By Alexandra Stark
Thankfully for you, the boss probably hired you for your ability to put him on fish and not because of your knowledge of fine dining. That said, there will be times when the boss and his family and friends will appreciate the finer touches in the culinary department. While the boss may not can you for serving an overdone, char-grilled hunk of tuna with a warm glass of Cabernet Sauvignon that has been open for a few days…but he’d probably be glad if you didn’t.
Our Captain’s Guide to pairing and preparing is a sportfishing culinary blueprint that focuses on how to best prepare fresh fish and how to optimize the dinner experience by pairing it with the best wine. A sportfishing boat makes catching fresh fish for dinner easy. In fact, the yellowfin or wahoo that hit the deck are the envy of chefs the world over—even the best restaurant in the world can’t get fresher fish than you can. The information below then provides you with the tools you need pair this fresh catch with the right type of wine. Whether you utilize this information for a surprise dinner for the boss or a romantic occasion with your significant other, it is a winning proposition.
We have enlisted some of the top minds in the world of fine dining to help us. Here they are:
Wesley True is headliner of the American culinary scene. He is a two-time semifinalist for the James Beard Award for best Chef in the South. The James Beard Award is the highest award for chefs in the United States. Wesley has been featured on the Food Network extensively. A native of Alabama, True’s specialty is southern coastal cuisine.
Ian Cauble is one of only 236 Master Sommeliers in the history of the world (the master sommelier exam was first given in 1969). In 2011, Ian won the gold medal for the ‘Best Young Sommelier in the World,’ taking first place as the TOP|SOMM in the United States the same year. In short, when it comes to wine Ian is an internationally renowned expert of the highest order.
Manny Frias is the sales and marketing director at Napa Valley’s Frias Family Winery. He is a competitive bass fisherman and expert in the mingling of wine with fishing experiences. He is also a very nice guy and knows how to create a good time.
Captain’s Guide to Wine Pairing
I can hear the questions now: How am I supposed to get the wine out of the box? Do you mean rum and Coke doesn’t go with everything? Are you sure I can’t drink this out of a Solo Cup?
Wine has the tendency to scare people off. Unlike cold beer, there are a few basic rules that govern how to drink it and what to pair it with. Without knowing this background, wine can be intimidating. These rules, however, are not difficult to learn or to execute. Knowing a bit about the basics can provide dinner guests not only with more enjoyment during their meal, but leave them impressed with your knowledge and your consideration.
Manny Frias Breaks down The Basics
The general rule about wine and fish is that you want to pair the acids in the wine to the fats in the fish. Say what? When talking to Manny Frias of Frias Family Vineyards – he broke it down so that even the deckhand can’t mess this up. Manny and his family have owned their property in Napa, California since 1977. In 1985, they planted five acres of vines. The Frias Family Winery has grown to include perhaps the finest Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, a small production red blend and the ever so popular Rose (the trendy pink-colored elixir that is pronounced “Rosay”).
Manny is a particularly engaging person to speak with. This became apparent when I had the pleasure of meeting him at the Emeril Lagasse Foundation’s Line, Vine and Dine Fishing/ Culinary event in Fort Lauderdale. Manny refers to fish that you can eat – regardless of species – as “edibles.” (Insert reference to the legalization of marijuana in California here).
He speaks swiftly and knowledgably about the challenge that most have with wine. “It can be intimidating – many people just never get that basic introduction to wine and get scared off,” Frias says. “How then, do you propose, creating a wine list for InTheBite readers whose wine knowledge runs the entire spectrum,” I asked. I thought I stumped him on that one. Nope. Manny eased into the conversation with a fluid answer. An answer that I wish I had tape recorded so I don’t have to reference my six pages of illegible notes that I took while on the phone.
Here is Manny Frias’ DIY Boat Wine List. Difficulty Level: Reely Easy. The next time you are provisioning the boat, keep this list in mind. It provides the basics for your very own sportfishing wine cellar. This list is a breakdown of particularly versatile wines that generally pair well with most anything from the sea.
- Rose – white wine made with red grapes, can have bubbles for your heavier fish (i.e. swordfish, mahi mahi, wahoo—big, meaty fish generally. Grilled octopus and rose is awesome). Recommendations: Azur Rose $32, Frias Rose, Lorenza Rose
- Champagne – universal, goes with everything!
- Chardonnay (in US)/ White Burgundy (French Chardonnay) – goes great with lighter fish that’s not really fatty: redfish, speckled trout, grouper, snapper and raw tuna, can be full-bodied and okay with a buttery or vanilla flavor.
Recommendations: Peter Michael Chardonnay, $130, Moon Tsai Chardonnay, $63
- Sauvignon Blanc – crisp, tastes of green apple and citrus—goes well with oysters, tuna, dorado—in its food application, Sauvignon Blanc is generally similar to Chardonnay.
Recommendations: Frias Sauvignon Blanc, $35, Azur Sauvignon Blanc $32, Matua Sauvignon Blanc, $12
- Montrachet – French white, more expensive chardonnay, similar in its pairing abilities.
- Pinot Noir/Red Burgundy – light bodied red wine tasting of earth, spice and black cherry—goes with nearly everything from the sea, except for oysters.
Recommendations: Peay Family Wines, $58, Freeman Wines, $50, Lando, $65
With all the beautiful wine options, no one will ask for a Bud. There is always one poor soul, however, that may make the honest, yet unforgivable mistake of asking for a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon. Manny boldly states that this is not a culture he is comfortable with.
