Cooking With Beer
The mouth of a perfectly contented man is filled with beer, according to an ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic inscription. Many of us would agree that after a hard set of tennis or an afternoon cutting firewood, there is little more satisfying than a cold, bubbly pint. Doubly agreeable is lifting a mug while eating food cooked with beer.
In fact, ancient Egyptian and Sumerian physicians considered cooking with beer a healthy practice.
I don't recall when I first cooked with beer, but I do recall what I cooked: Welsh rabbit. For years this was the only thing I cooked using beer, but eventually I began to experiment with other dishes. I figured, I regularly cook with wine, so why not beer? I started adding it to chili, including beer in my barbecue sauce and braising corned beef brisket in it.
Although Germans do sometimes cook with beer (biersuppe — beer soup — is a famous example), Irish and Belgian cuisines are more famous for using beer as an ingredient.
Beer itself is easy to make:
Boil a mixture of grain, water and perhaps hops.
Let it cool.
Pour a bit of brew in a pot, pie or cake. Drink the rest of it.
Filter out the grain and add (or capture) yeast.
Store it until it quits bubbling.
That's basically it. Like with bread, you are creating a microfarm for the yeast, and the yeast does all the work. You just do the heavy lifting (5 gallons of beer weighs nearly 42 pounds).
Beer brings three things to food. The hops add bitterness, which is offset with the sweetness of the malted grain and complemented by the flavor of the yeast. Dark beers also provide a distinct roasted flavor.
The effervescence in beer makes it an excellent addition to batters used for frying, producing a lighter crust. And some of the lightest biscuits I've ever eaten were made using beer. Because of the hops, reducing beer too much can result in an unpleasantly bitter dish. So if you're using beer in a slow-cooking braise, use a milder beer and dilute it with stock or water if necessary. Pale ales and nut brown ales are a good choice, but in general, avoid India pale ales, as they tend to have a high hops content.
Because of the bitterness, beer pairs well with sweet vegetables such as carrots, corn and caramelized onions. And just as wine is often found in marinades, beer, too, is a great choice. I think it's a particularly good addition to marinades for game such as venison. And as the recipe for Guinness Stout Cake shows, beer even has a place in desserts.
So pour a bit of brew in a pot, pie or cake. Drink the rest of it. Think about your ancestors and the long heritage of those wee, little beasties who eat sugar and starch, and produce wonderful flavors. Thank heaven for yeast.
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