned in by modest acidity this sparkler contributed a generally cheerful note to the meal.

Novelty Hill, Columbia Valley (Washington) Merlot 2016 ($20):   This very pleasing Merlot from Washington connected to the dish in a few different ways.  Tasting of fresh berry and plum fruits it echoes both the earthiness of the mushrooms and the bright freshness of some of the other ingredients such as the ginger and lemon.  It also has just the right amount of acidity to keep it from being overwhelmed by the heat of the peppers.

Decoy, Sonoma County (California) Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 ($25): Juicy and smooth on the palate, Decoy’s “everyday” Cabernet was an excellent partner for the dish, with the wine’s balanced fruitiness and smooth tannins providing just the right textural balance here.

Editor’s Note:  Paul Lukacs is currently sidelined by illness, so this edition of “Wine With” is authored solely by Marguerite Thomas…who hopes to have Paul rejoin her at the table soon, as do all of us at Wine Review Online.  ~MF