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Weird and wonderful food pairings

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Nigel Slater Nigel Slater | 17:04 UK time, Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Whilst working on Simple Cooking, with its emphasis on successful culinary food pairings, we came across a number of secret confessions. The marriages of food that people tend to keep for themselves, either because they sound a bit dubious, or because they are distinctly personal. For every combination of flavours, textures, temperatures or contrasts that could be considered a much loved classic I came across something more curious or what you could probably call Weird and Wonderful.

Of course, few would deny that taste is such a personal subject that there is really no right or wrong, but some combinations of food can seem so unusual they defy the imagination. A mixture of salt and caramel would have been considered extraordinary a few years ago, and yet salted caramels are now on everyone's lips. I ate a dessert in a restaurant only the other day that contained peanut butter and salted caramel ice cream, a mixture that even now some might find a little odd. I am exceptionally fond of dark, almost bitter chocolate with sea salt, too. One of the most popular recipes in this series of Simple Cooking has been the dark chocolate discs with sugared roses, pistachio nuts and coarse sea salt flakes.

Sea salt chocolate snaps

Nigel's Sea salt chocolate snaps

Some ingredients sound as if they should never meet up in the same dish, but end up working quite magically. In this category I would place black pudding and scallops, bacon and oysters and most definitely lamb and anchovies. But then some of the food partnerships that appear a bit unusual now, will in time seem perfectly normal. The idea of putting prawns and avocado together must, at one time, have seemed extraordinary. Likewise mango with prawns or chocolate and rose (a pairing that works in both rose creams and Turkish delight.) That said, there are some modern day marriages I still cannot accept, such as the fashionable idea of putting vanilla with fish, or chilli with chocolate.

I have recently heard strange stories of marmalade and cheese sandwiches, peanut butter and jam (very popular in the US, less so here),  steak with clams (the seafood brings out the flavour of the meat) and slices of fruit cake eaten with cheese. The last one is not unusual in the north of England, where a slice of cheese, perhaps a Caerphilly or Wensleydale is often served with a Eccles cake or a slice of rich fruit cake. A personal favourite of mine is an apple pie made with cheese pastry. The apple crumble I made for Simple Cooking had a savoury topping with cheese and herbs. At first the television crew were suspicious and I worried this might be the first thing I made in the series that would go uneaten, but once the first brave cameraman took a timid teaspoon and pronounced it delicious, they all started to tuck in. The next thing I knew it was all gone. Well, bar the washing up of course.

Nigella Lawson's Chocolate peanut butter cheesecake

Nigella Lawson's Chocolate peanut butter cheesecake

Dare you try:

What unusual pairings will you admit to eating? And where do you draw the line?


  • Comment number 1.

    I recently tried some meatballs flavoured with chilli and chocolate and was amazed at how delicious they were! I also remember eating a seventies recipe for a "salad" that used cold baked beans and slices of raw grapefruit - it wasn't so bad.

  • Comment number 2.

    One of my favourite strange parings is sandwiches of peanut butter, fruit (usually either apple, peach or nectarine) and a little honey.
    Things I dislike are savory dishes with peanuts or peanut butter. Those are strange parings too far to me.

  • Comment number 3.

    I remember years ago a friend of mine a pasta salad with white grapes and pickle in it. i was very dubious but gave it a go and it was nice.....not made it myself ever though!!!

  • Comment number 4.

    In the 70s my mother used to give us toast with marmalade and streaky bacon, it was yummy, but my favourite was her take on Chicken Maryland which was a piece of toast topped with sweetcorn, chicken, banana and tomato ketchup on top. From the sound of it, it shouldn't work but it definitely did, we still talk about it now and we're in our 40s.

  • Comment number 5.

    One foodie's weird is another's wonderful. I love the chilli and chocolate combination in sweet things, even if Nigel doesn't. I eventually came round to peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, but it took over 40 years to find out that I liked peanut butter! I'd happily try peanut butter and chocolate cheesecake.

    There are still a few classic combinations that don't sound so good to me - raisins in a spinach stuffing for salmon being one of them. I don't like the modern idea of using vanilla to flavour savoury sauces, although I've never tried it, so can't totally dismiss it.

    I'd like to try the Garlic Fudge Tart with Nectarines, but wouldn't want to waste the ingredients if it wasn't very good, so I'd need someone to be offering samples. Garlic in sweet dishes is another combination which doesn't sound right!

  • Comment number 6.

    I thought steak and oyster suet pudding would be in the list so here I will mention it. I actually prefer my oysters cooked anyway. Pasta with Vodka (cream and chilli flakes too) is a winner for me. I do an Asian pear flan, rather like a bakewell tart but using a sponge filling as opposed to the frangipane method but the sweet batter is flavoured with ginger, chilli and soy sauce for a more parkin-like hue to the sponge and with a thin spread of mandarin orange and ginger jam on the base of the pastry.

  • Comment number 7.

    Some combinations don't sound weird to me, but the more I think about them, the more I wonder... We like cheese on toast with hot lime pickle on Saturday afternoons. Is that odd?

    As an American, I like peanut butter with the strangest things: celery, apples, the ubiquitous jam and chocolate, even this crazy chutney I used to make with raw garlic, chilli and peanuts - but not bananas. Too claggy.

    Sue-L - Forty years? There's hope for my husband, then.


  • Comment number 8.

    What's so unusual about marmalade and chesse sarnies - been a favourite of mine since childhood !!

  • Comment number 9.

    I have a starter salad I make with mussels, avocado, and pink grapefruit

    I like peanut butter & dill pickle sandwiches (Sue Grafton fans please note)

    However to me - chocolate in cheese cake, yuck


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