By Kim Fuller Published in the Vail Daily
How do you learn to spice up your next taco night with a proper tequila pairing? Get to know the characteristics of each dish and each tequila variation, then arrange the meal from there.
At the Beaver Creek Winter Culinary Weekend Jan. 19-22, guest chef Diego Isunza worked with The Metropolitan’s Executive Chef Tiana Byrd to offer guests a unique dining experience at Mexico Meets the Mountains, hosted Thursday evening by The Metropolitan. The food menu was complemented with cocktails and straight pours all from Tequila Herradura.
Kristi McCoy Rashidi was at the event as a sales representative of Herradura. Rashidi said it’s the complexity of the spirit, which is made from the agave plant, that makes it worthy of a full food and drink pairing experience.
“I just think there’s a lot of flexibility with the spirit,” she said. “In comparison to say, vodka, tequila is so complex and also so versatile. And once you add in the aging factor, you really change the whole level of complexity.”
“It’s not a science
— just a lot of hours of tasting and tasting and tasting. It’s drinking hours and cooking hours.”Diego IsunzaGuest chef
The welcome cocktail for the evening was a tasty and refreshing Blood Orange Spritzer, made with fresh blood orange juice, Herradura Silver, topped with Korbel sparkling wine. The pink beverage was served in a flute and was like a punch with a little kick — a true warmup for the upcoming taste adventure.
Isunza’s first course was one that’s a favorite at the restaurant where he is executive chef — Nuestro, located two hours from Mexico City in the town of Valle de Bravo. The mushroom stuffed beef tartare was knife-cut beef filet, pickled mushrooms and confit egg yolk, all over a smoked habanero mayonnaise. This dish was paired with the Metrorita, a traditional margarita made with Roadhouse Double Barrel Herradura Tequila, fresh lime juice, agave nectar and a Grand Marnier float.
All of the courses to follow were served with tequila (of course), but it was served neat. This really allows for a full experience of each barrel-aged variation. A blanco or silver tequila can be completely unaged, so it’s often bottled immediately or shortly after distillation. Blancos can be rested in oak for up to 60 days, and Rashidi explained that Herradura Silver sees 45 in a new charred American oak barrel.
A reposado (which means “rested”) has been aged in an oak container for as least two months, and an anejo (“aged”) tequila has been aged in oak barrels for at least one year. The Herradura Reposado is aged for 11 months, and the Herradura Anejo is aged for two years.
“The flavor in tequila comes from the agave, so naturally it’s sweet, but when you start incorporating the aging process with the wood, the majority of the flavor changes,” Rashidi said. “Herradura ages their tequila longer than they have to, and their tequilas are really nice and smooth.”
Isunza’s next course was a shrimp taco with burnt chili salsa and avocado. The charred flavors of the dish brought out the wood characteristics in the Herradura Reposado, just as his next course, creamy broad bean soup with star anise and sauteed greens, showcased bright flavors highlighted by the Herradura Blanco.
“It’s basically taking all the components of the tequila and breaking them down,” Isunza said on how to pair food with the spirit. “You have to try the tequila and then try to imagine what you could eat with it.”
Isunza said the tequila can help compensate for whatever the dish may need.
“So if you have a lot of acidity, your are going to need some sweetness,” he said. “It’s good to create a balance between the spirit and the dish. You can put together the menu first, or decide on drinks first.”
A coffee-infused butter and sweet onion sauce was the main flavor of the braised short rib dish, which was appropriately served with Herradura Anejo. The savory meat was plated with charred eggplant and asparagus, all coming together for a balanced combination of smoky and sweet that was perfectly reflected by the anejo pour.
“It’s like fashion, or decorating your house — you need to keep things flowing together,” said Rashidi of matching food with tequila. “You don’t want to overpower any food dish or any flavor the chef is hoping to highlight.”
The finale, a corn moist cake dessert with toffee, vanilla ice cream and caramel flan, was matched with Herradura’s Ultra Anejo. This special anejo is blended with the Extra Anejo that has been aged for up to 49 months in American white oak barrels, and then a hint of agave nectar is added before the liquid is filtered in a distillation process to create a rich yet crystal-clear tequila with a full-bodied flavor. Hints of caramel, vanilla, wood, honey, dried fruits and toasted almonds came through with every sip, making every bite of cake all the more tantalizing.
For Isunza, creating a pairing experience is part of developing your knowledge of food and drink, and continuing to have lot of practice with it all.
“It’s not a science — just a lot of hours of tasting and tasting and tasting,” Isunza said. “It’s drinking hours and cooking hours.”