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Camera in the Dining Room: Whiskey Dinner at David Burke's Primehouse

By Chuck Sudo in Food on Aug 30, 2007 3:30PM

2007_08_talisker.jpgLast week we were part of a “whiskey dinner” at David Burke’s Primehouse with Martin Duffy, a "master of whisk(e)y" for the liquor holding company Diageo. Mr. Duffy's specialty is focusing on the classic malts of Scotland: Talisker, Dalwhinnie, Glenkinchie, Cragganmore, Oban, Clynelish, Caol Ila and Lagavulin. At the time, whiskey and steak seemed like a common-sense pairing to us, if not cliché. The dinner, which started off lovely with a delightful amuse bouche and easy conversation, became downright interesting when Mr. Duffy pulled out a bottle of ten-year-old Talisker to pair with the oysters that came as part of Primehouse’s chilled shellfish castle. The question was asked if whiskey could pair well with seafood. We were about to find out.

Mr. Duffy poured some Talisker into a small serving bowl and placed it atop the ice that kept the seafood chilled. Then, he instructed each of us to take an oyster, add a teaspoon of Talisker into the shell, and slurp the whole thing down, raw bar-style. What we each found was that the spicier notes of the scotch combined with the oyster’s natural sweetness to give a new dimension to the shellfish we otherwise would have overlooked. It was a revelation. As we said our goodbyes in the storm that greeted us upon leaving Primehouse, that part of the dinner stood out on the train ride home.

2007_08_shellfish.jpgA couple days ago, we e-mailed Mr. Duffy, asking if he had any other ideas for pairing whiskey with seafood. He sent us a 119-page booklet in Adobe PDF format that’s been a wealth of information, and we’ve only browsed it. From what we have read Talisker appears to be the scotch of choice with most seafood. But other malts like Glenkinchie (with its full body and dry, peaty palate) pair well with Mediterranean dishes like grilled or fried squid, octopus salad, stuffed mussels and grilled prawns in garlic. Fans of Iberian cuisine can pair batter-fried squid and mussels in butter with the fruit notes found in Clynelish. Another scotch that pairs well with most shellfish is Caol Ila, an Islay malt that by itself brings to mind the sea.

The book Mr. Duffy sent us also comes with a load of recipes that we’ll be trying out in the future and posting to the site, including some wonderful sushi recipes paired with single malts from the classic single malt producing regions of Scotland. That dinner reminded us that the more we learn about food and drink, the more we realize we don’t know. The "Whisky & Food" book is also available for reading at the classic malts of Scotland website (you'll have to create a profile to read it).

Photos by Rachelle Bowden.