This blog post contains more information from Michael Mascha's book Fine Waters and website FineWaters.com. Previously I looked at How to Classify Bottled Waters and How to Properly Serve Bottle Water. Today we'll look at pairing water with food. You can read the full description of it on the FineWaters website.
Basically, Mascha says you match the food or you contrast it, much like any other pairing. However, you're largely not pairing with flavor, you're pairing with texture.
Mascha says 75 percent of the pairing importance should be about the mouthfeel of the water, as measured by the carbonation. Big loud boldly carbonated waters can overwhelm subtle dishes, but would go well with crispy food, for example. He pairs the level of carbonation with the overall mouthfeel of the entire dish.
The next 20 percent pairing is matching the dominant food in the dish (rather than the overall dish) with the water's mineral content. Highly mineralic water has weight to it, and can be paired with big flavors like grilled beef, lamb, and hard cheeses.
The final 5 percent of pairing is fine-tuning the experience with the water's pH level. Waters that are slightly alkaline (basic) can be perceived as sweet, and highly alkaline water can taste slightly bitter. Acidic waters go with fatty food or seafood.
Those rules are for matching the water with the food. However, if you're serving wine at the meal, Mascha says you need to match the water to the wine instead. He says match white wine with still water that has a low mineral content and neutral pH, while red wine can be paired with still water with medium to high mineral content, but still a neutral pH.
In the book, Mascha has a chart of pairings. With grilled beef, use a water with "classic" (normal) carbonation, high minerality, and an alkaline (basic) pH. These are all the 'big' flavors of water. With lobster, he recommends still water with super low amount of dissolved solids, and a neutral pH. These are all the most subtle lack-of-flavors in water.
Finally, you can treat water like you might think of wine and cocktails throughout courses. For appetizers, he recommends starting with a boldly carbonated water, much like champagne. As you move to salad, move to water with the lowest carbonation level. He then recommends switching to still water for a contrast with a light first course, a lightly carbonated water with a second course, then pairing the main course by texture as outlined above. With dessert he recommends still water or very lightly carbonated, but you can work with the pH in that alkaline waters can be perceived as sweet or slightly bitter, making them the dessert or the digestif.
The Water Project on Alcademics is research into water in spirits and in cocktails, from the streams that feed distilleries to the soda water that dilutes your highball. For all posts in the project, visit the project index page.