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Spicy Chicken Fingers Wine Pairing

In order to accurately pair food to wine and spirits, all parties need to know every single ingredient in the dish first.  If there is a single ingredient that is missing, the wine or spirit pairing suggestion will simply not work.  A bad pairing can result in searing acidity, a burning sensation or dull flavors.  Yuck!  But when the right pairing comes along and you taste food and wine that’s really in harmony… life becomes perfect!  I personally do a happy dance. (There will be no video of that.  Ever.) One example of a great pairing is chicken fingers with Champagne. This wine’s acidic bubbles cut through the greasiness of the fried chicken, and the slight hardiness of the chicken matches the body and mouth feel of Champagne.  Finally, the saltiness from the chicken finger.  Still, even this perfect pairing can be destroyed by the addition of just one ingredient. That one ingredient is buffalo sauce.

Buffalo sauce brings an added zestiness and slight spicy element to the chicken fingers and the new flavor profile no longer matches with Champagne.  The added spice conflicts with the searing acidity, and the zestiness from buffalo sauce disrupts the mouthfeel of the Champagne.  With this added ingredient, we need to find a new wine to pair with this dish.  Let’s go ahead and make the chicken fingers first.

Recipe:

  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup gluten free flour*
  • 1 oz. bread crumbs
  • 6 chicken tenders*
  • 2 oz buffalo sauce
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste

You’ll also need two plates for coating (one for egg and one for flour/breadcrumbs and seasoning) and a frying pan (for obvious reasons).

*I use chicken tenders because they’re more tender (surprise!) than breast meat, they require less prep work, and they cook more consistently, and I opted for gluten free flour for this recipe because it results in a crispier coating.

Directions:

First prepare your dipping stations. In the first plate, beat together your egg and buffalo sauce. On the second plate, combine the flour and breadcrumbs along with salt and pepper for seasoning. Coat the chicken tenders by dipping them first in the egg, then into the flour/breadcrumb mixture.  Shake off the excess, then sauté the chicken tenders in extra virgin olive oil over medium heat for about 5 minutes on each side or until cooked through.

Total time to Prepare:  15-20 minutes

Serving Size:  6 chicken fingers

The coating, once bitten into, makes its presence known then gives way to the chicken finger itself, which comes out flavored with a noticeable but not overpowering amount of spice and tangy flavor. The chicken’s light texture requires an equally light to medium-bodied style of wine.

The Approach:  Find a wine that complements the basic qualities of the chicken fingers as well as the new spicy edge.

Let’s begin with red wine.  We have to be careful because drying tannins and saltiness conflict with one another.  We can rule out Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, and Sangiovese for that reason.  Malbec, full bodied but without the same tannic structure as those other reds, has an alcoholic warmth which doesn’t mesh with the spiciness of the chicken fingers.  Pinot Noir has a slim chance because the body and acidity match with the chicken but the tanginess of the buffalo sauce may or may not work with Pinot Noirs – depending on the style of Pinot, the spiciness may fit in perfectly or it may result in a jarring after taste.  So for now, Pinot Noir is the best red pairing, but given its hit-or-miss success here, is it the best pairing overall?  Let’s look at a different style: white wine.

White wines, especially Rieslings and other lighter-bodied varietals, can be ruled out because they’re too easily overpowered by the coating on the chicken finger.  Sauvignon Blanc’s acidity matches the coating but not the spiciness.  Chardonnay’s full-bodied feel seems like a likely match for the chicken’s rich coating but high alcohol plus the recipe’s innate tanginess amplify each other to create a nasty burn.  My guess for white wines is actually a Gewurztraminer; the wines full-bodied and fat feel meshes with the chicken finger while the grapefruit and lychee flavor complement the spiciness and zestiness.

As far as sparkling go, we ruled out Champagne the minute we mixed in the buffalo sauce.  For the warm flavors of Cava (Spanish sparkling), the warmth from the alcohol clashes with the spiciness much in the same way Chardonnay does.  I can head over to Italy and consider Moscato, but it quickly becomes clear that the sweetness of the wine meshes with the spiciness/zestiness but not so much with the body.  Still, I’m getting closer…  Finally, I tried Prosecco, an Italian sparkling made from the Glera grape. Its slight sweetness, peach flavor, subtle earthiness and just the right amount of acidity is finally an almost perfect match!

What’s the Wine Pairing?

Overall, in order to tackle the heat, flavor, and liveliness that buffalo sauce brings to your big batch of chicken fingers, scale back the original pairing of Champagne in favor of the softer, earthier flavors and slight sweetness of Prosecco.  Although Pinot Noir and Gewurztraminer both do a passable job complementing this crispy, juicy snack, Prosecco is still the best.  I picked up La Marca Prosecco at Trader Joe’s for only $15.  Enjoy!

www.traderjoes.com for Organic Chicken Tenders and Gluten Free Flour

www.lamarca.com/ La Marca Prosecco NV (Non-Vintage)

 

 

Mario Luna

Certified Sommelier

“Wine Education for Real Life!”

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