What do you think of when you visualise the drink beside your meal? Wine? Beer? Perfectly understandable. However, I want to pull on your coat about something here; have you ever matched a meal with a really great cup of coffee? I know, I know – you’re much more likely to go with something recommended by my wine-loving colleague, Honey Spencer, or by the Craft Beer boys – but hear me out; coffee can be a beautiful drink to balance and complement different dishes, due to its acidity and the unusual sensation of matching warmth with warmth. I’m not saying it goes with everything, but for my part in our great American season on JamieOliver.com, I thought I might put forward a few really choice food-and-coffee pairings.
Of course, it’s not just American season we’re celebrating, for a whole new year has landed. It’s that time when a great collective sigh of relief rises from the Western world. At last, the festivities are at an end!
I don’t know about you, but my instinctive disposition at this time of the year is throwing myself mouth-first into the most un-Christmassy things I possibly can. Deliver me, please, from being on the receiving end of one more whiff of cinnamon, one more crumb of shortcrust pastry, one more mention of booze-soaked fruit, one more drop of mulled wine and, for goodness’ sake, I don’t want to hear another peep about turkey. Love Christmas food as I do, by the end of December the extent to which my palette has become saturated by that suffocating myriad of festive spices, over-rich flavours and sugary ‘treats’ (I really call into question the legitimacy of calling them ‘treats’ after they’ve dominated the food world for over two months) is that, right now at least, I don’t see myself doing the same thing when the season comes around next year*. Really, what I’m longing for now are straightforward, simple pleasures.
One of the first things I return my attention to in the new year is coffee; almost a staple of modern life for some and, yet, something that’s unceremoniously left out in the cold over the festive season. During the November-December onslaught of sickeningly sweet, spiced drinks I have to say I notice myself missing coffee before anything else. I’m also personally not quite part of the ‘revitalise’ fresh-start crowd, either; in fact, I want meals that will act in stark contrast to the pomp of Christmas, and for that I turn to one of my favourite gastronomic institutions: the American diner.
The big pull of the diner, for me, is the unashamed marriage of food and coffee it allows. In this delightfully humble corner of the food world the two are not forced to be separate, as they are in almost every other area, but in fact encouraged to celebrate one another in what’s personally a perfect union. Once one puts aside the notion that coffee and food should be mutually exclusive, wonderful things can happen - and, on top of this, it can in fact be a great way to begin enjoying coffee without sugar, if you’re currently unable to enjoy your java without a spoon or two of the sweet stuff.
Whether the food is savoury or not, there’s little quite like the feeling of cutting through a rich, no-frills flavour with the hot, acidic loveliness of a strong cup of Joe, and let me tell you; once you’ve discovered that joy you’ll be unlikely to think of coffee in quite the same way again.
So, here they are; my own desert island all-time top five foods to eat with a steaming cup of coffee; funnily enough, they’re all dishes that wouldn’t be out of place on that diner booth table between the cast of Seinfeld.
Let’s start easy; even we in the UK know that it’s no jump-in-the-deep-end to accompany a hearty stack of pancakes with dark, strong coffee. When I was a young teenager I stayed with a few families around the state of Georgia and I swear, I ate this breakfast almost every morning. Admittedly it was the beginning of the end for the skinniness of my youth, but if enjoyed once in a while – perhaps as a celebration of the weekend, late on a Sunday morning – I’ll fervently defend it as a means of achieving a great day.
You’d be forgiven for thinking this choice is a little bizarre. Perhaps it’s the overpowering lack of acidity in this creamy dish but, try as I might, I can’t quite put my finger on why a hearty mac ‘n’ cheese works so beautifully alongside coffee; it just does. Try it, I implore you. You’ll thank me later.
This, one of my very favourite recipes, needs almost no explanation as a coffee companion; just close your eyes and think of the sticky, dark sweetness of this incredible dessert lingering upon your lips, and then imagine a long, intense draught of that wonderful bitterness from your cup washing it down. Heaven.
The downright regal pairing of burger and coffee is something that we in the UK haven’t quite grown to appreciate as I believe we should. Like mac ‘n’ cheese, it requires one to cast aside any prejudice about the pairing of warm, savoury food with a hot drink; something so unheard-of in the UK that even the thought of it rarely occurs. However, the wonderful thing about coffee – good coffee, anyway – is how cleansing the sharp, conquering taste can be against something rich and meaty; hence why it is, in my opinion, the perfect (non-beer) accompaniment to a hearty burger.
The number one spot in this list was always doomed to fall prey to nepotism, for my own personal favourite food to come out of the States is the Reuben sandwich – and it just so happens to also be my very favourite food to eat with a cup of coffee. The traditional Reuben is the hearty sandwich-fan’s Holy Grail; generous slabs of hot salt beef or pastrami (which is essentially the former, smoked), sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and the fabulous Russian or Thousand Island dressing (a spiced blend of ketchup and mayonnaise), all optimistically stuffed between two hefty slices of warm rye. It’s not a light option; you’ll often find they stack up higher than even the most zealous appetite could manage in single bites, and, naturally, Jamie’s twist is no exception. It incorporates a hot, fresh chilli and the peppery tang of watercress, which work wonders with the overwhelming meat-and-cheese combo – as does accompanying it with hot black coffee. Here, truly, is a sandwich that is so hefty a meal that it merits the mercilessly refreshing qualities of a cup of Joe.
So, there you have it! If you’re already a fan of coffee with food, voice your support below, and if – you never know – this post has made you curious about trying it, do let me know how it goes. Thanks, see you next time and yadda yadda yadda.
*Obviously I’m being dramatic and will without a doubt be doing the same thing next year.