British food has a bad reputation. The old joke goes that the English are still cooking as though the Germans were still buzzing overhead.
Truth is the British do certain things very well – I’m looking at you, comfort food. Like any cuisine associated with comfort food, it is easy to get it completely wrong. Bad soul food is just as plentiful as bad barbecue, and bad British food is no exception.
British food these days encapsulates so many cuisines and styles, you can’t paint the cuisine with a broad brush. Indian and Chinese food are as much “British food” as sausage rolls and steak and kidney pie.
Let’s talk about British food and wine – pairing it, cooking with it, and the many ways traditional and modern British food complements the consumption of God’s favorite beverage.
Wine & Stilton – the Ultimate British Food and Wine Pairing
Enjoying this salty strong-flavored cheese with a sweet dessert wine is a perfectly British pairing, in that it combines a local cheese with what is (most likely) a foreign spirit.
Nibbling this classic British blue, and sipping a fine sweet Sauternes (2011 vintage is the perfect intersection of delicious and affordable), you’ll feel like you’re in one of the haunted castles of the British Isles, enjoying a snack as the ghosts of Vikings and dead royals swirl around you.
Wine with Breakfast? Pairing the Full English
You can’t write a blog post about British food without mentioning the classic Full English.
A reminder for the uninitiated, a Full English Breakfast should include these items:
- back bacon
- fried, poached, or scrambled egg
- fried or grilled tomatoes
- fried mushrooms
- buttered toast, fried bread, or fried/grilled oat cakes
- black pudding
- baked beans
- bubble & squeak (fried potatoes and cabbage)
- tea or coffee
- fruit juice
Pairing this diverse collection of comfort breakfast foods with a breakfast-oriented wine is a real challenge. You have to decide if you want to complement or contrast all the flavors.
The best way to go is something light in the alcohol department but big on flavor – prosecco-spiked orange juice (a classic mimosa) is a bright presentation that allows you to drink up without getting AM-loaded. You can customize the pairing, choosing a different cheap sparkler or different juice to match your taste.
British Cooking with Wine
A classic and hearty beef stew is as British as any other single meal.
A typically British beef stew uses a thick cut of steak as the protein, allowing it fall and break apart as it well, rather than cutting it into bite-size chunks as is the norm in America. It also features leeks, carrots, onion, and a nice dark stock, as well as cooking wine throughout to both add flavor and incorporate the delicious, caramelized bits that break away over time.
Besides pairing that stew with a medium-bodied red to complement rather than contrast what’s going on in the dish, you should also be cooking with the right wine during the preparation of the stew.
Choose a light-bodied Pinot Noir (such as that from Burgundy) or a merlot. You could even use one of these emerging great British wines to make the meal a true celebration of English cookery.
Pairing British Apple Crumble with Wine
As far as desserts go, the British are most famous for the elaborate and decadent puddings, though these are falling out of favor with younger cooks.
Apple Crumble is by far England’s most-searched recipe, indicating the popularity of this simple but delicious comfort dessert that also works great as a breakfast with a hot drink on a cold morning.
I’m going to make a surprise recommendation here, forgoing the typical sweet wine pairing in favor of a dry, crisp Sauvignon Blanc. The crispness of this wine, in a good presentation, will cut through the buttery crust and help highlight the fruit flavors and depth of character of the buttery pastry.
Try it, you’ll be shocked by how well these two pair.
Criticizing English food is hack.
There was a time when England, beset by economic hardship, was exporting some of the consistently worst cuisine on the planet. Those days are long behind us.
Whether you’re cooking with wine, pairing wine with food, or just curious about the expanding world of British cuisine, don’t overlook the power of pairing your favorite wines with the delicious comfort foods of the United Kingdom.