Citrus is one of the most commonly accessible fresh fruits during winter and makes a refreshing pairing with mezcal to cut through the otherwise heavy offerings of the season. For this pairing we’re taking the principles of the classic mezcal accompaniment- citrus with sal de gusano, and turning it into a composed dish. Some people feel that the intensity of orange and sal de gusano disrupts the palate when enjoyed as a chaser for mezcal. I’ve always experienced this accompaniment as a way to refresh the palate, offering other flavors to bounce the mezcal off of once my mouth gets saturated with the spirit after a few sips. That said, I don’t typically accompany mezcal with citrus and salt when tasting or judging, just while drinking and enjoying- which is the best part!
Don Amado is one of the iconic producers of mezcal from Santa Catarina Minas. Their flagship espadin, Don Amado Rustico, is a tried and true mezcal typical of the region, made almost exactly the same for more than ten generations of the Arellanes family. The clay distillation adds weight to the body and layers of complexity to the flavor. The texture is rich and silky, nicely coating the palate with earthy, smoky, roasted tropical fruit flavors. It is delicious on its own and pairs well with a wide range of flavors, especially fresh fruits, vegetables, and toasted nuts.
The flavors of this pairing stay focused on spicy, salty, savory layered on top of sweet and tangy citrus, with backgrounds of earthiness, just like the classic botana. It works so well because it echoes many of the base flavors in mezcal, drawing out the over and undertones that make each mezcal unique in its complexity. In this recipe, the sprinkling of fresh cheese adds a lactic note to highlight the creaminess, both in texture and flavor, that comes from clay distillation, one of the featured characteristics of this Minas mezcal.
Any kind of citrus works well; a blend of 2-3 different types makes for a nice variety in each bite. Finishing with sal de gusano is a natural option, but any chili salt will work well, including a mix of table salt and ground cayenne pepper in a pinch. If you have chapulines on hand, this would be a great recipe to add them to for an earthy crunch. Use a mandolin to get even thin slices of onion. If you want to keep it dairy free, replace the cheese with grated roasted and salted brazil nuts. Enjoy this as a side dish, a small refreshing course in a pairing dinner, or add protein like white beans, or grilled shrimp or steak to make it a meal.
Ingredients (serves 2-4)
-olive oil, salt, pepper
-2 cups arugula or other peppery greens
-1 cup citrus peeled and cut into supremes or rounds (roughly 1 orange, 1 tangelo, ½ grapefruit)
-scant ¼ cup thinly sliced onion
-¼ cup queso fresco or non dairy alternative
-¼ cup toasted pumpkin seeds
-sal de guasno, or any chili salt
Season a platter with olive oil, salt, and pepper and top with greens. Arrange the citrus slices and onions, and sprinkle on the cheese and toasted pumpkin seeds. Season with olive oil, plenty of chili salt and any juices leftover from the citrus.