Some food memories just stick with you. This Flattened Crispy Chicken Bread Salad– paired with a 2013 Alamos Malbec– was inspired by 1990s San Francisco.
I remember the first time I visited Zuni Café. It seems ridiculous now, but I had trouble finding the place, though it’s right there in plain sight on Market Street. When I finally walked through the glass door and into the lively yet tiny space, I found myself nose to embers with an enormous wood burning oven. Needless to say, the aromas and the warmth of the place could make the notoriously gray city shine in any weather. I knew immediately I loved the place.
In those days Zuni Café was still developing its signature simplicity and Judy Rodgers herself was behind the oven; her hair piled on top of her head– pencils holding it in place. I’d heard about the tawny-skinned roast chickens for two, and chewy bread salads made with that same roast chicken for single diners like me. I was anxious to try this chicken myself. So I sat at the bar and ordered the Zuni Roast Chicken with Bread Salad. By this point the restaurant was already well-established so I’d read enough reviews to know what to order, but when it came to the wine I asked my server what she’d recommend. She suggested Malbec.
Malbec is one of the five major red Bordeaux grape varietals. By the 1990s it found its way to South America where it’s become Argentina’s signature red wine grape. The high-altitude slopes of the Andes produce grapes that make superior versions of this one-time French classic. However, at the time of my server’s suggestion, Malbec was a new wine to me and to most of North America. My young palate was intrigued by the apparent contradiction of serving red wine with chicken. That’s how the herbal intensity of charred chicken, and the chewy texture of Zuni’s bread salad has come to mean Malbec to me.
It was sort of a serendipitous Malbec moment. In those days the Zuni wine list was limited mostly to California wines. Today, you’re more likely to find French and Italian labels accompanying California superstars, so I consider myself lucky that I came to meet Malbec in this unexpected manner.
2013 Alamos Malbec
Price $13 (suggested retail)
Pairs well with steak, grilled or roasted vegetables, barbecue and burgers
2013 Alamos Malbec with Flattened Crispy Chicken
Malbec is most often associated with lean red meat and barbecues. It certainly shines in those arenas. But when I was asked by Alamos Wines to develop a recipe to pair with their 2013 Malbec, my heart returned to San Francisco and those early days at Zuni Café. You see, this is a sponsored challenge, part of their Daring Pairings promotion. Flank steaks, or burgers with earthy accompaniments like mushrooms, chimichurri and black pepper are certainly perfect pairings with Malbec– but are they daring? I’ve chosen the unexpected combination of charred and flattened crispy chicken thighs and a revved up adaptation of Zuni Café’s bread salad, to which I’ve added blue cheese. Is that daring enough?
This consumer friendly promotion includes a quiz to help find your preferred Daring Pairings, as well as a series of recipes from TV host and author Adam Richman. Bloggers like me are getting involved with recipes of our own, like this Flattened Crispy Chicken with Bread Salad. Go to Facebook to follow along.
I think Malbec works with flavorful lean meats and anything grilled, roasted or charred. So when I’m faced with pairing charred dark meat chicken accompanied by big flavors and strong textures, it’s easy for me to consider this 2013 Alamos Malbec. The bold use of herbs is a good match with the wine’s weight. The acid-plumped currents mimic this wine’s food-friendly jamminess, while the slight bitter in the char on the skin mirrors and further softens the surprisingly smooth tannins in this young wine. Lastly, Malbec works with funky flavors like blue cheese. I’d recommend that the wine be served slightly chilled (69ºF) with this Flattened Crispy Chicken with Bread Salad. Not at all cold, but just cool enough to seem refreshing and to accentuate its plummy notes. GREG