Savor the flavors of beer

Beer is a chef’s best friend
By JOSH SMITH  |  June 16, 2010

STUFFED Beer can chicken is a summer favorite. 

Beer makes everything better, even food. And not just as an accompaniment to food, but as food.

Cooking with beer is fun and can add flair to just about any dish. Beer is versatile enough to be used with most cooking techniques: marinating, grilling, baking, frying, stewing, poaching, simmering, braising, and beyond. When liquids are called for, beer can generally be substituted.

While many have cooked with wine, the same is not true for beer. This is curious since often the ingredients in beer are more appropriate in the kitchen. Hops provide bitterness, malts sweetness, and the yeast produces a fluffy and tender texture. Even in small amounts, beer can have a profound impact on a dish’s flavor.

This is important to remember since flavors become concentrated when boiled down and beers have a tendency to act as a bittering agent. Pairing with sweet vegetables or adding honey can overcome this obstacle. Similarly, including thickeners like flour or gelatin can help to offset beer’s natural tendency to thin out a recipe.

Given beer’s carbonation, it’s often a good idea to whisk out the bubbles beforehand. That said, you do need to use fresh beer; flat beer is never a good idea. And don’t worry about serving any of these meals to little Jimmy — alcohol evaporates when heated.

But what type of beer is best to cook with? For starters, don’t cook with a beer you wouldn’t drink. Much like when pairing beer and food, I prefer to use lighter beers with lighter dishes and heavier beers with more robust meals. Dark, malty beers are typically easier to cook with versus a hop monster or another extreme beer.

Most of the cooking that I’ve done with beer has been with meaty entrees. Beer is especially useful in these situations since it can tenderize, flavor, and even sanitize the meat. I’m not the only one who has figured this out; beer-battered fish is a brewpub staple and beer can chicken has made repeated appearances on the Food Network.

But for me, where else to start but with beer brats? I use six ounces of my homebrewed Porter to simmer some bratwurst and chopped sweet onion (which has already been browned) for about 15 minutes, or until the liquid is reduced to a syrup. The brats can be served alone on a bun or as a side along with the onions. Just about any beer will give the sausages more flavor than cooking them in water, but I really love how the sweet malts give a depth to the taste of the brats.

My wife also has an exceptional recipe for BBQ-Stout ribs. The rub is made up of a few different basic spices and the barbecue sauce. Along with an onion, three cloves of garlic, and two bottles of Stout, cook the ribs and remaining sauce in a slow cooker on high. Six hours later you will have some delicious ribs that just fall off the bone.

I’ve cooked with lighter beers as well, such as cod poached in Pabst Blue Ribbon. As you might expect, you don’t taste the beer in the fish since there isn’t a whole lot of flavor to begin with. Not a huge deal with PBR, but generally, if I’m going to pour precious beer into my food, I want to taste the beer!

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