With its intense flavor and rich smokiness, Scotch isn’t always considered a natural pairing option for food. More often we think of Scotch as an after-dinner sipper, perfect for cozying up around the fire or sharing a few more hours of conversation once the food has been cleared away. But chefs across the country are increasingly using it as an ingredient in cooking, which inspired us to consider the foods that can stand up to Scotch’s intense character.
We asked chefs across the country to suggest pairings for Scotch that highlight the spirit’s smoky, peaty character. Here’s what they came up with:
The Best Foods to Pair With Scotch, According to Chefs
- Clams casino
- Chicken liver cremeaux
- Basque cheesecake
- Spinach tagliatelle with bacon-wrapped diver scallops
- Cedar plank salmon
- East Coast oysters
“Normally paired with steaks and chocolate-heavy desserts, I actually like to have Scotch with sushi. I find that it complements the taste of the fresh ocean, from the salinity of anything containing kombu, to the fattiness of toro.” —Kevin Tien, chef, Moon Rabbit, Washington, D.C.
“My favorite unlikely Scotch pairing is grilled clams casino. My favorite Scotch for this is Talisker. The smoky, vegetal, and briny flavor of the Scotch pairs incredibly with the bacon, spinach, and clams. This one is a go-to for me.” —Colin Wyatt, chef, Twelve, Portland, Maine
“I find that the smokiness and slight salinity found in Scotch complements an oyster’s natural brine and scent of the sea. Smoked oysters would also be an alternative pairing.” —Mitsunobu Nagae, chef, l’abeille, NYC
“Growing up in the U.K., I just love a good trifle. A chocolate trifle, where the sponge is soaked with Scotch and a light simple syrup, topped with a chocolate custard, budino-style, whipped cream laced with Scotch, and sprinkled with cocoa nibs.” —Ashley James, director of culinary, Di Bruno Bros, Philadelphia
“I’d say that my favorite pairing with Scotch would be a chestnut cappuccino with chicken liver cremeaux. It has all things savory that pair so well with a Scotch. From the nutty chestnut to the dark robust flavor of coffee to the delicate and creamy chicken liver, you can’t go wrong.” —Stephen Bukoff, executive chef, GRANA & The Fed at The Langham, Boston
“I don’t generally drink Scotch, but when I do, I like to enjoy it at the end of my meal with something sweeter to counterbalance the richness of the Scotch. Scotch is one of those drinks that must be sipped slowly to fully enjoy the depth and body, so a dessert is typically my go-to for Scotch pairings. I like Scotch with a classic Spanish burnt Basque cheesecake. The rich, creamy tones and toasted top really blend well with the body and the depth of the smoky tones of the Scotch.” —Jorge Serrano, executive chef, Short Stories Restaurant, Hollywood, Calif.
“A good unlikely Scotch and food pairing is our spinach tagliatelle topped with prosciutto-wrapped diver scallops with a glass of Balvenie 21 aged in port barrels. The sweet and salty flavor from the scallops and buttery pasta complements the smoky, peaty flavor of the Scotch.” —Skyler Chauss, executive chef, Maggie’s at Desolation Hotel, Lake Tahoe, Calif.
“I feel a deep nostalgia for the upscale continental cuisine of the ‘80s and ‘90s, and one of my favorite dishes of the time is cedar plank salmon. There are very few meals that I appreciate more on a cold night than a slab of Wester Ross salmon charred over the fire on a raw cedar board and finished with sauerkraut and a luscious butter sauce. A peaty Islay malt like Lagavulin, or a smoky Scotch in the neighborhood of a Dalmore Cigar Malt, would temper the rich fat in the salmon and the butter, reinforce the smoke, and highlight the wood tones throughout the plate. It is a great example of ‘what grows together, goes together.’” —Thomas Malz, executive chef at Carpenters Hall at Carpenter Hotel, Austin
“Nothing pairs quite like the brine from a freshly shucked East Coast oyster with the saline and peat of a great Scotch — particularly those from the Highlands like Glenmorangie. Or, go big with something from Isla. Either way, the salt, sea, and earth come alive with this pairing.” —Tim Jocz, executive chef, Oceana, NYC