The reasons to cook with beer are as varied as the types of beer. The best reason is that beer can have so many nuanced flavors - unique to each particular brew. There will be sweetness from malted grain, bitterness from hops, and rich fruity tones from the yeasts and other ingredients that combine during the brewing process into a liquid with many possible culinary uses.
Belgians have beef-and-beer stew - carbonnade flammade, which rivals the French beef and red wine classic, beef bourguignonne, full of savory meat and vegetables brought together with a sauce featuring Belgian ale to great effect.
Beer tenderizes meats and game or rabbit, something to do with alpha acids and tannins, making for good marinades. Beer seasoned with chopped herbs and garlic can be brushed on long-cooked turkeys or beef on the barbecue. Beer is also a great go-to when grill flare-ups require dousing.
Simmering bratwurst or sausage in beer is common to many a gastropub the world round, and beer is the primo liquid for seaside cooks to steam fish, clams, shrimp, and other shellfish.
To complement your summer sipping this year, why not try beer-battered fish and chips? It is surprisingly easy to make at home. The quick batter, with some cornmeal, herbs, and spices, can bind the fish chunks or vegetables, and result in some crispy, spicy, delicious fritters. The beer adds a yeasty flavor and savory complexity to a simple fish fry.
How to know which beer to use? According to Kate Heyhoe of Kate's Global Kitchen: "Pale ale is generally considered the most versatile for cooking. It has a balance of hoppy, rich flavors and fruity overtones. But beware the India pale ales, which are excellent for drinking, yet can be too bitter for cooking."
I am partial to nut brown ales and find them to be a great base for cheese fondue or gratin - the tart and bitter flavors counteract the rich creaminess of the cheese.
Bring some ale to a simmer, add a bit of crushed garlic and some pepper flakes, and stir in grated cheddar that you have very lightly dusted with cornstarch (1 teaspoon to 2 cups of grated cheese) until you have a thick, creamy cheese sauce or fondue. Pour over steamed vegetables, or use to dip bread or crudité. What could be easier for a midweek meal?
Nut brown ale would be a natural as a cooking liquid for braising chicken, or a marinade for beef or lamb, too, while a lighter ale or wheat beer might be the better option for grilled or stewed fish.
Because beer tends to have some bitterness, it's a natural paired with sweet foods, which can benefit from the hops' bitter taste. Try browning vegetables such as onions, carrots, and corn, and deglazing or saucing with a bit of beer.
Many recipes for quick breads or savory and sweet pancakes feature beer as an ingredient and leavening agent. Many bakers use beer as the liquid in a savory pie crust for a tender crumb. This crust would work well used on the classic English steak-and-ale pie.
As for dessert, there are dozens of sweets recipes featuring beer - from strawberry beer Popsicles to lager ice cream sandwiches to various cakes and tarts.
Several brewers make a chocolate stout, so named because this brew is made with a very dark, long-roasted malt that imparts a dark chocolate flavor and color. Brewers sometimes include a bit of chocolate in the batch of their chocolate-stout recipe, and I was inspired to add a bit more to create chocolate-stout cake. You could also try this cake with the winning "new" Brew-vitational beer, River Horse's Chocolate Porter, a slightly lighter beer than a stout from the New Jersey brewing company.
Moist and rich with pureed dried plums and cocoa, this cake can be topped with whipped cream to resemble the "head" of a glass of beer. Accompany a slice with a tall frosty mug, and you can have your cake - and drink it, too.
Makes 12-15 servings
1 12-ounce bottle stout beer
1 cup pitted prunes
1 teaspoon butter for greasing pan
2 2/3 cup unbleached white flour, plus more for dusting pan
1 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated white sugar
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons milk
1. Pour the beer into a small saucepan, add the prunes. Bring the mixture just to a boil, cover, and turn off heat. Let sit until cool. Puree the beer prune mixture and set aside.
2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare a 6-cup Bundt pan by greasing and dusting with flour.
