There’s nothing like treating yourself to a nice drink when you’re out on the town, whether you’re at a new restaurant or revisiting an old favorite. But too often we’re stuck choosing between beer and wine, never considering that a cocktail can also be paired with food, and not just enjoyed as a before- or after-dinner indulgence.
Luckily, using the same knowledge you have of wine and beer pairings, it’s easy to find a cocktail that can match your meal. With a little caution and a bit of risk, you may find a new favorite way to enjoy a drink with dinner.
Sweet, tart margaritas cut through the cheese and heavy sauces of Tex-Mex cuisine, while the sugar in the drink helps offset any spiciness in your dish. It’s a stereotypical pairing, but one that exists for a reason – just steer clear of margaritas made with sugary, artificially-flavored mix.
Cocktails with a high alcohol content, like martinis or alcohols mixed with club soda or tonic, pair well with robust foods. Hard cheeses and cured meats are a good candidate. Their fat content will coat your mouth, rounding out any harshness in your drink, while the saltiness and umami of the cheese and meat won’t be overpowered by the booze.
The fresh, clean flavor of a vodka or gin martini is a perfect match for seafood (like oysters and other raw bar items), which would easily be overwhelmed by more complex cocktails.
XO (extra old) Brandy is often said to have a creamy mouthfeel, and its notes of dried fruit, nuts, and spices work well paired alongside rich and creamy sauces.
Smoky mezcal and extra-dark chocolate are a match made in heaven. This pairing is especially well-realized when pairing mezcal with mole poblano. Mezcal cocktails also pair well with barbecue and smoked meats, especially when the cocktail features an element of sweetness.
Herb-roasted meats, like rosemary-crusted pork tenderloin, are a perfect match for Manhattans or drinks that balance bitter with sweet. The pungency of the herbs and seasonings balances the slight bitterness of sweet vermouth or other bitter liquers, while the sweetness of the cocktail keeps the savory flavors of the roasted meat from feeling too heavy on your palate.
Sangria, especially sweeter variations, pairs well with spicy food. The relative sweetness of the drink soothe burning taste buds, while the fruit notes play well with a variety of different spice blends. For lighter foods, opt for white wine sangria, and for richer dishes go with red wine sangria.
One simple way to pair a cocktail with a dish is to match the herbs found in each. A basil mojito could pair well with a lemony basil pasta dish, while a martini garnished with rosemary and olives could pair well with Mediterranean roasted meats and appetizers.
There are lots of ways to match cocktails with your meal, and most of what you know about pairing wine and beer with food applies to liquor, too. Match and balance the mouthfeel of your drinks with your meal, and take similar note when deciding which cocktail has underlying flavor notes that will work with your food. Either way, it’s more fun than feeling like you’re stuck with ordering wine every time you go out.
What’s your favorite cocktail and food pairing?
Justina Huddleston is a food writer living in Los Angeles. When she's not writing for Menuism or SheKnows, she spends her time in the kitchen creating both virtuous and decidedly junky vegan food. Buffalo chickpea pizza, anyone? She's also been known to eat a plain block of tofu or beans straight out of the can for lunch, but somehow those culinary adventures don't make it to her Instagram. You can follow Justina on Twitter or see what's cooking in her kitchen on her blog A Life of Little Pleasures.