The Takeaway on Takeout

by | Jan 10, 2023

Cider+Takeout: how to make the perfect home-front pairings

As much as we all love dining out, many drink menus look a little lean when it comes to apple-based offerings. Granted, you can surely find a lovely glass of wine or a well-crafted beer for most dishes. But finding that perfectly pitched cider on the drink menu? Not so easy.

When craving a well-made meal and the drink that will perfectly enhance it, sometimes takeout is the best option — especially when it allows you to peruse your own cider cellar at home. We’ve put together a few fast-and-loose rules — with a little science mixed in — that can help you find the ideal selection of cider to pair with your veggie burrito, spicy pho, ribeye steak or dim sum. 

Pairing cider: “big idea” rules

First, those fast-and-loose rules. The following suggestions apply to almost all food and drink pairings but are no less applicable to cider and your favorite takeout. As you consider your meal each evening, use these generally accepted approaches to amplify all the best characteristics in a glass of cider, paired with all the deliciousness tucked in that brown takeout box. 

Match. A little thoughtfulness can go a long way when weighing in on your dish and the drink to go with it. Intense food can easily overpower a delicate cider and, likewise, a vibrant cider can crush more subtle flavors. So take weight and flavor into account: go big and bold with both drink and dish, or tread softly with both. 

Complement. All the fragrant apple goodness of cider, whether it’s white fruit blossom, juicy apple flesh, or tannic rindyness can bring out the best in a dish when picking up those same qualities. As cider has become more complex and offers notes of hops, oak or fruit additions, the opportunity to pair flavors gets ever broader. Just look for similar flavors in the cider and the dish to create a harmonious whole.

Contrast. This can be a little trickier, as it’s tied to the rudimentary taste sensations (sweet, sour, salty, bitter, umami) and challenges you to dig deep for an opposing flavor foil. The ultimate goal is for your selected cider to be the inverse of your takeout, which allows you to accentuate all the subtle flavors in both.

Cut. Pairing a zesty cider to cut through the richness and sheer weight in a takeout dish comes down to three big factors: carbonation, acidity and tannin. Carbonation can give your palate a gentle scrub leaving taste receptors fresh for every bite. Acidity is an all-over refresher making the dish continue to sing. And tannin is a heavyweight at breaking down protein to give your dish a continued lift.

Complete. Call this the “mind the gap” rule.  Size up your takeout meal and consider the flavors that it does not encompass. Now take a breath and look at which cider will fill the void. If you think it through, a well-made cider can complete a well-made dish by adding a missing piece — for instance, some good old-fashioned sweetness to a delicious savory dish.

“If it grows together, it goes together.” The most generalized rule hearkens back to an era when you drank what was fermented locally and ate what was produced locally. The magic of these pairings has echoed through time and is being beautifully revived currently. And it works! Grab a local cow’s milk cheese and give it a go with a cider pressed down the street — it likely won’t disappoint.

Paring cider: The “small-scale” rules

Everyone has their own favorite Friday night go-to to-go restaurant and, likewise, their perfect kick-off-your-work-shoes-and-crack-one-from-the-cellar cider. But how well (and how often) do these two play together? If you want to get the most out of the pairing, consider the key elements of the drink style and what drives the dish. Starting with the type of cider you’re craving, here you’ll find the potential compatibility to create a perfect pairing.

Acidic modern cider. Pairs well with all forms of cheesy goodness, as the acidity on the palate cuts clean through the richness of the dairy. All of your favorite appetizers will pair terrifically with a crisp, modern cider, so put in that order for mozzarella sticks, asiago and artichoke dip, and poutine.

Sweet modern cider. Pairs best with spicy food, as the sweetness in the cider contrasts with the heat in the dishes. If Thai food is your jam, grab up some Tom Yum or Pad Thai and open up a cider with some sweetness. If you rock Indian cuisine, then get that Rogan Josh or Matar Paneer and find a cider with a sweet fruit core to counter the spice.

Semisweet modern cider. Pairs best with BBQ, as the mild sweetness in the cider complements the molasses-based sauce, while the medium acidity cuts through the richness of the protein. The smokehouse is calling, so order in that quarter roast chicken and saucy half rack, with a side of not-too-sweet cider that has a little kick of bright acidity to square it all up.

Dry modern cider. Pairs well with fried food, as the crisp acidity and sparkling carbonation beat the weight of the food and leaves the palate refreshed. If you dig deep-fried wontons and pork lo mein for takeout, nothing works better with Chinese than a light and fresh dry cider. Likewise, a bucket of southern fried chicken and basket of salty fries is complemented perfectly with a bright and crisp modern cider.

Tannic heritage cider. Pairs best with rich protein, as the bitterness and acidity complement the dish by adding two elements not present: tannin helps to break down the protein, and acidity refreshes the palate to counteract the richness. If you’re craving steakhouse to take home, look no further than an heritage cider to pair perfectly with that deeply marbled ribeye or bacon-wrapped tenderloin.

Medium tannic heritage cider. Pairs well with rich pastas in sauce, as harmony is created by introducing acidity and a touch of bitterness to dishes that already have richness, saltiness and savory umami. Up for a lovely plate of Italian gnocchi or gnudi with your feet up? Feeling the call for puttanesca or pesto sauce? Reach for a heritage cider with a little tannin to balance out the big flavors from the boot.

Acidic heritage cider. Pairs best with briny seafood, as the acidity in the cider balances the saltiness in the dish. Additionally, the sweetness naturally inherent in seafood picks up the crisp fruit notes in the cider. Go for the full sushi or sashimi spread if you have a Japanese craving and a lovely Old World cider on hand. The crackle of tempura paired with an heirloom cider can take you to the next level, too.

Berry addition cider. Pairs well with marinated roasts, as the fruitiness of a berry cider works nicely with a savory dish. Thinking of bringing home beef wellington or steak and kidney pie? Nothing fits the bill better for British pub food than a wild blackberry addition cider to round out the dish and amplify all the tasty notes of both.

Citrus addition cider. Pairs best with lemon-laden dishes to complement the existing flavors. If it’s all Greek to you, then a citrus spiked cider is your go-to for that order of souvlaki and spanakopita. The herbal oregano notes provide a bright foil for the crisp citrus notes that exist in both the dish and the drink.

Stone fruit cider. Pairs well with the good ole salad bar, as the tender fruit notes pick up any sweet tones on the palate as well as contrasting any savory dairy or nut additions. It happens; if you’re feeling the need to go green and bring in a big salad, think about grabbing a stone fruit cider to complement or introduce those elements to your dish for a more elevated experience.

Hopped cider. Pairs best with rich protein and creamy dairy as well as citrus-spiked dishes. ¡Hola! Enter Mexican food, as the big hoppy aromas of citrus, floral and resin complement the lime-laden flavors from south of the border and contrast with the spicy protein base and creamy queso overlay. Enchiladas and tamales are the take-home match to be made with a mildly hoppy cider.

Barrel-aged cider. Pairs well with anything grilled, as the caramelization of sugars in the fire-roasted food mimic the vanilla as well as smoky, oaky notes in a barrel-aged cider. If you want to add another skewer of Brazilian grill to your order, just make sure you have an oak-aged cider on hand, as churrasco brings out all the best flavors in both the dish and the drink.

Spiced cider. Pairs best with desserts, as most spiced ciders utilize some element of baking seasoning which creates a delicious complement between dessert and drink. If the bakery is beckoning, then grab a piece of pie or slice of cake to go and pair it up with a cinnamon or nutmeg spiced cider to bring out the best in both.

This article original featured in Volume 18 of Ciddercraft Magazine.

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