STAR IN­GRE­DI­ENT Diana Henry ex­per­i­ments with sherry

Bone-dry or raisin-sweet, sherry perks up many a dish and adds a se­duc­tive sweet­ness to oth­ers. Break out the bot­tles for these recipes

BBC Good Food - - Contents - recipes DIANA HENRY pho­tographs PETER CAS­SIDY

It’s al­most ridicu­lous to see sherry as a sin­gle in­gre­di­ent. The cold, flinty, dry fino you knock back with shell­fish is a world away from the sweet, raisiny, pe­dro ximénez (PX) some­one of­fers you – if you’re lucky – with a slice of choco­late cake. Drinks writ­ers have been pre­dict­ing sherry’s rise for the last 40 years. When ta­pas bars started to open here in the mid 1980s, it looked as if we were go­ing to seize sherry from our nans and make it the drink of our time but the en­thu­si­asm just didn’t build enough mo­men­tum. It’s true that ‘food­ies’ no longer see sherry just as some­thing to slosh into a tri­fle, but we still don’t make enough of it.

As soon as I dis­cov­ered sherry at univer­sity, where I got into cold fino with green olives, I was hooked. It wasn’t un­til years later, when I was in Jerez eat­ing a meal where each course was ac­com­pa­nied by a dif­fer­ent sherry, that I be­gan to see its po­ten­tial as some­thing to cook with. There was a dish of beef cheeks braised in oloroso that was a rev­e­la­tion

– it had savoury depth but a hum of sweet­ness.

You start to run out of vo­cab­u­lary when you try to sum­mon the essence of dif­fer­ent sher­ries and the flavours they im­part to the dishes in which they’re cooked. In fact, cook­ing with sherry of­ten re­minds me of cook­ing with dried chillies, in that they’re both about tone. With both you speak of raisins, nuts, wood and choco­late. How­ever, fino and man­zanilla-style sher­ries are spo­ken of in terms of their sa­line qual­i­ties. I al­ways have a bot­tle of fino, a medium type (palo cor­tado or the richer oloroso) and a bot­tle of PX on hand. The PX is a treat (an ex­pen­sive one) but there is no bet­ter pair­ing for choco­late (it’s won­der­ful in choco­late ice cream). On those week­ends when you cook a special din­ner, but can’t man­age to pull off dessert, a bot­tle of PX, served with good-qual­ity dark choco­late, makes a grand fin­ish.

My bot­tles of sherry aren’t stashed away at the back of a cup­board. I reach for them of­ten – the fino for cook­ing with clams or mus­sels, or in place of dry ver­mouth; the oloroso for braises where I want a background note of sweet­ness. I find oloroso the most use­ful, as it works well with mush­rooms, all meats, chorizo and the Span­ish black pud­ding, mor­cilla, ap­ples, pears, stone fruits and in eggy pud­dings.

It’s cream sherry – a blend of oloroso sweet­ened with PX that started out as an ex­port-only prod­uct for the

Bri­tish market – that makes us think of sherry as a rather sickly drink. In days of yore, this was pulled out of the drinks cup­board on Box­ing

Day to make tur­key à la king, a sherry-spiked béchamel which was a ve­hi­cle for all that left­over tur­key we didn’t know what to do with. Thank­fully, those days are long gone.

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