Friday, September 11, 2009

Dry Sack Stirring Up in Chefs' Kitchens

Dry Sack, one of the world's leading medium dry sherries, produced since 1906 by Spain's venerable Williams & Humbert, is widely known as an aperitif. Lately, Dry Sack has also been showing up on dinner menus in savory recipes at many of America's renowned fine-dining and casual restaurants around the country.

While the majority of sherry usage is for drinking, it has always had a place in the kitchen and is known to be a staple ingredient in many traditional dishes. Sherry can be used in a variety of cuisines and dishes from traditional to ethnic. Patrick Sheerin, executive chef at The Signature Room at the top of the Hancock building in Chicago, serves a popular lobster bisque with Dry Sack. Capital Grille, an upscale chain of steakhouses makes its lobster bisque with Dry Sack as a base. Chevy's Fresh Mex, a national chain known for its delicious Mexican food, uses Dry Sack in its Chipotle Cream Sauce, developed by Executive Chef Alan Sversky. Chef Kevin Rathbun prepares a Mock Turtle Soup topped with Dry Sack at his eponymous restaurant Rathbun's in Atlanta.

"Our marketing focus has always been to highlight Dry Sack to be enjoyed as a delicious aperitif. With its toasted aromas and nutty flavors the brand provides the perfect balance for priming one's palate before dinner," said Joel Gosler, president of Kindred Spirits of North America, Inc., Dry Sack's U.S. importer. Kindred Spirits launched a successful campaign called "Bon Aperitif" to market Dry Sack as an aperitif in 2006.

According to Gosler, annual sales of Dry Sack average 20,000 cases. He estimates that one quarter of the product is being used for cooking, which helps support why Dry Sack sales are remaining flat while the sherry category as a whole is down by nine percent. He noted the biggest selling markets are California and Illinois, followed by Florida and Washington D.C.

"We observed that sales of Dry Sack were considerably higher in certain markets like Chicago, where we found the increase in sales was traced to The Signature Room, the market's largest account, where Chef Patrick Sheerin was using Dry Sack in the lobster bisque. " Gosler said. "California sales were directly attributed to the fact that Chevy's has 48 restaurants in that state alone."

The Signature Room's Patrick Sheerin said he selected Dry Sack to make his bisque specifically for its distinctive flavor. "We use Dry Sack sherry in two applications for our lobster bisque. Traditionally sherry is served on the side with the bisque, so we wanted to incorporate the sweetness and rich nuances that pair very well with the lobster in the production portion of the soup. To incorporate the sherry "on the side" we make an agar gel of the sherry with really nice aged sherry vinegar and a local maple syrup so there are bright flavor pockets of the gelee in the soup. Dry Sack was selected because it is a tasty sherry that is well-made and affordable. As a wine to cook with it adds a lot of nuance to a dish in the reduction stages that translate to a well balanced sweetness at the end."

Sheerin added, "When you are cooking classic dishes with reductions-like with sherry or any alcohol for that matter, the beverage has to taste good, but it also has to have structure so that its nuances are showcased in the reduction process. Cook off a bottle of Dry Sack sherry and as it cooks down, the alcohol dissipates, and you are left with these beautiful flavors of maple syrup, smoke and wood that also offer sweetness. I think that's what hooked me... those flavors on the nose."

This sentiment was echoed by Alan Sversky of Chevy's Fresh Mex, "I wanted to use a sherry for flavor, I chose Dry Sack for its depth and richness. It has just the right amount of sweetness, too, without even a hint of bitterness. We use it in our Chipotle Sherry Cream sauce which tops one of our enchilada dishes and is a component in our tamale filling."

Kindred Spirits is now educating its sales team on the flavor profiles of Dry Sack. The company will continue to promote the cooking platform to the trade throughout 2009, along with the branding message of "Bon Aperitif!" to consumers.

Dry Sack is a distinctive blend of Palomino and Pedro Ximénez grapes that undergoes fractional blending under Spain's time honored solera system and is aged for six years in oak casks. The aromas are in the style of an amontillado sherry: a fragrant nut aroma and delicate nut taste with just a hint of sweetness.

Dry Sack's name is taken from the Shakespearean word for Sherry, "sack." Williams & Humbert has the exclusive rights to use the word sack in the brand's name. Dry Sack's distinctive burlap cloth sack packaging also sets it apart. Williams & Humbert first starting producing Dry Sack in 1906. Today it is the world's top selling sherry brand. A bottle of Dry Sack retails for $14.99 (750 ml.) and is 19.5% alcohol by volume.

