One Ingredient: Cooking with beer
by Julie Van Rosendaal
I happened to sit down to write about cooking with beer a few days after returning from London, where, as it turned out, just about everything served at a pub appears to be made with ale. Eateries are dedicated to pies and ale – the filling for the pies themselves simmered with it, then served with a cold one to wash it down. Brews are the foundation for stews, braises and gravies, not only in the UK, but also in other European countries, like Belgium, which has about 180 breweries and is about a tenth the size of Alberta. So it makes sense here in Alberta, where we grow great grains and have micro- and nano-breweries popping up everywhere, to incorporate some of that prairie-grown grain into our dinners in more ways than one.
It’s easy to see the difference between beers when they’re in your glass – they range in colour, flavour and density from pale ales and pilsners to dark lagers, brown ales, porters and stouts. They may lose some of their nuances after being simmered with chunks of beef, onions and garlic, but, as with other cooking liquids, darker brews are clearly better-suited to richer, heavier dishes like baked beans, French onion soup and chili; paler ales are best, flavour-wise, for battering fish, calamari and onion rings, used in marinades and integrated into vinaigrettes. Hoppy IPAs will add a stronger flavour and more bitterness to a dish, just as they do to your palate when you’re chugging them by the pint.
Beer’s effervescence can be a culinary benefit, lightening batters and baked goods, but if you find yourself with an open bottle or can that hasn’t been finished but has gone flat, don’t dump it. Instead, use it to deglaze the pan after you’ve cooked a batch of sausages, adding a knob of butter as well, and serve the gravy over your sausages and mash. Add some along with the stock in your gravy (instead of wine), pour some into a pot to steam a batch of mussels, or use it in place of wine in your next cheese fondue.
Beer even works with dessert – its malty flavour, which comes from malted cereal grains, pairs beautifully with chocolate, and perhaps even more so with caramel. Try using it in caramel sauce – dilute your portion of cream with a bit of ale – and use it instead of coffee in chocolate cakes, or as the liquid component in your next buttercream frosting. Once you start cooking with a glass of beer in your hand instead of wine, you’ll quickly realize that it may have as much culinary potential as you’ll find in the more traditional vino.
Cooking with beer recipes
Read One Ingredient in the digital issue of City Palate.