Dare to Pair: Hot Pocket Extravaganza
In an effort to continue cooking sans a hot kitchen this season, I’ve moved my culinary endeavors from the grill to the America’s most versatile appliance, the microwave. Though it’s fallen from grace with foodies, these humming boxes with their soft, radioactive glow can cook everything–from birthday cakes to whole chickens–on their delicate revolving plates. In typical fashion, we chose ease over elegance in this pairing challenge designed for the microwave: Hot Pockets.
For this Dare to Pair, our venerable panel didn’t skimp on anything–we treid four crust varieties, classic flavors, limited edition pockets, and a mélange of “Hot” vs. “Lean” mash-ups. Google doesn’t have a comprehensive pocket and wine analysis, so we created one.
Next, we compared classic hot pocket flavors with their culinary ancestors–stromboli, empanadas, and New Zealand-style hand pies.
Throughout the mash-ups one characteristic was undeniable: a decidedly synthetic taste in the crust. A plasticy sheen and gumminesss that was anything but natural came through in every flavor.
We started with the classics.
Nothing like the crisping sleeve…
When comparing the traditional pepperoni pizza “god-pocket,” which has shockingly authentic pizza flavor, a key aspect was presented: Hot Pockets are only good hot, while their brethren–stromboli and pizza–are both excellent hot or cold, fresh or 2-days old. The venerable panel felt this way about empanadas and meat pies, as well. The best wine for marinara-filled hot pockets was undoubtedly Barbera, which has great cherry flavors, but doesn’t hide the mozzarella madness inside these standby pockets.
The cheeseburger flavor was another standard we couldn’t pass up in the freezer aisle. “This is a McDonald’s cheeseburger,” noted one taster and we couldn’t agree more. Clearly, Nestle and McDonald’s are collaborating on their beef and orange cheese combination. Here, we chose Jana Sauvignon Blanc, a crisp white with citrus and tropical flavors that wiped away the drive-thru aftertaste of McDonalds.
One time Nestle gets it really right is with BBQ sauce-laden pockets. Both the BBQ Pork Limited Edition Hot Pocket and the BBQ Beef Hot Pocket had shockingly authentic sauce profiles. We loved these with the 2013 Schiava from Erste+Neue which was light in body, but has tons of smokey flavor that we loved alongside real slow cooked BBQ and its microwave counterpart. Zinfandel was another stunner with BBQ pockets, especially the Lean Pockets with BBQ chicken.
Chicken, Spinach, and Artichoke was a new Lean Pocket flavor to us, but its actual flavor–canned alfredo sauce–was anything but inventive. Nobody was able to detect artichoke flavor, but floral-scented Corazon Gewurztraminer cut the saltiness of these creamy pockets, and made everything surprisingly refreshing with its Mandarin orange flavors.
Ham and cheese–my personal favorite–was the most artificial, but also most universally satisfying pocket of the bunch. Its Velveeta-hued cheese and Spam-esque ham made the crust seem natural and as “whole grain” as advertised. In the past, I’ve championed the ham and cheese pockets with Riesling, but this time I loved the easy-mac-meets-bread dish with DeLoach California Chardonnay. Surprisingly, the buttery, pineapple-infused Chardonnay wasn’t too heavy, and it was only $12. While eating it, one taster remarked, “This Hot Pocket is saying, ‘I want to be a fancy cheese, please think I’m fancy.’” With Chardonnay, it stood a chance.
My new favorite pocket was Steak and Cheese. I couldn’t get over just how authentic the Provolone flavor was in this pocket with sliced “beef” and colored specks we assumed were peppers. We all agreed these worked with rich reds like Cabernet Sauvignon, though some tasters thought the pockets were reminiscent of “the awful casserole my mom always made,” and not a deli classic.
Flavors that were the hardest to pair were Limited Edition Beef Chili with Cheese, which most of us found to be over-spiced, and Turkey BBQ which had a bizarre, liquid smoke flavor that made it hard to enjoy alone, or with anything else.
The verdict? Hot Pockets may be filled with sodium and questionable preservatives, but even with fancy bites around, we’ve still got a place for them deep, deep in our hearts…especially after a few glasses of wine.
Hot Pockets Uncorked:
Laura Loves: Jim Gaffigan’s classic Hot Pocket comedy sketch.
Stromboli! It’s like a pizza slice but all rolled up.
Hot Pockets for breakfast–they’re the fastest morning sandwich around, and better with a hangover than with coffee.
Fun Facts:Hot Pockets are a $4.5 billion dollar segment of “frozen snacks” according to Nestle data.
There are 49 flavors of Hot Pockets.
Hot Pockets have been available nationwide since 1983.
Remember: Microwave cooking times vary. “Wow, 2:15 is way longer than I thought…I never cook them that long…”
When in doubt, go with sparkling wine.