Based in Jerez de la Frontera in the region of Andalucia, Williams & Humbert is the largest winery in Europe with more than 1200 acres of vineyards. Other sherries in Williams & Humbert portfolio include Dry Sack Especial 15-year-old rare- aged sherry, Dos Cortados Rare Old Palo Cortado Especal 20-year-old sherry, Don Guido Rare Old Sweet Solera Especial, aged a minimum of 20 years, Jalifa Rare Old Amontillado Solera Especial, aged a minimum of 30 years. Wiliams & Humbert also produces Gran Duque de Alba Solera Gran Reserva Brandy de Jerez, Crema de Alba crème liqueur, Dos Maderas dual aged rum and Dos Maderas PX. All are importers by Kindred Spirits of North America, Miami.

Developed by Patrick Sheerin, The Signature Room, Chicago, IL

Ingredients: Lobster Stock (1gallon):

10 whole lobster heads, cleaned, placed in a bag and whacked with a mallet
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 cup white wine
1(6 ounce) can tomato paste
1 head fennel tops, reserve the bulb for the bisque, chopped
1 whole onion, peeled and chopped
4 stalks celery, washed and chopped
1 sprig fresh thyme
1 ½ gallon water

Preparation: Lobster Stock:
Sauté the lobster heads in the canola oil until they turn bright red and become very fragrant. It is important to cook out all of the liquid in the oil and get a nice fond (the sticky stuff) at the bottom. Deglaze with white wine, add the tomato paste, vegetables, and thyme. Cover the ingredients with water. Bring to a boil, skim, cut to a simmer, and let simmer for 45 minutes. Strain.

Ingredients: Bisque:

½ pound butter
1 whole white onion, peeled and rough chop
1 stalk celery, washed and rough chop
1 whole fennel, reserved from the stock recipe, washed and rough chopped
1 whole leek, white to light green part chopped and washed in warm water
1 (6 ounce) can tomato paste
2 cups Dry Sack sherry
1 cup Gran Duque de Alba Spanish brandy
1 gallon lobster stock
½ cup Arborio rice
2 quarts heavy cream
2 tablespoon fresh tarragon
salt and pepper to taste
Tabasco to taste

Preparation: Bisque:
Add butter, onions, celery, fennel and leeks to a heavy bottom soup pot, season with salt and pepper. Cook until the vegetables soften, but do not brown. If necessary, add water to the pan of cover with its lid to help the vegetables steam and cook. Add the tomato paste and thoroughly combine with the vegetables. Add the sherry and brandy and cook until the mixture becomes very thick-the alcohol flavor should have evaporated and a sweet smell comes off the vegetables. Add the lobster stock and Arborio rice. Reduce by 40%, check the bottom of the pan and make sure nothing is sticking. Add the heavy cream and reduce again. Add the tarragon and blend the soup in small batches in the blender. Adjust the seasoning with salt, pepper, and Tabasco. To make a truly luxuriously smooth soup, pass it through a fine mesh strainer.

Ingredients: Sherry Gelee

2/3 cups Dry Sack medium sherry
3 tablespoons Sherry vinegar
3 whole cloves
1 star anise
15 whole peppercorns
½ cinnamon stick
3 tablespoons maple syrup
1/3 cup water
4 tablespoons Eden Brand Agar Flakes (available at Whole Foods)

It is important to hydrate (soak) and cook the agar in water before adding the sherry and sherry vinegar to prepare the gel.

Preparation: Sherry Gelee:
Combine the sherry, sherry vinegar, spices and maple syrup in a pot. Bring to a boil and let steep for at least 30 minutes. Strain through a fine mesh strainer. In a separate pot combine the water and the agar and whisk. Bring to a boil, whisk and simmer for 5 minutes add the sherry reduction, strain through a fine mesh strainer. Allow to set in the refrigerator before cutting into desired shape.

Place the sherry gelee and freshly minced chives into a bowl for presentation before ladling the soup in.

Developed by Kevin Rathbun, Rathbun's, Atlanta, GA

Ingredients: Roux

1/2 cup clarified butter
1/2 cup all purpose flour

Ingredients: Soup:

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup yellow onion, small diced
1 cup red bell pepper, small diced
1/2 cup celery, small diced
2 teaspoons garlic, minced
3 cups 7/11 tomatoes or canned crushed tomatoes
3 cups chicken broth
1 pound veal, ground
4 each hard-boiled eggs, grated
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
2 each bay leaf
3 tablespoons Italian parsley, chopped
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons kosher salt


For the Roux: Place clarified butter in a small sauce pot. Add flour and brown slowly stirring constantly to avoid scorching. Reserve.

For the Soup: In soup pot place oil and sweat onions, peppers and celery until tender. Add garlic, tomatoes, chicken broth and veal, bring to a simmer for 15 minutes. Add grated eggs, lemon, seasonings and vinegar. Continue to simmer.

Place small amounts of roux into soup while simmering to flavor and to adjust thickness.

Once desired thickness is achieved serve with a 1/2 shot of Dry Sack Sherry on top and some crusty French bread.

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