Fast food does not have to be a quick meal you grab when you're on the road or too exhausted to cook. Whether you're indulging in a Big Mac or a box of Krispy Kremes, fast food is tailor-made to get your taste buds dancing with joy. So, it's high time we started treating it with the same consideration as fancy tapas or tenderloin when it comes to alcohol pairing. Instead of viewing fast food as a low-brow craving that you have to indulge in while sitting in your car or alone at home, you can elevate it to a meal as fancy as the tasting menu at a five-star restaurant simply by adding a carefully selected cocktail or a fine wine.
If you aren't a mixologist or sommelier, this is a daunting proposition. While casual foodies might know that red meat is often served with bold reds like cabernet sauvignon, and white fish is often served with light whites like pinot grigio, there is a lot less tradition and expertise to go on when it comes to pairing upscale alcohol with, say, a corn dog or chicken nuggets. Luckily, we've spoken with two award-winning mixologists and a sommelier to reveal exactly how to elevate those Chipotle burritos and McFlurries like a pro.
Chicken Nuggets Need A Champagne Cocktail
Chicken nuggets are a pillar of fast food. Crunchy on the outside and juicy on the inside, they are the perfect comfort food for eaters of all ages, and every fast food joint worth its salt has a version of them on the menu. A bright, bubbly drink is the ideal accompaniment because its effervescence and acidity cut through the grease. You could grab any sparkling alcoholic beverage, but Lynnette Marrero, an award-winning bartender, Masterclass instructor, and Chief Mixologist of Delola, a line of spritzes she created in partnership with Jennifer Lopez, told Mashed that a champagne cocktail is the best option. Specifically, you should be reaching for a French 75.
So powerful that it was named after a firearm (the Canon de 75 modèle 1897, to be exact), the French 75 is made with gin, simple syrup, lemon juice, and champagne. It was created during World War I, when a stiff drink named after one of the most lethal weapons on the battlefield was particularly appealing, but is just as delicious (and potent) more than a century later. The reason it works so well with chicken nuggets, aside from its acidity and effervescence, is its intensity. Chicken nuggets have a mild, uncluttered flavor profile that is begging for something more. A French 75 is not only a classy accompaniment, but one that will pack in all the flavor that the nuggets are lacking.
Go Classy With Fries
Arguably the crowning glory of the entire fast food industry, fries thrive on simplicity. Crunchy, tender, and salty, they are the backbone of any fast food order, and demand their own beverage pairing. If you've never taken your experimentation farther than dipping them in a milkshake or washing them down with a can of Sprite, we're with you. However, there is a drink that will put this titan of fast food in the swanky company it deserves. Whether you're opting for Chick-fil-A's waffle fries, Popeye's Cajun fries, or McDonald's consistently flawless, gimmick-free regular fries, Lynnette Marrero has one piece of advice: pair them with a gin martini.
Martinis are shorthand for sophistication. With nothing but gin and vermouth garnished with an olive or a twist of lemon, they prove, just as fries do, that simplicity is often harder to get right than complexity. Fries must be cooked to perfection in order to taste delicious. One slip-up and they will be oily, bland, or — worst of all — soggy. Martinis work on a delicate balance of ratios and are sensitive to the slightest alterations in ingredient quality or mixing technique. Some experts even disparage the practice of shaking rather than stirring them because it bruises the alcohol. Pairing a serving of perfectly executed fries with an expertly mixed martini is an experience everyone should have. With the crunchy saltiness of the fries and the clean sharpness of the cocktail, they are the perfect match.
Cheese Fries Deserve Their Own Pairing
We don't want to split hairs here, but we firmly believe that cheese fries are a whole other ballgame to regular fries, and therefore deserve their own alcohol pairing. For one thing, cheese adds a distinctive umami flavor that intensifies the mildness of regular fries. For another, it provides a different texture, adding a soft chewiness that detracts from the fries' crunchiness. It also brings another layer of richness that needs to be balanced.
For these reasons, cheese fries are best paired with a powerful, fruity sparkling wine, such as those that come from New World regions like California. The acid in these wines will cut through the richness of the cheese, while the bubbles will offer a palate cleanser to combat the coating that full-fat dairy leaves in the mouth. Meanwhile, the fruitiness of the wine holds its own against the umami flavor of the cheese, creating a powerful sweet and savory contrast that will make this seemingly simple pairing a culinary revelation.
Fast Food Tacos Need Tequila
The quality of fast food tacos varies greatly, and even the best ones can't claim to be anything other than a loose interpretation of Mexican cuisine. However, there's no denying that sometimes, the unique flavors and textures of these tacos hit the spot, and nothing else will satisfy the craving. Whether you're partial to the Overachiever Taco at Moe's Southwest Grill or prefer to stick to Taco Bell's Crunchy Taco, there's an easy way to make the meal even better: tequila.
