Three Ways To Cheat at Food and Wine Pairing

Hold the frankincense and myrrh, we can sub these instead...
Hold the frankincense and myrrh, we can sub these instead …

Getting food and wine to play together nicely is all about taking time to identify bridge elements: aromas that neatly connect food and wine. That char on your salmon; those shishito peppers in your omelet … it’s these details that make all the difference.

But there is a way to cheat. Just hijack a somewhat bland or “undetermined” food by slathering it in a bridge element. And with a dash of faerie dust, your chicken transforms into what suddenly seems like the one true love for your Bourgogne.

The two spice blends below are gifts fit for a god, and offer an amazing return for your time or money, as they help your red wines connect in a heavenly manner to so very many foods …


Just the smell of roasted hazelnuts (think Nutella or nocciola gelato) plus lemony coriander seed is already enough to change your life. But the way it interfaces with red wines is remarkable.

It will adorn lamb, roast chicken, lentils, soups, toasted bread with olive oil, and you may even snack on it uncontrollably. A very dominant “this is what we’re doing now” spice blend, to be sure; nevertheless highly addictive.

You’ll make it in 25 minutes, then sprinkle it on your food for months.

A word about fresh spices: you NEED to monitor your spices for bugs or mold. Inspect with your nose and eyes before using. If your spices expired over a year ago, throw them away and then buy the smallest amount of not already rotten, cheap bulk spices as you require them. Aflatoxin B1 (from mold) is one of the worst carcinogens, and can haunt moldy spices. Besides, you’ll thank me when you taste fresh spices …

Click the blue title for a printable PDF of the recipe below, or view in line:


Tools: baking sheet, oven, food processor (must hold at least 1 cup), Dustbuster if possible

  • 1/2 cup hazelnuts
  • 1 tablespoon whole coriander seeds (Morton & Basset is worth it)
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons whole cumin
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons roasted black sesame seeds, (aka. Iri Kurogoma, $5/8.5 oz)
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

(Feel free to double this. You’re going to roast your hazelnuts on a baking sheet, strip the skins off, grind your spices in a blender first, then add nuts and grind everything).

Roast hazelnuts at 350° F for 7-10 minutes to a golden brown. Use your nose. Once the smell is amazing, you’re getting there: once it begins to get too brown, check in. Set aside to cool.

Once cool enough to handle, use your fingers to squeeze the skins off all of the hazelnuts in the pan as best you can. To keep the skins from haunting your kitchen floor for months and remove them quickest, push all skinned nuts away from the center of the pan to leave a pile of skin flakes in the middle, then use a Dustbuster to vacuum the flakes (you may lose a nut or two, but it’s so worth it). Keep alternating between edges and center, until all the skins are vacuumed. Efficiency, thy name is Dustbuster.

Now, using a blender or cleaned coffee grinder, grind your whole coriander seeds and whole cumin. Ensure that the coriander seeds are ground sufficiently to prevent giant chunks (which act as overpowering lemon grenades).

Once your spices seem finely ground, add the hazelnuts and roasted black sesame seeds, and grind your dukkah to the pictured consistency.

You’ll be putting it everywhere before you know it. You can use it to connect to earthy reds, especially burlier Pinot Noir.  Hint: pour some pomegranate molasses over lamb rib chops as an adhesive for dukkah to then pair to Northern Rhône Syrah.


I’ve tried a few, but this black truffle-infused Selezione Tartufi Truffle Salt wins:

truffle saltClick the picture above for the company and details; it’s on Amazon sporadically as well.

It may not be the equivalent of this experience, but it’s quite potent and a tiny bit goes a surprisingly long way. Not a lot to explain here: you wince a bit at the price, but you’ll take years to finish it. That is why you need to store it in the fridge (strange for a salt, but this has black truffle).  Others tasted had a lousy chemical character; this is just proper earthy and lavish.

Try this on your food while drinking Northern Italian reds, but feel free to experiment with all sorts of things. Riesling is a surprise match!


The greatest thing ever is when passionate producers — who know their own wines better than anyone else on this earth, simply because they drink them every damn week — offer specific recipe pairings for their wines.

I always find it a bit off-putting if producers brush off questions regarding food pairings, hastily offering trite clichés as a retort. Food and wine belong together; what gives?

It’s better, when, say, Michel Juillot recommends a bacon-wrapped chicken in red wine sauce, or perhaps when Olivier Leflaive recommends a honey-infused poulet de bresse as accompaniment to an oaked Chassagne Montrachet, or when Valentina Davide of the Sicilian producer Tenuta di Fessina righteously recommends a pasta alla norma to accompany a Laeneo Nerello Cappucio and nails it, or, say, when Patrick Piuze blows your mind offering a potato blini pairing recommendation for Chablis. And it rocks.

Moral (morel?) of the story? Never hesitate to prod a producer pouring you a wine that you really like for a food pairing, you’ll end up with surprisingly useful results sometimes.

What are some of your favorite pairings? I’m always on the lookout for quick and easy, because I don’t always have 3 hours make a poulet de bresse à la crème or bacon-wrapped chicken — so if you’re sitting on quick and easy pairing gold, be a dear and let us know in the comments.