Everyone loves a good glass of tequila with a plate of chips and salsa. But tequila’s complex and nuanced flavours mean it can pair surprisingly well with a variety of foods that may never have seemed like a natural fit –– like the banana on your countertop, for instance. We tapped chefs and bartenders from some of our favourite spots across the country to give us their suggestions for their most delightful, out-of-the-box tequila pairings. By Asonta Benetti
Expert-approved guide on how to pair tequila with food
“Try an añejo with Kentucky Fried Chicken; that hot, crispy skin, with the combination of oil and spices combined with sipping the añejo with one rock in it, is ambrosia and still one of my favourites.” – Paul Sauter, bar director, The Aviary and The Office, Chicago
Peanut butter, banana, and bacon sandwiches
“For something sweet – peanut butter, banana, and bacon finger sandwiches paired with an extra añejo. The sweetness of the banana and peanut butter with the meaty, saltiness of the bacon works so well with the vanilla, caramel flavour and finish of the extra añejo.” –– Paul Sauter
“Acid –– citrus specifically –– is a very common pairing with all categories of tequila because of the way it revives the agave on your palate and balances out the proof. I like to find unusual sources for that acid to pair with it – the malic acid found in apples, acetic acid found in vinegar and tartaric acid found in grapes or even potatoes.” –– Michael Boomhower, executive chef, The Danforth Portland ME
Smoked beef cheek
“Añejo tequila starts to bring on the sweetness of the barrel, reminiscent of brandy or cognac, both of which go great with meats. We smoke beef cheeks over añejo barrel wood chips, use añejo in the braise, and then spritz charred onions with añejo, sherry vinegar and tamarind.” –– Matt Carter, chef/owner, The Mission, Phoenix
“I love playing around with banana and tequila, especially when banana helps to add a dimension of sweetness and can help temper the bite of a hotter, unaged tequila.” –– Jonnie Long, head bartender, Death & Co, Denver
“Tequila, which presents as a highe acid spirit, was born for charcuteries and tapas. The funky, vegetal nature of Lowlands tequila and the sharp, citrus notes of Highlands tequila –– along with the natural perceived salinity and mineralogy –– pairs perfectly with cheese and olives. Cured meats, salty and fatty olives, nuts and cheeses along with jams, jellies, honeycomb; the options are endless.” –– Aaron DeFeo, Co-Owner, Little Rituals, Phoenix
“I love tequila with sushi and raw fish. Dutch Yellowtail with a Highlands tequila make a beautiful pairing; the sweet, buttery fish compliments the soft minerality and fruitiness of the tequila in a way that elevates every note of flavour. For a richer, oilier fish like salmon or tuna, I like to go with a Lowlands tequila; the fresh, almost citrusy flavour of the fish cuts through the spicy earthiness of the agaves grown in the rich, volcanic soil.” –– Dustin Fox, beverage director, Flagship Restaurant Group, Omaha NE
Aged gouda and manchego
“For a reposado, I would suggest aged gouda, with the cheese providing smokey, cooked milk notes, and the tequila bringing a light, uplifting quality to the pairing. For an añejo, try manchego, because it’s bittersweet, creamy, and buttery –– it really emphasises the wood barrel notes of the tequila.” –– David Tyda, co-owner, BARCOA Agaveria, Phoenix AZ
“Tequila pairs beautifully with chocolate; I enjoy drinking a dram of quality tequila alongside a variety box of chocolates. When pairing tequila and chocolate candies, tequila will taste mildly different based on the type of chocolate you are tasting, with higher cocoa percentages leaning more into the coffee and savoury notes, and lower lending toward more cooked agave and citrus notes.” –– Ryan Williams, bar lead, Poka Lola Social Club and Kachina Cantina, Denver CO
“Marine inspired dishes come to mind. Octopus is a great combination with tequilas that are produced using earthen pits, which smoke the agaves before maceration. This smokey, traditional style of making tequila is quite delicious paired with the grilled octopus.” –– Javelle Taft, head bartender, Death & Co, New York City
“I really like the combo of steak grilled over wood or charcoal and tequila,because the natural smokiness from the wood and charcoal is subtle enough to enhance and follow the flavours from an aged tequila. Sipping on some great añejo and enjoying a ribeye is a fantastic way to spend the evening.” –– Benjamin Maides, culinary director, Flagship Restaurant Group, Omaha NE
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