Thursday, June 16, 2011

Venezuelan Arepas with Reina Pepiada and Pollo Mechado Paired with 2009 Benziger Family Winery Carneros Chardonnay

2009 Benziger Family Winery Carneros Chardonnay with Reina Pepiada and Pollo Mechado Arepas

My last assignment in the US Coast Guard was as the Coast Guard Attaché in Venezuela.  I lived in Caracas for three years, travelled throughout Venezuela, and was introduced to a number of great foods.  In general, Venezuelan food is not terribly distinctive (Venezuelans enjoy food from around the world, and like any major metropolitan areas, Caracas features a broad variety of international foods), but there are some real indigenous gems nonetheless.  The best of Venezuelan food comes from the grill (parilla), street food, and special holiday dishes.

Pollo Mechado

The food featured in today’s pairing is a Venezuelan staple – Arepas.  Arepas are the very tasty distant cousin of the hamburger roll (ok, they are not even remotely related, but it is helpful in getting your head around the idea of an arepa).  Arepas are made with corn flower and water, grilled to a slight crisp on the out shell, and cooked through in the oven.  Sliced in half, or slit on one side and opened for stuffing, Arepas are the backbone of Venezuelan street food, and are stuffed with just about anything imaginable.

Reina Pepiada

For this meal, I decided to make two of my favorites for stuffing the arepas; Reina Pepiada and Pollo Mechado.  The easy way to understand reina pepiada is to think of chicken salad with avocados.  The flavor is so intensely satisfying, I am truly surprised I had not experienced this phenomenal combination before living in Venezuela.

Pollo Mechado is similarly simple, and nearly as tasty (just my opinion).  Pollo Mechado is shredded baked (or grilled) chicken which is supported by a sautéed mixture of onions, peppers, and garlic.  The chicken is keeping good company.

Garlic onion and peppers-1

Neither the reina pepiada or pollo mechado are particularly strong flavors – think of the warm, pleasant flavors of comfort food – Venezuelan style.  With these mild flavors in mind, I chose the 2009 Benziger Family Carneros Chardonnay with the intent of complimenting the flavors in both arepas while trying to avoid overwhelming them.  The arepas did not require a wine with a high acidity, fruit, or sweetness to form a balance, so I thought the Chardonnay would be a good bet.  And for the record, if you were to do this in true Venezuelan style, the wine would be pushed to the side, and you would open a bien frio polarcita.

2009 Benziger Family Winery Carneros Chardonnay-1

The 2009 Benziger Family Carneros Chardonnay is a described by these tasting notes from the Benziger Family Winery:

“Our Carneros Chardonnay is a bright, clean wine with excellent balance of fruit and structure. In this vintage, flavors of ripe peach and pear are followed by notes of soft vanilla. Barrel aging contributes to a round, satisfying mouthfeel with very subtle oak flavor.”

I would have written my own description, but these tasting notes describe it well.  My only additions would be to say that the fruit flavors are moderate, but well balanced with the finishing hints of vanilla.  The oak flavor is similarly subtle and well balanced with the fruit and vanilla flavors.  At $10 per bottle for a wine produced under certified sustainable farming methods, this is an exceptional value.

2009 Benziger Family Winery Carneros Chardonnay-3

Chef Sue (my best critic) was extremely happy with both the arepas and the wine.  However, she rated the paring as only “good.”  Chef Sue said she would have preferred something with a bit more acidity, or bolder fruit (or both).  Personally, I was very satisfied with the pairing.  While I will agree with Chef Sue that the wine did not particularly enhance any of the elements of the arepas, I would emphasize that the wine did not overpower or detract from the mild flavors of the arepas.  Too much of anything (acid, fruit, sweetness) could have easily overwhelmed the arepas.

Overall, Chef Sue and I declared the pairing a success, and will certainly be making more gastronomic visits to memory lane in Venezuela.

Recipes

Arepas

Arepas

Ingredients

  • 2 cups pre-cooked cornmeal flour (Harina P.A.N. is the best)
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 cups boiling water
  • Vegetable oil

Arepas-1

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 400ºF.
  2. In a large bowl, mix together the cornmeal and salt. Pour in the boiling water and mix with a spoon until fully combined and without lumps. If it is too wet and sticks to you fingers, gradually add more flower. If it is too dry, add more water. Cover and let rest for 5 to 10 minutes.
  3. Wet your hands and make a ball out of some dough. Press the ball into a patty. The goal is to get a patty that tis 3 to 4 inches in diameter and about 1/2 inch thick. Keeping your hands wet makes the process much easier.
  4. Heat a couple tablespoons of vegetable oil in a sauté pan over medium-high heat. Sauté the patties to form a light brown crust and flip to brown the opposite side.
  5. When all the patties are browned, transfer them to a sheet pan and bake in the oven for about 20 minutes or until they sound a bit hollow when you tap them.
  6. Slice the arepas in half lengthwise, or slit about half way to form a pocket. Scoop out the remaining moist/loose dough in the middle, stuff and serve.

Reina Pepiada

Ingredients

  • 1 lb skinless chicken breasts
  • 3 avocados (diced)
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/2 medium onion diced
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Preparation

  1. Preheat oven to 400
  2. Season chicken breasts with salt and pepper, place on sheet pan and place in oven for 9 minutes.
  3. Turn the chicken and continue in oven for another 9 minutes.
  4. Remove the chicken from the oven and allow to cool.
  5. When cool enough to handle, shred the chicken breasts.
  6. Combine and mix the shredded chicken, avocados, mayonnaise, and onion. Fundamentally, this is chicken salad with the addition of avocados. Feel free to vary the amount of mayonnaise to achieve the consistency you prefer. (Add some cilantro to kick up the flavor a bit – I love it, but it is not authentic Venezuelan)
  7. Season to taste and stuff into arepas.

Pollo Mechado

Ingredients

  • 1 lb skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 medium onion diced
  • 1 red bell pepper finely diced
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 4 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste.

Preparation

  1. Preheat oven to 400
  2. Season chicken breasts with salt and pepper, place on sheet pan and place in oven for 9 minutes.
  3. Turn the chicken and continue in oven for another 9 minutes.
  4. Remove the chicken from the oven and allow to cool.
  5. When cool enough to handle, shred the chicken breasts.
  6. In a sauté pan or skillet, sauté onions, pepper and garlic in two tablespoons of vegetable oil
  7. When onions are translucent, add the chicken and two more tablespoons of oil. Reduce heat to medium and continue to sauté for 2 minutes stirring will to combine all ingredients.
  8. Season to taste and stuff into arepas.  Top with grated queso quayunes, queso fresco, or other mild/soft white cheese.

2009 Benziger Family Winery Carneros Chardonnay with Reina Pepiada and Pollo Mechado Arepas-2

In vino veritas, buen provecho.

Craig

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