As Lynnette Merraro told us, a margarita or a Paloma are the best drinks to pair with fast food tacos. A margarita, which blends the bright crispness of tequila with the citrusy tartness of lime juice and the sweetness of triple sec and agave nectar, balances the saltiness of tacos and rises to meet their spiciness. A Paloma, which combines tequila and grapefruit soda, has a more subtle flavor profile, providing a light effervescence to the meal that takes the edge off the spiciness and grease of the tacos.
Corn Dogs Need Bourbon
Corn dogs are often left out of the fast food conversation in favor of fries, burgers, and burritos. However, as any corn dog fan will tell you, this fairground favorite has it all. It's basically a mashup of a hotdog and cornbread, and is therefore sweet, saturated with salt, bready, and juicy in the perfect measure. It might not be the most popular menu item at every fast food chain, but it's reason enough to go out of your way to Sonic or Culver's to get your corn dog fix.
When it comes to alcohol pairings, corn dogs call for something special. According to Stefan Huebner, the award-winning bartender behind Charlotte's members' only cocktail bar Dot Dot Dot, the only drink you need with corn dogs is bourbon. "I think a traditional whiskey, sour or New York [...], would be absolutely fantastic with the sweetness of a corn batter and the umami of the hotdog," he told Mashed, adding that it "goes back to the old saying [of] if it grows together, it goes together."
Pizza Tastes Better With Fine Wine
When you're having a movie night or inviting a group of friends over and don't feel like putting in a day of intense labor in the kitchen, ordering pizza is the go-to option. There are plenty of pizza chain options to choose from, some are better than others, and there are plenty of toppings to consider. Because of this, there is no one-size-fits-all beverage pairing for fast food pizza, but in general, you'll be best served by heading to the wine aisle. Regardless of what type of pizza you get, it is probably going to be full of grain-based carbohydrates that sit heavily in your stomach. Beer, which is often grain-based as well, leaves you with a similarly heavy feeling, and together, they will sit like a rock in your stomach.
Wine, in contrast, has tannins, a compound that provides a bitter flavor and astringency that does not double down on the heavy carbohydrate content of pizza. Its acidity also contrasts with the richness of the toppings. A spice-heavy red wine, such as certain types of Syrah and Tempranillo, has the tannin content and boldness to combat a pizza full of flavor-packed toppings, though some may find it too heavy and rich in its own right. If you want something lighter, champagne (or an alternative sparkling wine) has all the acidity and effervescence needed to slice straight through a cheesy, topping-laden pie without the heaviness of red wine.
Spike A McFlurry, Frosty, Or Slush Like A Pro
Every fast food order needs a chilled dessert, and chains have been upping their game over the years to try to keep up with the competition. But you know what will really take those icy treats to the next level? Booze. In this case, we aren't talking about pairing the two. You wouldn't want to sip on a cocktail while drinking a Slush, or knocking back a bourbon while enjoying a McFlurry. Instead, you should be mixing them.
Given the range of flavors and consistencies in fast food frozen treats, the best alcohol pairings vary widely. For chocolate-based options such as a Choco Brownie Extreme Blizzard from DQ or a McFlurry with Oreos from McDonald's, choose a liquor that has rich, caramel flavors, such as bourbon. Rum, with its sweet, often spicy flavor pairs well with almost any dessert, while Bailey's Irish Cream will double down on all the sweet, creamy, chocolate notes.
For fruit-based frozen drinks, such as Chick-fil-A's Frosted Lemonade, McDonald's Frozen Fanta, or any of Sonic's slushes, you'll need something different. Instead of a rich liquor with notes of caramel, opt for something crisp and bright. Tequila tastes particularly delicious with citrus-based drinks, while vodka offers a clean, neutral finish for when you just want the burn of alcohol without added complexity.
Enjoy A Bold Red With Your Big Mac
Burgers are the quintessential fast food, and many a chain has staked its entire existence on the quality of its patties. So, whether you're a die-hard fan of Big Macs or will eat nothing but In-N-Out burgers, we're here to make your favorite fast food treat even better. To find out which drink pairs best with a classic hamburger, we spoke to Vanessa Price, the bestselling author of "Big Macs & Burgundy," sommelier, and owner of the surf-and-turf haven Mavericks Montauk.
"A pairing for the classic cheeseburger is all about the accouterments as well as the bread," she explained. "If this is something with a simple patty and cheese situation, and a softer toasted brioche style bun, I would probably go for something with a softer velveteen tannin and a strong fruit profile like an Argentine Malbec." On the other hand, she continued, "[i]f the dressings also include lettuce, tomato and onion, all of which have some level of sharpness to them from bitterness and acidity, and perhaps a bun with more earthy rye or hearty whole-grain type flavors, I would probably go with a bigger [style] of red and a chewier tannic profile. For example, Left Bank Bordeaux would be superb with a deluxe cheese burger."
