Craft Beer & Cooking
The Craft beer community has blown up into a large industry over the past decade. With the emergence of Breweries and Brew Pubs in cities large and small across Canada, the idea of pairing food with beer has become more common.
This developed into adding beer to recipes to facilitate pairings as well as create a more complex flavour profiles. In an effort to seek quality ingredients, it is only natural that the Craft beer connoisseur has embraced using beer and beer by-products to achieve this.
Craft beer is so tasty, why not cook with it too?
Industry leaders such as Brooklyn Brewery, have pioneered the way by making one of the best references for cooking and pairing food with beer. The Brewmaster’s Table by Brewmaster Garrett Oliver, outlines the “Pleasures of Real Beer with Real Food”. His extensive knowledge in brewing and the history of beer is evidenced by the simplicity and expertise in his recipes. Click here for some great recipes and ideas from Brooklyn Brewery’s, The Mash.
Since then, Breweries, like Abe Erb (and many others), have adopted this concept, basing their entire brand around the experience of enjoying real food, beer and pairing these elements perfectly.
They achieve this by integrating beer and beer byproducts in their hand crafted menu items, and offering extensive service knowledge and free samples, to help make the right choice of which brew is best to compliment your meal.
Why cook with beer?
Besides the bragging rights that come with making the perfect meal and proclaiming “I made this with beer!”, there are many practical reasons to add beer as an addition to your favourite dish.
Beer translates into food in different ways, and this largely depends on the type of beer you’ve selected. The fascinating thing about this versatile ingredient, is the variance in flavour and composition from type to type. Take into consideration how long the beer will be cooking to determine the best option for your dish.
A trick is to think about what the beer will taste like after cooking or baking and then use elements to compliment this in the recipe.
Pay attention to match the beer with the ingredient flavours. The longer it is reduced, depending on the type, the more the flavours will be less distinct and others, more pronounced. An example of this would be to add a malty Brown Ale to de-glaze a pan of caramelized onions. The malt in the Brown ale will enhance the sweetness of the caramelizing process, while lifting all that flavour from the bottom of the pan.
Cooking with Beer: Style Guide
This is a basic outline for beginning to narrow down the style that would be appropriate for your recipe, however, the most exciting thing in cooking is playing with flavours to create a balance that works for your taste buds.
India Pale Ales
This style is generally high in IBU’s (International Bitterness Unit, measured out of 100) and hops. When cooked, IPA’s will loose the aromatic hop compounds and other hop compounds will result in an increased bitterness. Some styles of IPA beer are: American-Style India Pale Ale, English-Style India Pale Ale, and Imperial and Double India Pale Ale (IIPA). The level of hops and alcohol content vary, but all have fruity and herbal undertones. Generally, citrus and tropical fruits enhance and contrast the bitterness in this style, making it perfect for adding to marinades, dips and brine.
Stouts & Porters
These darker beers offer more depth of flavour due to the malty sweetness that results from reducing them. Chocolate and cocoa can highlight the roasted, nutty flavours inherent in these styles. The sugar content of Stout & Poters are high, facilitating a reduction or syrup, ideal for adding to sweet or savory dishes. These types can intensify desserts, soups, stews, glaze for red meats and gravy.
Saison & Pale Ales
The styles within these types vary in alcohol content and profiles but are mostly highly carbonated, fruity, and a bit spicy. The type of malt that is used, determines the colour and flavours present in the Saison. Darker malts have sweeter undertones and make the Ale appear amber in colour, where as the use of Pilsner malt will create a golden and crisp tasting Pale Ale. One of the most popular ways to cook with these types is to use it for a batter for seafood and lighter meats. Spices such as coriander, orange zest and ginger are commonly associated with these types and compliment marinades, salad dressings or sauces.
Cooking with Beer By-products
Base ingredients of beer like crushed malt, can be used to enhance your dish. Hops can be infused into liquids to create interesting garnishes such as hop honey. The brewing process also creates byproducts like spent grain that can be dried and re-purposed into dishes to add an element of texture.
Alcohol boils at a lower temperature than water, 86 degrees centigrade. After boiling beer for approximately 30 minutes the beer looses alcohol and becomes part of the nonalcoholic category. This means that it contains less than .5 percent alcohol. It’s at this point that things become interesting.
As the molecular structures break down, volatile compounds are boiled off and concentrations of complex sugars develop. This leaves behind malty sweetness and aromatic esters from yeast creating an interesting ingredient that can be added to an array of recipes.
The application of beer in cooking includes, but is not limited to: baking, glaze for meats, battering, de-glazing pans, braising or just adding some intense tasting notes to a dish. Adding beer to your favourite recipe could deepen flavour profiles in soups, stews, chillis and so much more.
Although most beers lack the acidity and enzymes to break down and tenderize meats, they offer a wide range of robust flavours, perfect for marinades, compared to other traditional agents. The appeal of this is to add flavours that taste like you’ve had the meal simmering for hours.
Cooking with Beer: Spent Grain Pasta
The process of Spent Grain, from mash to table. Brewer Gian Carlo Todon and Executive Chef, Alex Fegaras demonstrate the craftsmanship of handmade Spent Grain Pasta at Abe Erb Brew Co, in Uptown Waterloo.
Tips to cooking with beer
Don’t be afraid to try several different types of beer or different methods to see which works best for you. When preparing your beer-enhanced dish, keep these helpful tips in mind.
1. Taste test
Careful attention should be taken to make sure that your taste buds are always happy. Tasting beer is subjective and this goes for cooking with it too. If you’re not a fan of bitterness, maybe avoid using IPA’s. Play within your comfort zone, using familiar flavours at first and experimenting with cook times and methods instead.
Beer is bitter. The longer it is cooked, the more bitterness is amplified. Embracing this fact will only prove to be more of a success when cooking. Try to balance the flavours of the cooked beer by adding acidity to cut the salty notes, sugar or honey to hide them or play it up with an ingredient that compliments bitterness, like orange peel. Balance is key to cooking a fantastic meal.
3. Don’t Overcook
Cooking beer for extended periods will result in flavour being taken away. If your pan or pot is too hot, the bitter notes will be deposited and the aroma will boil off. Instead, add your beer toward the end of the cooking process to amplify the flavours and add a fresh yet distinctive taste.
Remember to have fun when experimenting with your brew. The more fun you have and the more risks to take, the better the reward. Don’t shy away from tossing some beer in your next meal to see what it could do for you!