The Advanced Course – Ian Cauble, Master Sommelier
If you have ever wanted to know what it is like to speak a wine savant, talk to Ian Cauble. Ian has quite the resume. It includes the credentials of MS (Master Sommilier) – this is the highest level of wine mastery possible. Ian is one of just over 200 master sommeliers in the entire world. In 2011 Ian was named ‘The Best Young Sommelier in the World under 35’ and was the star of the 2013 documentary “Somm.”
Ian co-owns the revolutionary web-based company Somm Select. The site sends out daily wine picks with a description and tasting notes written by Ian himself. The email also lists the price of the wine. Somm Select takes all the leg work out of wine selection for anyone and would be excellent for the captain or boat owner. You could even subscribe to the service without telling anyone and claim that all of the great wine pairings were your, or the deck hand’s, inspiration.
This ingenious company can create a custom wine list for your boat, gather the wines and hold them for you at your port of choice. Somm Select also allows for several membership options, including a blind tasting club, to receive sommelier-selected wines each month right to your doorstep. If it seems that this business is tailormade for the fishing industry, it very well may be. Ian’s business partner in Somm Select is Larry Drivon, a principal in the Maverick Boat and charter company in Costa Rica.
When it comes to enjoyment of drinking wine, Ian stressed the absolute importance of temperature and proper glass. He concludes that most red wine is served too warm and most white wine is too cold and with the improper glassware. When a Master Sommelier gives you a lesson on wine service, you really should listen.
A red must be served at 55-60 degrees Fahrenheit. A big, fruity red may be appropriate for service on the boat. Because the temperature is more likely to rise due to the summer sun, it is best to ensure that if you will be serving a red it is at proper temperature. Serving wine at the right temperature allows to it to taste the way it was made to taste. Using an ice bucket to keep your red chilled is perfectly acceptable. When drinking white wine, it must be cold, but not too cold – 45-55 degrees Fahrenheit to be exact. Ian suggests putting your white in the freezer for 10-12 minutes before service.
Captain’s Guide to Fish Preparation
Chef True was born and raised on the Gulf Coast. After studying and mastering his craft in NYC – Chef True worked in several of the top restaurants in The City. He then returned to Alabama where he opened a southern cuisine-style restaurant for which he was twice semi-finalist for the James Beard Award (the Emmy Awards for cooking) in 2011 and 2012. Wesley appeared on Bravo’s respected show Top Chef Season 13.
Chef True is a down-to-earth guy. He speaks with just a hint of a southern accent and has an obvious passion for his craft. He talked swiftly while explaining that there are a few basic rules that can make or break your preparation experience. Central to Wesley’s approach is the Japanese tradition of treating the fish gently and with respect. He highlighted that the preparation is not only about the seasonings and the temperature of the grill, but encompasses the holistic treatment of the fish from the time of catch to the time it is eaten.
Chef True recommends handling the fish with care, keeping it as cold as possible, and minimizing movement. Once the fish is in the boat and in the box, ice it thoroughly and keep it from bouncing all over the place on the ride in. Try not to beat it up when you are processing it, either.
When it comes to preparing fresh, high-quality seafood (like the contents of your fish box), True’s philosophy is marked by simplicity. He recommends letting the quality of the fish speak for itself. When you have a fresh tuna or dorado steak, you don’t need an intricate recipe or lots of marinades. True recommends using olive oil, salt, pepper and lemon juice. He recommends leaving the complex recipes to those with professional culinary training and a commercial kitchen – the same way a first-time fisherman might not want to deploy the kites.
True explains the importance of simplicity. “Cooking at home and cooking in restaurants are different animals,” he explains. From the power outputs of the burners and the ovens to the endless array of equipment, restaurants are equipped to do things that you simply can’t do cooking at home, much less on a sportfisher. “Keep it simple and easy. There is a lot of over-complication—marinades and the like, which really aren’t necessary.”
True prefers grilling his fish. Chef True reminds us that there is flavor in the char of the grill. This provides yet another reason to avoid getting too fancy. Serve the grilled fish with simple sides like steamed or grilled veggies and play off the flavors of the fish.
In conversation with Chef, it became apparent that many people, fishermen included, are never given proper knowledge or training on how to prepare a fish. If you plan to freeze the fish, do so as soon as possible (rather than eating as much as you can and freezing what you have left after four days). Frozen fish should be stored in clean, ready to use portions in vacuum-sealed packages. Chef True recommends keeping fish for a maximum of one month.
Captain’s Guide to Preparing – Pro Tips
- If you’re just learning to grill, you can apply a light coat of mayonnaise to help keep the fish from sticking.
- Don’t get too fancy – salt, pepper, extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice – that’s all you need. He also recommends fresh lemons, not the yellow lemon-shaped jar.
- Cook when the fish is at room temperature – high heat with a quick sear.
Chef Wesley True’s tip on how to season food – make plain mashed potatoes. Add salt, taste, add salt, taste – repeat until you can taste the flavor of the salt. Once you can master this technique and flavor by understanding the ratio of seasoning vs. portion of the food – you are ready for your own cooking show – or at least ready to serve and elegantly simple dinner for your guests.
Your boat gives you access to the best seafood you can get. The boat’s credit card, when properly harnessed, gives you access to the wines necessary to creating a dinner experience like no other. With fish and budget in hand, we hope that the Captain’s Guide to Pairing and Preparing will do the rest.