Food and Cigars: The Perfect Pairings
By Tommy Zman Zarzecki
There are few things more relaxing and enjoyable to a cigar lover than a good during- or after-dinner smoke. But I’m here to tell you that picking out the right cigar based on the meal you’re having is actually quite important. So, what do I mean by the “right cigar”? Well, let me start by telling you about the “wrong cigar”.
If you’re having a heavy meal of meat that was either grilled or smoked, think about lighting up something other than a mild, Connecticut wrapped stick…you’ll probably find that you just won’t get a lot of flavor from it, because your food will simply overpower it. On the contrary, if you’re having a lighter meal like chicken, shrimp or pasta in a white sauce or oil, you don’t want to spark up a stronger, full-bodied cigar because that’s just going to bury the flavor of the food. Your food and cigars shouldn’t fight each other, they should complement each other – so, once again, choosing the right type of cigar to pair with your meal is definitely going to enhance the entire dining experience.
So, I went ahead and chose four different “types” of foods/meals, and I’ve matched them up with not only the best “type” of cigar to go with each; I’m even going to make a couple of suggestions of brands that I like to match up with each of the groupings. And let me say that, hey – pairing food and cigars ain’t rocket science, and you can smoke whatever the hell you like. I’m just pointing out what I have found to make your cigar and food pairing a bit more pleasurable…
Group #1: Meats Grilled or Broiled (Steaks, Burgers, Chops) – I will always lean towards a cigar that is medium to full-bodied, something rich with various flavor notes that complement and balance with that juicy grilled protein. A good steak or a flavorful burger seared on an open flame is often seasoned with salt and pepper, and sautéed onion, peppers, mushrooms or garlic to accompany the meat. Lots of great tastes going on there, so you really want a cigar that holds up to all that’s happening on your palate. Again, something a bit richer to light up or even a nice Maduro is going to pair so well. You’ll taste everything that’s going on with the food AND cigars simultaneously, and you’ll enjoy them to the max!
Zman’s Group #1 Cigar Recommendations…
Perdomo 20th Anniversary Sun Grown
Group #2: Barbecue Smoked Meats (Brisket, Pulled Pork, Ribs) – This is definitely the time to break out full-bodied, full-flavored, stronger cigars. These meats are either dry-rubbed or sauced and the flavors are very rich, peppery, spicy and tangy. The cigar you choose has to have the body and flavor profile that will cut through and stand up to those zesty tastes. Like I said in the beginning of this piece, a lighter or even a medium-bodied smoke can get buried and you just won’t have the best experience. Dark, full-bodied Nicaraguans, Hondurans and Cubans that have complexity will match up so nicely as a smorgasbord of goodness will dance upon your taste buds. Hungry yet? Yeah, I’m jonesing big-time but there’s two more food groups to discuss.
Zman’s Group #2 Cigar Recommendations…
Camacho Nicaraguan Barrel Aged
Shadow King by AJ Fernandez
Group #3: Italian (Pasta with Red Sauce, Meatballs, Sausage) – Italian food mixes tasty seasoned meats with sweet sauces like tomato, scampi, Francese and Marsala. So with that said, you don’t want to choose a cigar that’s too strong or very full-bodied: since both Italian food and cigars are all about the diverse mix of delicious tastes, you need to be conscious of not overpowering the flavor of what’s on your plate with what’s in your humidor. When I indulge in a hearty Italian dinner, I’ll pick out a medium to medium/full bodied stick with some natural sweetness to perfectly complement the flavors of the meal. There’s also a lot of herbs and spices with this kind of cuisine and choosing the right cigar to smoke will greatly enhance all of that home-cooked ethnic goodness.
Zman’s Group #3 Cigar Recommendations…
PDR 1878 Sun Grown Capa Habana
Arturo Fuente Sun Grown Cuban Belicoso
Medium Bodied – Belicoso, 5 3/4 x 52 . Dominican with Ecuadorian Sun Grown Wrapper. A very highly rated stick on famous-smoke.com and the natural sweetness of the wrapper makes this a wonderful match for your meat-a-balls.
Group #4: Seafood (Shrimp, Lobster, Clams, Salmon) – While these foods have a ton of flavor, they’re not heavy on the palate, so the cigar you pick out should be the same. You shouldn’t go full-bodied and strong here as that will seriously wreck the taste of these delicate creatures of the sea. Lobster and shrimp can be very sweet on the palate. Fresh salmon is an oily fish with a sweet profile and clams and mussels are usually accompanied by butter or sweet red sauce. So, the key word here is “sweet” and I will always pair my seafood with a straight-up medium-bodied cigar whose wrapper gives off a natural sweetness in both taste and aroma. You can also choose a milder Connecticut wrapped stick, but try to go with a blend that stands out and holds up well with the dish you’re enjoying.
Zman’s Group #4 Cigar Recommendations…
Romeo y Julieta Capulet 75th Anniversary
Medium Bodied – Toro, 6 ½ x 54. Honduran & Nicaraguan with Ecuadorian Connecticut Shade wrapper. This Romeo is creamy and smooth and its nutty and toasty profile will go great with your ocean caught dinner.
La Aurora 110th Anniversary Corojo #4
Like I said earlier, this is just a guide to help you get the absolute most from your smoking and dining experience. Of course, you can always pair up the food and cigars you prefer, but I think if you give some of my suggestions a shot, it might open up a new way of approaching your mealtime smoking. And, man, if you’re not friggin’ starving by now, you’d really better get yourself checked out.