Have A Cocktail With Your Krispy Kremes
Doughnuts might not qualify as a complete meal (though we think that's debatable), but they still deserve their own beverage pairing. As a quick and easy dessert, you could do much worse than a box of classic Krispy Kremes, or, if you're lucky, Bacon Maple Bars from Voodoo Doughnuts. Cakey, sugary, and dense with the faintest taste of frying oil, doughnuts are in a league of their own and simply can't be replaced with other bready treats. When it comes to beverage pairings, we're all thinking the same thing: coffee. But sometimes, you want to wind down with a doughnut, not ramp up, and that's where Lynnette Merraro's suggestion comes in.
"In this case you want something that has some acidity to cut through the sweet and the fat," she told us. "I love a cocktail like a Bourbon Manhattan here or a cocktail that uses [oloroso] or amontillado Sherry, like a sherry cobbler!" The bourbon, she explained, has caramel, vanilla, and roasted apple notes that pair beautifully with the flavors of a classic doughnut, while the fortified and aromatized wines have acidity to cut through the fat of the doughnuts and notes of baking spices that will complement their cakey flavors.
Fried Chicken Calls For Bubbles
Like many foods associated with the South, fried chicken has gone from being dismissed by the culinary elite to being the darling of swanky restaurants around the country. And while it's arguable that spending $30 on fried chicken at an upscale establishment rather than a few dollars at Popeyes or Chick-fil-A is worth the money, it is indisputable that this crunchy, juicy miracle of a menu item deserves the classiest presentation possible. And what could be more classy than champagne? We're not just suggesting it because it's fancy, either. The experts we talked to were clear: this pairing is a match made in heaven.
"Champagne and fried chicken is one that I will forever yell from the rooftops," Vanessa Price told us. "For this Kentucky girl, there's just no replacing the toasty, brioche yummy goodness of both the crunchy skin of the chicken, as well as the classic profile of a good champagne. The racy acidity cuts right through the fattiness of this classic fast food go to and the bubbles ax is a squeegee that cleans your mouth after each sipping bite, leaving you primed for the next round of delight."
Stefan Huebner agreed, saying that "they balance each other's high points," and noting that, of course, "[b]ubbles make everything better." He also pointed out that there's no reason to spring for pricy fried chicken, saying "I also love the highbrow [lowbrow], dichotomy of inexpensive fried chicken and expensive champagne."
Try Something Different For A Fried Fish Sandwich
Light and crisp white wines are the most common beverage pairing for white fish because they do not overpower the fish's delicate flavor. It's a tried-and-true formula that you can reliably turn to when you're not sure what else to do, and you probably won't be disappointed by the results. However, fried fish is not the same as oven-roasted sole or a buttery pan-fried filet of halibut. With its crispy, fried texture, pillowy, bready bun, and sharp sauces, you need something more specific, and if you'd like to spice things up a bit, Vanessa Price has an unusual and delicious suggestion.
"In my book 'Big Macs & Burgundy,'" she told us, "I pair McDonald's filet-o-fish with an Austrian Blaufrankisch. Most people might be surprised by the choice of a red wine, but if it is a lighter style with fresh tannin and bright acidity and pretty fruit, it can pair well with the fried white fish and softer cheese and bread profile. Plus the tang of the tartar sauce folds in perfectly."
Add A Shot To Your Frappuccino
There's a lot going on in a Starbucks Frappuccino, so much so that the coffee element is practically undetectable, unless you're opting for an item in the Creme range, which has no coffee at all. From Peppermint White Chocolate to Chestnut Praline, there is something for everyone, but one ingredient that you won't find is alcohol. This is all well and good if you're grabbing a Frappuccino before work, but if we're being honest, these drinks are overflowing with dessert potential, and a little shot of alcohol is all it needs to put it into after-dinner territory. We asked Lynnette Merraro to weigh in on the perfect boozy mix-ins for these decadent drinks, and she suggested two versatile options.
"This is where [r]um and sweeter whiskies come into play," she advised. "Coffee [complements] those spirits well." She also pointed out that the slight iciness of Frappuccinos can handle the caramel, vanilla, and chocolate notes that you get from rum and whiskey as well. When mixed into a Frappuccino, they create a luxurious drink that is akin to boozy ice cream or a richer, creamier take on an espresso martini.
Nachos And Chardonnay Are Surprisingly Harmonious
Nachos can be a complete meal unto themselves. Depending on where you get them, the standard corn chips and cheese might be accompanied by beans, tomatoes, lettuce, onions, corn, guacamole, sour cream, and more. If you love nachos but aren't sure where to get them, you're in luck, because a lot more fast food chains have nachos on the menu than you might think. Taco Bell, Del Taco, Jack in the Box, and Taco Johns are just the tip of the iceberg, so the next time you're craving a crunchy, cheesy pile of deliciousness, you probably won't have to travel far to get it. Nor will you have to travel far to find the perfect alcohol pairing, because, as Vanessa Price explained, nachos taste delicious with a certain category of wine that you can find at most liquor stores.
"California Chardonnay and nachos are a foodie match made in heaven," she told us. "Both are rich, salty, umami-driven delights. And the bigger style body holds up to all the toppings you could possibly throw at it. Plus the cheese that we usually do with nachos complements the creaminess of a classic California Chardonnay."
Read the original article on Mashed.