There are good technical functions for beer in cooking. The yeast and effervescence act like a leavening agent, fluffing up a beer-battered coating for fried foods or adding lightness to baked goods. An open can of beer imparts terrific moisture to whole grilled chicken in the favorite backyard beer-can chicken recipe. There's the bitter flavor, which serves as a foil for other salty, sweet, and sour notes.
Also topping the list of reasons to bring your favorite ale into the kitchen is leftover beer, which can be used at the chef's discretion.
Traditional English, Irish, and Belgian dishes have long used beer as a central ingredient. Think Welsh rarebit, mussels, Guinness stew, and beef carbonnade, the rich Flemish stew that's sweetened with onions and Belgian ale.
Of all the beers to work with, dark styles such as stout and porter offer the most distinct roasty, bitter qualities (porters may be more smoky or malty than stouts), making them the perfect complement to coffee, chocolate, dark meats, and ginger. Flavored dark beers or those aged in bourbon barrels offer another, usually sweeter dimension to play with. At London Grill's Beer Week Deschutes dinner, for instance, a bourbon-barrel-aged stout is reduced to make the basis for a caramel, ultimately served up with a scoop of Capogiro ginger gelato and fresh mint.
"People tend to cook with stout before anything else - braising short ribs, making stews, and even using it in ice cream or milkshakes," Kimball says. "But there are so many other beers to work with."
Kimball employs sour Flemish ales for vinaigrettes, sweet-sour raspberry lambic for a fruity summer salad with raspberries. In his experience, the piney quality of IPAs pairs well with berries, rosemary, juniper, and grapefruit in both sweet and savory dishes. Kimball has created a fig jam made with Sierra Nevada Torpedo IPA, paired with a cheese plate.
Even ordinary dishes can benefit from the extra dimension of a good brew. On the regular menu at Memphis Taproom is a hummus with hefeweizen, or wheat beer, which adds a lingering, unexpected tang.
While beer and wine are interchangeable in many dishes (mussels, for instance), it's a mistake to let beer, especially good beer, go undetected. "People often pull punches when they're cooking with beer and it doesn't taste like beer," says Scott Schroeder, chef at South Philly Taproom. "But if I'm making a braise or a soup, I might use more beer than stock, so that you really get that bitter beer flavor." The key, he says, is using the bitterness to your advantage.
American craft beers, with all their subtleties, are an endless source of inspiration. In cooking they can, and should, serve as a spotlight ingredient. Otherwise, why waste a good bottle?
"When you're working with beers with stronger flavors, like the American craft IPAs and stouts, you have to be more aggressive with the food - the food has to stand up to the beer," Schroeder says. "With those dishes, I use a lot more salt and pepper and spice."
Hoppy beers go well with spicy food, Schroeder says. He has been known to pair a Southeast Asian green papaya salad with chilies and Thai basil with a triple IPA.
There are, however, instances when beer is there to serve a supporting role. Since shrimp and beer go together like summer and the Phillies, Schroeder has devised a shrimp cocktail tossed with Kenzinger beer for a light, not overpowering, malty flavor with a hint of citrus.
In something like a beer batter, Schroeder will use a simple beer like Yuengling lager for a classic but not too complicated flavor. It also makes an appearance in his tomato lager soup, a favorite menu item at South Philly Taproom.
"When I first got here it was really different for me because I came from an upscale food background and the focus was on wine, cooking with wine, and pairing dishes with wine," Schroeder says. "These days it's all about the beer."
Beef Carbonnade a la Flamande
Makes 6 to 8 servings
3 pounds nicely marbled
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 ounces (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter
4 white onions, thinly sliced
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 sprig thyme, minced
1 sprig rosemary, minced
1 tablespoon flour
2 bottles Victory Golden Monkey or similar Belgian
1 quart chicken stock
1. Cut beef in 3 long sections then slice ½ inch thick to make small slices. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
2. In a large braising pan or heavy-bottomed stockpot, melt butter and cook until browned. Add beef to pan in batches, searing on both sides until nicely browned.
3. Remove beef, but keeping the fat in the pan, add onions and cook until caramelized. Add garlic and herbs and cook for 1 minute, or until aromatic. Add flour, stirring to dissolve. Return beef to pan and cover evenly with the onions. Add beer and simmer for 10 minutes, then add the stock and slowly simmer, covered, for 2 hours or until beef is very tender. Serve with spaetzle or egg noodles and more Belgian ale.
- From Chef Terence Feury, Fork
Per serving (based on 8): 445 calories, 54 grams protein, 11 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams sugar, 17 grams fat, 167 milligrams cholesterol, 540 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber.
Makes 10 servings
2 16-ounce cans chickpeas,
11/2 cups hefeweizen or
1 tablespoon harissa, plus
more to taste (optional)
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons tahini
2 garlic cloves, crushed
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup flour
1. In a blender, combine 1 can chickpeas, ½ cup beer, harissa, lemon juice, and salt. Puree until smooth. Add tahini and garlic and puree again. Leave motor running and slowly drizzle in olive oil.
