Cooking with Beer
Now you can drink your favorite beverage and eat it too.
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IF YOU LOVE beer, chances are you’re drinking it (as you should), but before you quaff that bottle, consider adding a splash to your food. After all, wine and spirits are renowned for adding depth and oomph to your favorite recipes — so why shouldn’t it be the same for beer? “Beer works with everything,” says chef Michael Bilger, co-owner of Sessions Restaurant in the Presidio. “And there are no rules.”
With that gloves-off endorsement, along with the explosion of craft beers and home brewing, you have an inspiring recipe for creative cooking, enhanced by a range of brews touting flavor notes running the gamut from earthy, chocolate and toffee to citrus, biscuit and rose. It would be remiss to not add a fortified flavor-laden glug to your dinner.
So where to begin? Ale or lager? How about those bitter IPAs? And what the heck is a lambic? With award-winning breweries at our doorstep, the possibilities for embellishing meals seem boundless and maybe a bit overwhelming at first. So we’ve asked a few local brewers and restaurants for tips and recipes using beer, with a recommended pairing. Their enthusiasm for this culinary trend is apparent. As Bilger attests, “When your belly is full and you’ve defeated your hearty (beer-enhanced) meal, you can celebrate your victory by crushing the beer can in your fist.”
You can’t do that with a wine bottle.
Think Before You Pour
Before you dump a bottle of beer into your chili-to-feed-a-crowd, taste. Beers have distinctive flavors, aroma and body, and what you pour in will impact the flavor of the dish. Beer consists of three basic components, which add flavor to food. Hops injects bitterness, malted grain lends sweetness and the fermentation process provides yeasty notes. The type of beer you choose will determine the balance of these flavors. And remember: if you wouldn’t want to drink it, then don’t cook with it.
Keep It Simple
As a starting point, choose a light pale ale that has a balance of hops and fruit. “Lighter, less hoppy beers are not too bitter and generally work with most dishes,” says Marin Brewing Company executive chef Mario Gongora. “If I want a darker beer, to go with meat, I use a porter, which is strong and smooth.” Another way to approach mixing beer and food is the same way you might approach wine: combine heavier and meaty beef, pork and game dishes with dark ales, porters and stouts. Combine lighter dishes, such as seafood, chicken and salads, with a light ale or wheat beer.
• LAGERS are fermented slowly at cool temperatures, which inhibits the production of esters, the fruity aromas present in ales, and allows the hops flavor to be more present. Lagers are highly carbonated, lighter in body and crisp, which makes them an ideal alternative to seltzer in batters for deep-frying or for yeast in breads.
• ALES are fermented quickly at warmer temperatures, which produces the flowery, fruity-inducing esters. While ales are more bitter than lagers, their bitterness is balanced by malt, resulting in sweet, full-bodied brews. Try steaming sweet mussels in ale or pour ale into hearty soups or meaty stews as a substitute for stock or red wine.
• INDIA PALE ALES (IPAs) are famously bitter, characterized by an abundance of hops. It bears mentioning that while IPAs are great for drinking and pair well with spicy foods, such as curries, they are usually too bitter for cooking.
• STOUTS AND PORTERS are made from heavily roasted barley and malt grains, yielding rich chocolate, coffee and malt flavors and aroma. These dark beers are a hearty addition to stews and sauces, where they can stand shoulder to shoulder with other assertive flavors. They work well in chilis, marinades, and barbecue sauces, and believe it or not, they are excellent additions to rich desserts that complement their chocolate, spice and sweet notes.
• LAMBICS AND SOURS are funky beers, with dry, winey and sour flavors. Unlike other beers, which are fermented with specific yeast strains, lambics are fermented with wild yeast. Fruit, such as raspberries, cherries and peaches, is often added to the fermenting process. Lambics are a refreshing addition to desserts like poached fruit, crisps and fruit sorbets. They can also be an interesting addition to beverages — beer cocktails, anyone?