Wise up on wine and lampuki
The fish we Maltese so fondly call lampuka is known by various names worldwide, including mahi-mahi – which means very strong in Hawaiian – dorado, lampuga, rakingo, calitos, maverikos or, more commonly, dolphin fish.
With the lampuki season well under way, we are entering that time of the month when the fish start to get bigger. Accordingly, traditional dishes such as lampuki pie and aljotta start to appear on many restaurant menus orspeciality boards.
This fleshy, versatile fish can be cooked in a number of ways – pan-fried, oven-baked, poached, grilled, barbecued, smoked or even raw as a carpaccio. It can also be stuffed, covered with herbs and spices or served up with a variety of sauces.
So when it comes to pairing it up with a local wine, there are many things to consider.
Each of the cooking processes used to prepare the lampuki will alter the flavour and, sometimes, the texture of the fish, even if no other ingredients are added.
For example, the poached version will result in a very clean-flavoured fish meat that is both delicate and moist, whereas barbequed fish meat is often drier, with a tighter consistency and a charred flavour. So a different wine would be needed for each dish.
I would definitely recommend a crisp dry unoaked white wine with the poached version and a full-flavoured dry, possibly oak-aged white wine or even a slightly-chilled bottle of light-bodied red with the barbecued fish. Similarly, a fish cooked using the same process but with different ingredients requires a different wine.
For example, a lampuka pan-fried in a bit of butter requires a light, clean style of white wine, whereas a lampuka pan-fried with extra virgin olive oil and garlic, and then topped with a caper sauce, will require a softer and fuller-flavoured white wine.
Basically, a good rule of thumb is that the heavier the flavour of the finished dish, the fuller the wine needs to be; whereas lighter, cleaner-flavoured dishes need light, clean-tasting wines.
Here are a few recommended lampuki and wine combinations which should go down well:
• Plain poached or oven-baked lampuki and Medina Girgentina Chardonnay;
• Plain pan-fried lampuki and Pjazza Reġina White;
• Plain grilled lampuki and Medina Chardonnay;
• Lampuki carpaccio and Medina Sauvignon Blanc;
• Smoked lampuki and Victoria Heights Chardonnay;
• Aljotta (fish soup) and either Medina Rosé Grénache or Pjazza Reġina White;
• Lampuki with a strong sauce (e.g. caper sauce) with Grand Vin de Hauteville Viognier;
• Lampuki pie with Gran Cavalier Chardonnay;
• Barbecued or chargrilled lampuki with Medina Syrah, Carignan or Grénache.
One of my own personal favourite recipes is lemon and garlic lampuki served with a chilled bottle of Medina Zibibbo Vermentino.
Simply take a large frying pan, heat some vegetable oil and then add a six- to eight-ounce fillet of lampuka and cook until the underside is golden-brown. Then turn the fish over and add a tablespoon of chopped garlic, the juice of one lemon and about a quarter of a cup of a decent white wine.
Once the wine and lemon juice have cooked down, add one ounce of cubed unsalted butter. Finish cooking and season with salt and freshly-ground pepper.
Accompany this with some fresh rucola drizzled with the slightest touch of sweet chilli sauce and some fresh Maltese bread. Wash down with a cold glass of refreshing, aromatic, fruity dry Medina Zibibbo Vermentino.