By Roger Mittag
Using beer in food recipes is yet another way to enhance the whole beer and food experience. Believe it or not, taken in moderation, beer is actually a very healthy food. It’s full of vitamins and minerals which are good for nerve production to help you concentrate, increase blood circulation and stimulate metabolism. The hops, low alcohol content and carbonation help relax the body. A glass of beer has fewer calories than the equivalent amount of whole milk or apple juice, and much less than the empty calories contained in harder libations. Alcohol raises the levels of HDL (good cholesterol), thus benefiting the heart and circulatory system.
Why cook with beer? Quite frankly, beer offers a multitude of flavours, lower alcohol and a reasonable price in comparison with other alcoholic beverages. Plus, in many countries, beer is regarded as food. Finally, beer can be an easy substitution for other liquids in a recipe.
A few ways to incorporate beer into cooking
- Bake – using beer in baking helps to add moisture, flavour and the carbonation acts as a leavening agent (fluffs up the mixture).
- Batter – when using batter for fish, keep the beer lighter for lighter fish. The carbonation will create a nice fluffy batter.
- Braise – in the oven or on the grill (lid closed) – use the beer as a covering liquid and cook at very low temperature for a long time (250F for two to three hours).
- Deglaze – after you’ve caramelized some onions in a frying pan, add a small amount of beer will help to remove some of the scrapings from the bottom of the pan and will add more flavour.
- Macerate – soaking fruit in alcohol, in this case beer. Pick some fresh fruit and soak it in your favourite fruit beer or strong beer. The fruit will pick up some of the flavours of the beer and vice versa.
- Marinate – beer is a great marinade because the carbonation and enzymes in beer help to break down proteins in meat, helping to tenderize. Use other flavouring ingredients and liquid to add different flavours to the meat.
- Poach – used often with fish being cooked over low heat. Add a small amount of beer for the fish to sit in. The beer will moisturize the fish and add flavours at the same time. Try to use a wheat beer with some nice spice flavours in it.
- Reduce – using a full beer, reduce the amount of liquid carefully to end up with a thicker, more flavourful addition to any recipe. The key here is to pick a beer that will allow certain flavours to stand out.
- Simmer – lower heat, add a little beer for flavour being careful not to boil the beer away to its bitter ingredients.
- Spritz – use beer to add moisture to the outside of your favourite grilling adventure. It will keep the meat moist while adding some flavours to the outside of the meat.
Beer and food
As Canadians, we have, more often than not, come to believe that beer is a cold, refreshing drink that we have on a hot summer day or after a sporting event. The times, however, are changing. We are now getting to the same point where our European cousins have been for centuries. That is, beer is a wonderful companion to food; better in some cases, than wine.
Traditionally, we often think the perfect food to have with beer is pizza, wings and pretzels. There are very specific reasons why those types of foods work well with beer, but there are many other experiences waiting for you. There are times when matching the right beer with the right food actually becomes better than tasting each one individually.
Matching beer with food
Putting the right beer with the right food may not be as difficult as you think. The basic principles are complement, cut and contrast.
Complement: The goal of complementing is to match the flavours of the beer with the flavours of the food. Lighter beer with lighter fare and fuller-flavoured beer with robust foods. The following are other examples of complementing food with beer.
- Fish – Light Beer (the meat in this case is light and flaky and won’t be overpowered by the light beer).
- Fish – Wheat Beers (especially German Weissbiers – are good because the delicate flavours and aromas are gentle and not too dramatic).
- Poultry – Lagers (light to amber in colour) are generally light in body and will complement the lighter flavour of the meat.
- Beef – Dark Lagers and Dark Ales (the roasted flavours, coffee and chocolate characteristics match well with robust flavours in the meat).
- Pork – Amber lagers or Amber Ales (not too powerful but have just the right amount of flavour – caramel to support the flavours of the meat).
- Spicy dishes such as Thai – Belgian Wit/German Weissbier (the spice notes and soft citric qualities are great complements to the cilantro).
- Chocolate dessert – Stout/Porter (the chocolate flavours of the beer will definitely complement the body of the dessert).
Cut: In this case, the beer will cut through some of the richer flavours and tastes in the food in order to cleanse your palate, so that you don’t feel so full.
- Shellfish and Lobster – need a lighter-flavoured beer with some good proportion of bitterness, like a Cream Ale or an India Pale Ale – the bitterness in these beers cuts through the richness of the meat.
- Caesar Salad or Alfredo Sauces – Dark Lagers or Ales (the higher levels of bitterness in these beers will cut through the thick texture of the food)
- Sharp Cheeses (Blue, Stilton, Roquefort) – require a Lambic-style fruit beer or a Trappist style strong beer (the higher carbonation in the fruit beer and the higher alcohol & sweetness of the strong beer will cut through the sharpness of the cheeses, resulting in a softer flavour in the cheese)
- Creamy soups – Pilsners or Cream Ales (slightly more hops and bitterness will slice through the richness of these soups and act as a palate cleanser).
Contrast: The goal of contrast is to provide an opportunity for both the beer and the food to be presented separately.
- Curries –British style ales with more pronounced bitterness (cut through the heat of the spice and showcase some of the more delicate and interesting notes.
- Oysters – Stouts and Porters (the briny character of the oysters are contrasted sharply to the bitter and robust characters of the stout).
- Spicy Mexican – Light beer (cold and refreshing, the beer puts out the fire, cleansing the palate and then showcases the actual flavours in the food).
About the author:
Roger Mittag is the owner of Thirst For Knowledge Inc® (www.thirstforknowledge.ca) and the founder of Prud’homme Beer Certification® (www.tfkbeer.com). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and will gladly consult on any beer questions.