Spring is here, and menus are changing. Asparagus, fava beans, English peas, spring onions, ramps, tender spring lettuces, and the freshest beets, radishes and scapes are taking over for their brief time at center stage on restaurant menus. Whether pickled, raw, roasted, marinated, fried, pureed or grilled, the flavors come through clean and bright. Spring is also the time to enjoy all the young, fresh cheeses that are meant to be eaten within days of being made.
Considering the bounty of all that comes in spring, I’d like to suggest a pairing word for the season: Simple.
- Simply sautéed asparagus with a saison.
- Simply roasted beets with a wit beer.
- A simple salad of tender greens with a pilsener.
To keep it simple, limit yourself to no more than three or four ingredients and let your palate open up to the flavors of spring.
As an example, might I suggest you stop reading right now and put in front of yourself a shaved piece of Parmesan reggiano cheese and a pint of pale ale? Go ahead—it’s OK, I’ll wait.
Alrighty! Welcome back. Now that your palate is happy, let’s carry on.
Once you taste a pairing as simple as Parmesan with pale ale, your palate will begin to think of another word: Balance. The balance of the malt to the hops, of the nuttiness in the cheese to the carbonation in the beer, of the pop of the hops to the creaminess of the cheese.
There is something to be said for the chef or brewer who achieves balance. Simple and balanced pairings are often overshadowed by attention-grabbing, show-stopping, over-the-top, palate-wrecking dishes and beers. But in both the craft beer and the culinary worlds today, there is a general drive toward balancing the palate. In pursuit of the perfect pairing, chefs are now more likely to simplify—to take something off the plate—instead of over-indulging and overworking the pairing.
Today, chefs are highlighting the blissful simplicity of a vegetable in the height of its season, meat raised by the most caring hands, a fish caught by a small boat. All of these ingredients, when sourced properly, demand that the hands that cook them highlight their simple, clean flavors.
Achieving simplicity and balance takes focus, dedication, and perseverance. It means finding and creating relationships with the best possible ingredients to make the simplest bite or sip shine on the palate.
Now, to be clear, I am not saying that any beer or dish that is over-the-top or complex in plating lacks these qualities. I am saying: Let’s give some much-needed attention and recognition to what is often overlooked and underappreciated.
When a chef dips the freshest radish in butter and garnishes it only with salt, she’s not taking the easy way out. It is done to highlight a radish served at its best possible harvest time. It is done to tell a story, bridging relationships from farmer to chef to the diner’s palate. And when that simple radish, harvested at the perfect time, pops with a gentle sweetness and is paired with a saison that pops with hints of pepper…well, then that story turns into a moment, a complete experience. And as simple and balanced as that moment is, it is exactly what the first harvest of spring is about.
Here are some simple and balanced pairing suggestions for your palate to seek out this spring:
- Asparagus and prosciutto paired with a saison or farmhouse ale
- Roasted beets and fresh feta paired with a wit
- English peas and mint paired with a pilsener
- Ramps and goat cheese on toast paired with a pale ale
- Grilled spring onions and crème fraiche paired with an IPA
- Spring lamb and fava beans paired with a brown ale
- Fresh ricotta and radish paired with a tripel
- Radishes dipped in butter paired with a saison
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