3. Combine the flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt in a bowl and stir until the cocoa is well mixed into the flour.
4. With a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or by hand, cream the butter with the sugars until smooth and well mixed. Scrape bowl at least once. Add the eggs and beat well until completely combined. Add the prune and beer puree to the mixer and beat until smooth.
5. With the mixer on low, add the dry mixture and milk to the mixing bowl in several additions. Beat just until the flour/cocoa is completely incorporated. Scrape down the sides at least once.
6. Add the batter to the Bundt pan, smooth the top. Bake 35-40 minutes until the top seems firm but the cake is still moist in the middle. A cake tester will not yet be clean. Turn off oven and let cake sit in hot oven for an additional 10 minutes to set fully. Remove from oven and let cool for a half-hour. Place a plate over the top of the pan and flip over to unmold the cake. Use a second plate on the bottom of the unmolded cake to flip it to the other side if desired.
7. Serve the cake as is, with a sprinkle of confectioners sugar and/or a chocolate glaze and whipped cream. A frothy topping can seem reminiscent of a creamy head on beer.
Per Serving (based on 15): 312 calories; 5 grams protein; 45 grams carbohydrates; 21 grams sugar; 14 grams fat; 58 milligrams cholesterol; 258 milligrams sodium; 3 grams dietary fiber.
Beer-Battered Fish (or Vegetable) Fritters
Makes 6-10 appetizer or 4-5 entree servings
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup fine yellow cornmeal
11/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon spicy paprika
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup wheat beer or a favorite ale, at room temperature
1 pound cod, scallops, or about 2 cups of vegetables chopped into chunks (red onion asparagus, corn, cauliflower, red pepper, zucchini)
1/2 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels (optional)
3 tablespoons fresh minced chives, plus more for garnish
High-heat canola oil for frying (about 2 cups)
Red pepper and sriracha sauce (see cole slaw recipe)
1. In a medium bowl, whisk the flour with the cornmeal, baking powder, paprika, salt and pepper. Add the eggs and beer and whisk until the batter is smooth. Fold in the fish or shellfish or veggies (or some combination) along with the chives and corn. You can split the batter and make one batch of fish and another of veggie fritters from the same batch.
2. Heat 2-3 inches of canola oil in a heavy pan with high sides (I like cast iron for this) until it reaches 370 degrees, or when a dribble of batter sizzles and browns quickly when dropped in to test.
3. Working in batches, drop heaping teaspoons of the batter into the oil and fry, turning occasionally, until golden brown all over, about 7 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the fritters to paper towels.
4. Serve with sriracha sauce and lemon wedges.
Per Serving (based on 5, made with fish): 338 calories; 27 grams protein; 27 grams carbohydrates; trace sugar; 12 grams fat; 124 milligrams cholesterol; 574 milligrams sodium; 2 grams dietary fiber.
Spicy Festive Cole Slaw
Makes 4-8 servings
1 small green cabbage, outer leaves removed, cored, and sliced very thin
1 small red cabbage, outer leaves removed, cored, and sliced very thin
2 medium carrots, sliced into the thinnest sticks possible (or grated)
2 tablespoons chopped chives (garlic chives or regular)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 batch of sriracha sauce, or to taste (see note)
1. Toss shredded vegetables with the salt. Mix well and let sit for ½ hour to soften slightly. Add sriracha sauce to taste.
Note: To prepare a batch of sriracha sauce, put 1/2 cup mayonnaise, 4 tablespoons olive oil, 2 tablespoons to 1/4 cup sriracha pepper sauce, 1 roasted pepper, 1 clove garlic, crushed or minced very fine, the juice of half a lemon, and salt and pepper to taste in a blender and blend until smooth, adjusting seasoning if necessary.
Per Serving (based on 8): 66 calories; 1 gram protein; 6 grams carbohydrates; 3 grams sugar; 5 grams fat; 1 milligram cholesterol; 322 milligrams sodium; 2 grams dietary fiber.