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12 Apr 2016 By

Forget alcohol pairing dinners. The relationship between food and drink is about to get waaaay more intimate.

We’ve all consciously coupled a tasty heap of fried wings with a bucket of beer. Or a glass of merlot to go with that medium-done ribeye steak. But what we learnt at the curing workshop at Hotel Vagabond was what happens when you introduce the booze directly to the food, and let them mingle for a while. As part of the recent Singapore Cocktail Week lineup, Chef Drew Nocente of modern Australian restaurant 5th Quarter led a demonstration of adding spirits to fish and meats to enhance their flavour profiles.

If you wanted to try a different way of preparing your fresh halibut fillet, why not consider a vodka brined version? We started the workshop with the relatively no-fuss vodka brine rinse. Consisting of sea salt and sugar in diluted vodka, spices like peppercorns, coriander seeds and dill are then added. The halibut is then introduced into the mixture and left to sit in the fridge for three hours (a bit under Hateful 8). After removing the brine rinse, it’s ready to serve – easy peasy.

Cured fish #2 was the marriage of gin and mackerel. Sea salt and sugar are again key ingredients, followed by lemon zest, bay leaf, cinnamon, star anise, juniper, cloves and thyme. Chef Nocente explains, “I have a preference for using gin and spiced rum in my curing. The type of botanicals that are used in the process of crafting the spirits are very similar to what I like to use in my curing. For example, I use juniper a lot, which is a key botanical used in some of my preferred gins. As for spiced rums, it helps to draw out other layers of flavour in meat (especially a meat like pork) after curing and really helps enhance the flavour profile.’

Speaking of, the rum cured pork belly (below) was definitely one of the highlights.

Pork Belly, Melon and Onion

Here’s how you can recreate the magic in your own home.

Mix the following:

  • 50g salt
  • 50g  brown sugar
  • 1 orange
  • 5g pink peppercorns
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3g thyme
  • 2 crushed garlic
  • 30g Cure 1 (6.25% sodium nitrate and 93.75% table salt)

Add 350ml of rum to make a slurry, then gently rub it on 2kg of pork belly (skin removed) and place it in a fridge for a week. Don’t forget to turn it daily to ensure an even curing. After removing it from cure after a week, soak it in water one hour per day cured.

What else is up Chef Nocente’s sleeve? “Currently, I am also considering chartreuse and tequila – they both have spectacular flavour profiles so it will be really interesting to experiment with it. I am quite confident it would work out well with certain types of meat and fish.”

Like this? Here’s how you pair wines with takeouts

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