Kitchen Shrink: Have a Bubbly New Year!

KITCHEN SHRINK:

"I only drink Champagne on two occasions: When I am in love, and when I am not." — Coco Chanel

When the second hand on the clock sweeps toward midnight for the Dec. 31 countdown, millions of celebrants around the globe will be hoisting a glass of bubbly to toast in the New Year. The shimmering bubbles from the sparkling French wine will soon pull you in to an aura of giddy sophistication. As the Champagne tickles the nose, seduces the palate and creates a light-headed bliss, one's troubles tend to melt away in a glass of bubbles.

Speaking of glass, Champagne is traditionally served in two types of barware: one is the wide-mouthed stemmed glass called the "coupe" — which was rumored to have been molded from Marie Antoinette's breast — and the other is the tulip-shaped "flute," the ideal receptacle for champagne because it allows the bubbles to properly circulate, and enhance the drinking experience.

"Come quickly, I am tasting the stars!" — Dom Perignon

Dom Pierre Perignon, a 16th century French Benedictine monk and cellar master for the abbey at Reims cathedral, has been credited with valuable contributions to standardizing production of the bubbling wine, particularly for creating sturdy, thicker glass bottles to prevent exploding from the high-pressurized bubbles, and securing corks with rope snare mechanisms.

The Treaty of Madrid of 1891 originally granted France the legal right to restrict the use of the word "Champagne" (with a capital "C") to sparkling wines produced in the Champagne region of France. This protected status was later ratified by the Treaty of Versailles. Vive la France!

What sets Champagne apart is that it is a double fermented wine. True Champagne is created by a traditional process called methode Champenoise, with a secondary fermentation that takes place in the bottle or sealed cask, that produces bubbles of stored carbon dioxide responsible for the signature "pop" when the bottle is opened. Only three types of grapes are permitted for Champagne production: Chardonnay (creating Blanc de Blancs), Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier (creating Blanc de Noirs).

Different kinds of Champagne are labeled according to the amount of sugar, called "dosage," which was added to the bottle before being corked. The "drier" the champagne, the less sweet it is. No sugar is added to Ultra Brut, Brut Zero or Brut Sauvage making these the driest; Brut contains a maximum of 1.5 percent sugar; Extra Dry or Extra Sec somewhat sweeter with up to 2 percent sugar; Dry or Sec has as much as 4 percent sugar; Demi-Sec up to 8 percent, while Doux is the sweetest champagne, considered a dessert wine, with upwards of 10 percent sugar.

Champagne is also categorized by the bottle size, the most popular being the Standard (750 ml.). The Demi contains half this amount, while the Magnum is the equivalent of two Standard bottles. Behemoths like the Jeroboam contain six Standards, while the Salmanazar equals 12 of them.

Whatever bottle of bubbly you've chosen, make sure it's chilled to a temp around 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Since the contents are under pressure, don't use a traditional corkscrew, rather the finesse of your hands and a cloth napkin (or specially designed Champagne cork remover). Gingerly remove the foil and wire cage surrounding the cork, and wrap the napkin around the top of the bottle, careful not to aim the cork at breakables or any person's anatomy (which, at a velocity of 40 mph can be dicey). Turn the bottle, with a firm grip on the cork, and release it without yanking. If done properly, the bottle will expel a soft whimper, not a "pop."

If you have any leftover Champagne after ringing in the New Year, toasting the bride and groom, christening a ship, or spraying your teammates in a locker room throwdown, then use the divine libation to enhance both sweet and savory dishes. Breakfast treats go beyond mimosas — pour some bubbly in pancake or waffle batters, and concoct a strawberry Champagne syrup to drizzle on top. Sear deep-sea scallops or wild-caught shrimp in the sparkling stuff, whip up Champagne risotto with petite peas, or a porcini mushroom Champagne sauce to dial up wild-caught salmon, grilled chicken or ravioli. Shake up a Champagne vinaigrette dressing to give a kick to green salads. Craft assorted sorbets and other sophisticated desserts for celebratory delights. Or, following a page out of Marilyn Monroe's book, indulge in a bathtub filled with 350 bottles of Champagne.

Of course, you can concoct this festive Champagne cocktail with ruby-tinted pomegranate juice to make any occasion special.

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•••• Recipe: Pomegranate Champagne Cocktail

Ingredients:

• 1 teaspoon honey (acacia, orange blossom, your choice)

• 3 tablespoons pomegranate juice

• 3/4 cup chilled Champagne

• Handful of pomegranate seeds

Method: Drizzle honey in Champagne flute. Add liquids. Toss in seeds. Cheers!

 

Catharine Kaufman can be reached at kitchenshrink@san.rr.com

Pomegranate Champagne Cocktail

• Ingredients:

• 1 teaspoon honey (acacia, orange blossom, your choice)

• 3 tablespoons pomegranate juice

• 3/4 cup chilled Champagne

• Handful of pomegranate seeds

• Method: Drizzle honey in Champagne flute. Add liquids. Toss in seeds. Cheers!

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