2. Make fried chickpeas: Heat an inch of peanut oil in a 2-quart pot until it reaches 325°F. Meanwhile, combine 1 cup beer with flour and stir until batter is the consistency of buttermilk. Using a slotted spoon and working in batches, quickly dip chickpeas in batter and set aside.
3. When oil is hot, add battered chickpeas to pot, working in batches, and fry until golden. Transfer fried chickpeas to a plate lined with paper towels and sprinkle with salt. Adjust heat if necessary between batches.
4. Serve hummus with fried chickpeas scattered over the top.
- From chef Jesse Kimball, Memphis Taproom
Per serving: 474 calories, 20 grams protein, 68 grams carbohydrates, 10 grams sugar, 14 grams fat, 1 milligram cholesterol, 158 milligrams sodium, 17 grams dietary fiber.
Beer Brat Sandwich
Makes 4 servings
4 bratwurst links
2 large yellow onions
1/2 pound unsalted butter
1 bottle Yards Brawler
1 bag Kissling sauerkraut
4 steak rolls
For the Horseradish Beer
1 cup Dijon mustard
1 cup whole-grain mustard
1/2 cup grated fresh
1/2 cup Yard's Brawler
1/2 cup canola oil
1. Heat a grill or grill pan on high heat and grill bratwurst until cooked through. Set aside.
2. Dice one onion. Melt 1 tablespoon butter over medium heat and cook onion until tender. Set aside.
3. Cut the other onion into thin strips. Combine onion strips, beer, and remaining butter in a saucepan and bring to a simmer to make the "brat batter." Don't let batter come to a boil. Submerge brats in brat batter until ready to eat, or for up to an hour. Add the sauerkraut about 20 minutes before you are ready to serve.
4. Make mustard: Combine Dijon, whole-grain mustard, horseradish, and beer in a blender. Keep blender running while slowly adding oil in a thin stream until mixture is emulsified.
5. When ready to serve, slice rolls, add brats, and garnish with sauerkraut, fried onions, and Horseradish Beer Mustard.
- From Chef Jesse Kimball, Memphis Taproom
Per serving (without mustard): 966 calories, 20 grams protein, 54 grams carbohydrates, 7 grams sugar, 73 grams fat, 185 milligrams cholesterol, 1,804 milligrams sodium, 4 grams dietary fiber.
Raspberry Grilled Romaine Salad
Makes 4 servings
For the vinaigrette:
1 cup raspberries, washed
2/3 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup raspberry lambic
2 tablespoons honey
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon chopped
For the salad:
2 heads romaine lettuce,
washed and quartered
1/2 cup raspberries, washed
1 cup smoked almonds
4 ounces crumbled blue
1. Prepare vinaigrette. Combine raspberries, oil, beer (lambic), honey, salt, and rosemary and whisk together. (Vinaigrette will be broken.)
2. Heat a grill or grill pan to medium-high heat. Brush surface of lettuce with olive oil and set on grill, cut-side down, and grill until marked, about 3 minutes, then turn and grill the other side.
3. Arrange 2 quarters of grilled romaine on salad plates. Sprinkle raspberries, almonds, and blue cheese over them, then drizzle with vinaigrette.
- Recipe courtesy of Jesse Kimball, Memphis Taproom
Per serving: 906 calories, 21 grams protein, 29 grams carbohydrates, 16 grams sugar, 81 grams fat, 21 milligrams cholesterol, 1,047 milligrams sodium, 10 grams dietary fiber.
Makes 8 to 10 appetizer servings
For the sauce:
2 cups tomato juice
1/2 cup ketchup
2 tablespoons fresh lemon
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons Tabasco sauce
1/2 teaspoon whole black
1 stalk celery
2 cloves garlic
For the shrimp:
2 pounds fresh shell-on
1/2 cup Old Bay seasoning
1/2 cup canola oil
6 garlic cloves, roughly
10 ounces Kenzinger beer
Juice from 1 lemon
1/3 cup diced cucumber
1/3 cup diced tomatoes
1/3 cup diced and rinsed red
1/4 cup thinly sliced scallions
1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Grated fresh horseradish
Celery leaves (optional)
1. Make sauce. Combine all sauce ingredients in a blender jar and blend until smooth.
2. Preheat oven to 500°. Combine shrimp, Old Bay, canola oil, and garlic in a large bowl and toss until shrimp is evenly coated. Spread shrimp out in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake for 8 to 12 minutes, or until just done. Cool in refrigerator, then peel and toss in a light amount of sauce until ready to serve.
3. In a chilled large mixing bowl, combine shrimp with remaining sauce, beer, lemon juice, vegetables, parsley, and oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Garnish with horseradish and celery leaves. Use a slotted spoon to serve, as it is salsalike. Serve with saltine crackers.
Per serving (based on 10): 278 calories, 20 grams protein, 9 grams carbohydrates, 6 grams sugar, 17 grams fat, 177 milligrams cholesterol, 683 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber.