Beer: It’s What’s for Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Is there a better match than beer and food? No, I’m not talking about washing down wings or pizza with a light lager (although no argument – those are delicious). Let’s put that beer right into your food.
Cooking with beer may seem like an odd way to use that booze. But it’s an age-old practice that can bring out some amazing, unmatched combinations of flavors. While most cooks use wine in cooking, beer seems to be the less-explored frontier, which is strange. When you look at how beer is brewed, its ingredients, and how flavors are imparted, there are many similarities between beer and food. The malting and kilning process used to create the grain in beer dries and caramelizes the sugars in the grain, which mirrors the same flavors that develop during baking or caramelizing meats. The same roastiness found in dark beers can be found in cocoa, chocolate and coffee because they’re processed similarly. Bread, made of the same basic ingredients as beer, also benefits from yeast imparting parallel flavors. Needless to say, beers can add a richness and depth of flavor into a variety of recipes.
Beer in the Batter
A handful of traditional dishes using beers immediately comes to mind. Take beer-battered fish. Beer will keep your batter light and crispy. The carbonation in beer adds CO2 bubbles to the mix, making it light and fluffy, and the proteins in beer help hold those bubbles together during the frying process. Because of the delicate flavors in fish, avoid using heartier or hoppy beers like IPAs, which can add a heavy dose of bitterness. Stick with a lighter beer like a lager or golden ale.
We’ve all heard of using white wine when cooking seafood. But the Belgians learned a long time ago another beverage worked better with shellfish: Belgian Wit beer. There is something delicious and completely apropos about using this beer when making mussels and frites, the national dish of Belgium. The light body, zesty flavors of orange peel and lemon are the perfect flavors for mussels or clams. You’ll end up with a delicious broth perfect for dipping those frites in or toasted bread.
Beers and brats – bratwurst – are a staple at many tailgates and BBQs. There’s debate on how historically and culturally accurate the American approach is to making this German dish and the best way to use beer in it. Some boil in beer, others marinate in beer and still others make a beer reduction to drizzle over their grilled brats. There’s no right answer. Use German lagers if you want to stick with the classics. If not, try brown ales, amber ales or porters. A rauchbier (smoked beer) will enhance the smoky flavors in the brats.
Make It Your Own
The fun of cooking with beer is experimentation. Take that redneck favorite, beer-can chicken, and swap in some malty or rich craft beer cans to add unique depth of flavor. Making a stew? Add some porter or scotch ales for heartiness. Making chocolate cake or cookies? Think about the complementary flavors. You know a porter or milk stout will work well in that recipe. A traditional framboise reduction will make a fitting tart raspberry drizzle for that cake. Pancakes? Toss in Young’s Banana Bread Beer and put a new spin on those banana walnut pancakes.
The easiest part about cooking with beer is knowing what to pair with it. I think you know the answer. Whatever you’ve put into the dish will help wash it down beautifully! All beer cooking pairs perfectly with friends, family and a good time.