Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Ajo Blanco (White Gazpacho) & Sorachi Ace

With a sticky, humid 86 degrees, Summer officially marched into Chicago this weekend.
Though, I'm sure these temperatures will feel mild as the Summer progresses, today it felt
HOT!  And in the restaurant's kitchen, with its roaring ovens and sizzling grills, it felt even
HOTTER.  I dragged home, viscous and fuzzy headed and craving something cool and
refreshing.  A good beer, obviously ... and Gazpacho!

Gazpacho, as many know, is the chilled soup originating from the Andalusian region of Spain.  Originally ground with mortar and pestle and consisting of only olive oil, stale bread and water, gazpacho was a peasant food, nourishing the parched palettes of laborers toiling in Spain's citrus groves and olive orchards.

Today there are many varieties of Gazpacho ranging from the traditional made with tomatoes and peppers to the less conventional make with ingredients like avocado and watermelon.  Made well and with quality ingredients, I like them all but in my own kitchen, tend to lean towards the more traditional.  Ajo Blanco or "White Gazpacho", usually associated with Malaga, is made primarily of cucumbers and almonds.  Its one of those magical foods that manages to be exceptionally light and refreshing but also utterly decadent.  And it pairs strikingly well with a good Saison like the Sorachi Ace from Brooklyn Brewery.

It is always important to use the very best ingredients you can possibly find/afford but especially so with Gazpacho.  Because the ingredients remain raw, their flavor subtleties are very pronounced.  A good, artisan bread versus one from the grocery store shelf (swathed in plastic and riddled with preservatives) can mean the difference between a great Gazpacho and one that tastes a bit like store.  I scored some handsome cucumbers from the farmers market (picked from the vine that very morning!) and a nice baguette from Little Goat Bakery.  The Greek yogurt is FULL FAT, organic and delicious.   Use low fat if you absolutely must but please, please don't use non fat.  Ever.  It lacks in flavor and texture and just isn't good (and often it's teeming with hidden additives you don't want to eat anyway).  

Ajo Blanco

1 1/3 C. Greek style yogurt
1/3 C.  sherry vinegar
1/4 C. almonds 
1/4 C. olive oil
2 C. toasted bread
1 C. chicken stock (if you make your own, it will be better!)
2 C. sliced cucumbers (english style)
3 cloves garlic
2 Tbsp. salt
I Tbsp. yogurt

2 Tbsp. oil
2 Tbsp. mint
3 Tbsp. fine diced cucumber
3 Tbsp. fine diced watermelon

  • Pre heat oven to 400 degrees
  • Toss almonds in 1 Tblsp olive oil.  Lay on a sheet tray and toast for 10 minutes until dark brown and aromatic (Checking regularly to avoid over cooking)
  • Tear bread into small pieces.   Toast on a sheet tray until golden brown (approximately 10-15 minutes)
  • Place all ingredients except the oil in a blender and puree until smooth
  •  Keeping the blender on low, slowly pour the oil in to incorporate and keep a smooth texture throughout.

  • Pour Gazpacho into a wide lipped or other soup bowl and garnish with mint, cucumber and watermelon 
  • Whole slivered almonds and rustic croutons could also work nicely as a garnish.  Traditional Ajo Blanco is often served with chilled grapes.  Here is a great recipe for pickled grapes which I've always thought might be fun too.  The possibilities are fairly infinite - improvise and have fun! 

Pairing Notes

Brooklyn Brewery Sorachi Ace

Saison 7.6% ABV

This beer pours a bright straw color with a creamy tight head of foam.   The aromatics tend to be lightly sweet from the malts with strong lemon, spice and black pepper notes.  Its flavor is a nice lemony fresh spice blend with a very refreshing drinkability.  Also the high carbonation makes for a bright creamy finish. 

This pairing is a great example of bridging - a way to highlight subtle contrasts in flavor that end up elevating each other in complementary ways.  The toasty bread and almond flavors of the gazpacho are highlighted by the lemony hoppiness the beer gives off.  Conversely, the creamy tartness of the soup adds depth and body to the beer.  Meanwhile, the crisp finish of the beer lightens the dense richness of this Gazpacho.