Cooking With Beer
Cooking with beer, otherwise known as cuisine à la bière demonstrates yet another fine quality of our beloved brew. Not only can beer bring out the best in food when enjoyed alongside a dish, it can also enhance the dish itself.
Using beer as an ingredient is by no means a new concept; traditional recipes in which local beer & produce are combined have existed for centuries. It became a respected culinary category mainly thanks to Belgian chef Raoul Morleghem’s classification in the 1950s, which led to the publication of a book of 300 recipes, compiled by more than 20 Belgian chefs, “La Cuisine au Pays de Gambrinus”. As Michael Jackson in his book “Beer Companion” so rightly says: “Cuisine à la bière owes its existence as a recognised style of cooking to the French and Belgians, people at the geographical meeting point of the passions for good food and fine beers.”
Beer can be used as a marinade, in soups & stews, in vinaigrettes, in batters, for steaming, basting or braising. It can even be used to bake bread, to make ice cream or to bring out the flavour of fruit. The possibilities are endless!
There are no rules, no rights or wrongs, it is purely a question of personal taste, so once more, experimenting is essential! As we learned when tasting & pairing beer & food however, there are some guidelines that may help you to find the perfect combinations. Very hoppy or bitter beers for example may be best saved for dinking with your food, as the bitter characters may become concentrated when cooked. Sour tastes may need to be balanced with sweetness so as not to overwhelm & the opposite may apply with a sweet beer when cooking a savoury dish.
Marinading British Ales, Pale Ales & Porters work well when marinading meat or fish. Sour fruit beers can tenderize & flavour red meat. Sweeter beers can increase caramelisation when barbequing.
Soups & Stews Pale Ales or sweetish malty beers can make a soup taste rich & warming. Wheat beers make excellent fish stews. Guinness or other Stouts are a classic addition to a hearty beef stew. In Belgium, cherry beer is used both to tenderize & cook the beef in Carbonnade Flamande.
Vinaigrettes Sour beers such as Berliner Weisse, Gueuze or fruit Lambics can replace the vinegar in a vinaigrette
Batters Another well known & loved use of beer is to make batter. Beer batter is not just for fish though: Japanese style tempura, Yorkshire Pudding or even banana fritters can be made too. Highly carbonated beers such as Lager Beers are ideal
Steaming You can use beers that are flavoured with herbs & spices such as heather, juniper or ginger to steam food such as fish or vegetables. Pour the beer into the bottom of the steamer or into a pan with the food in a colander above. Add a little water to stop the beer from burning.
Bread & Cakes Beer is often used in breadmaking for its yeast & for its malty flavours. Porters, Stouts & Barley Wines can replace the rum or whiskey in a fruit cake or to help lighter cakes to rise
Desserts Honey or Fruit Beers can be reduced with sugar to make flavoursome syrups. Wheat Beers or delicately spiced beers can be used to create sabayons or can be added to whipped cream. Richer Stouts or “after dinner beers” add that certain je ne sais quoi to chocolate desserts or trifle. Simply pouring “Champagne Beer” onto a bowl of strawberries or over ice cream can take them to a whole new level!
Unique tastes & flavours can be added to your cooking using the huge variety that are found in beer. Tastes such as smokiness, maltiness & nuttiness, flavours such as seaweed, pine needles, herbs & spices can all add complexity & richness to your dish. Each beer is different. The only way to be successful is to try!
Bon chance mes amis, happy investigating!