Port and Food

Every cook has their favourite magic ingredients that can be relied on to give a dish an extra dimension. Anchovies are one, balsamic vinegar is another and Port is another.

Does this sound like a recipe for domestic disaster, a way of turning the kitchen into a battle ground for custody of the decanter? To maintain domestic harmony, keep a bottle of Ruby Port in the fridge just for cooking. But not too many nips on the side, mind.

Port is useful in cooking due to its sweetness and robust fruit driven characteristics. It’s a natural pick-me-up for game dishes, but adding a slug of Port to the juices of roasting beef or lamb works too. The British (and indeed, the Germans, the French, the Persians..) have always liked the combination of savoury meat and sweet fruit. Port as a seasoning in cooking falls simply and subtly into that tradition.

Then there are the sauces based on Port, where it’s not just an invisible improver but a key ingredient. And then the desserts, where Port gives a grown up dimension and an added silkiness. The trick, as ever, is not to overdo it. Port in the kitchen is best kept slightly mysterious. If your guests start asking if it’s LBV, or Tawny they can taste, it’s time to rein it back!
Drinking Port with food is another matter. It’s not a question here of drinking the wine you cooked with: a glass of LBV with beef will be too sweet, too alcoholic.  Keep it for the dessert. Tawnies, however, can be good with savouries, duck liver paté, or even Chinese Peking Crispy Duck make the most delicious accompaniments to a glass of Aged Tawny.
The traditional pairing to Vintage Port are Stilton, and/or walnuts. There’s some sound sense here. Stilton is a powerful, salty flavour that few wines can stand up to: most dry red table wines are not very nice with Stilton.
But Port has the weight and the sweetness to cope. And walnuts? The slight bitterness of those tannic skins brings a pleasingly acerbic edge to the marriage.