Let’s talk about cooking with beer. But before we do, I need to tell you what this article is not going to be. It is not going to be about Guinness stew or cheese soup. We are not going to simmer brats in beer and we are definitely not going to be dipping anything in beer batter.
It is not that there is anything wrong with these recipes. I enjoy every one of them but they have been done to death. More importantly, many cooks see these few recipes as the only time to use beer in the kitchen. But as the craft beer renaissance continues to grow, chefs and beer lovers alike are rediscovering the array of flavors of beer and therefore its versatility in cooking.
When you think about it, beer has more in common with many of the dishes we make than wine, which seems to show up in recipes far more often. Beer is made from grain, herbs, yeast and water. Brewing beer is a lot like cooking as the ingredients are combined to balance and enhance each other. It is even boiled for a long time to smooth out and blend its components like a good soup or sauce.
Nevertheless, it can be a challenge finding recipes that incorporate beer. It is up to the adventurous cook to discover the many ways that beer can be used in the kitchen. Here are a few tips to get you more comfortable with beer as an ingredient.
The first thing to do is to get to know the different styles of beer. There are many and they vary greatly. Some of them will work great with a given food, others not so much. For example, a float made with vanilla ice cream and Lindemans Framboise is quite tasty but a float made with an India pale ale would just be a big, cold glass of wrong.
Knowing what a beer tastes like is important but it is also vital to consider how the beer will react when you are cooking it. Almost every recipe involves reducing the amount of water. Whether you are sautéing, baking or even making stew there is less fluid in the final product compared to what originally went in. This means that if a beer is a little sweet, once the water is cooked away it will have contributed a lot of sweetness to the final dish. If a beer is a bit on the hoppy side then it will lend much more hoppiness to your food once it is cooked.
Choosing which style to use is a lot like pairing with beer – consider which styles have flavors or characteristics that will enhance or balance the other flavors in the dish through either complimenting or contrasting them. When you are cooking beef use a rich, dark beer like Bell’s Kalamazoo Stout or Fuller’s ESB to compliment it. I especially like to use beers like this with some crushed red pepper and minced garlic to marinade steak. Using a hoppy beer like Goose Island’s India Pale Ale will add a contrasting spiciness to any dish. I like to roast split Cornish hens on a bed of thick-cut sweet onions and basting them generously with a hoppy beer.
Do not be afraid to experiment. Anytime a liquid, be it water, stock, wine or something else, is used in a recipe your are preparing think about using beer instead. Try replacing the liquid in your favorite whole wheat bread recipe with a black lager like Xingu. Use Pyramid’s Apricot Wheat beer in your peach cobbler. Or pick up a six pack of Negra Modelo and try a whole new interpretation of coq au vin - although I suppose you would have to call it coq au bière.
Always use good beer. If you do not like a particular beer either because that style just does not appeal to you or if you feel it is an inferior product then do not use it when cooking. If you would not put it in your mouth, do not put it in the pot.
Beer and food are natural partners. As you start trying different recipes with good beer you will find this to be truer all the time. So stop reading this article, go buy some beer and head for the kitchen!