Tuesday 1 March 2016 12:27 pm
Five classic meals that are improved by adding beer
I was making risotto the first time I poured beer into my dinner. The recipe called for a glass of wine; I was drinking a bottle of lager and I figured that I’d use that instead. It was delicious. In the 10 years since, I’ve cooked with every kind of beer there is, using it every possible way: curries with lager, breakfast pancakes with coffee stout, quick stir fries, slow-braised stews, ice creams, cakes, doughs, sauces, brines, batters and, yes, risottos. So when can you use beer in a recipe? Simple: if a liquid is called for, you can probably substitute it for beer. This nectar of the gods comes in an incredible breadth of styles: the citrus and tropical aromas in IPA give depth to mac ‘n’ cheese and add zing to a chocolate mousse; you can cure a side of salmon in spicy Belgian Witbier and use the same bottle in place of lemon over a Thai curry; treacly Imperial Stout enriches a banana cake and can be brilliant in chilli. There’s a wonderful alchemy involved in taking a drink you love and transcending it into something delicious to eat. Here are five of my favourite dishes cooked with beer.
People have cooked with beer for as long as civilisation has mixed grain with water and allowed it to ferment into alcohol. It would’ve gone into breads and braises, been mixed into sauces, poured into dense fruit cakes and, if it turned sour, used to preserve vegetables. Belgium is the home of cuisine à la bière and the best, most dedicated beer cuisine: mussels cooked in wheat beer, endive in beer-cheese sauce, rabbit in cherry beer, chicken in strong golden ales, chocolate mousse with dark Trappist ale, and the classic dish of Carbonnade Flamande or beef slow-cooked in Belgian beer.
You can make this with a number of different beers – sometimes a strong, dark monastery beer, others an idiosyncratic local sour ale. It’s beer’s version of beef bourguignon, the Belgian equivalent of beef and ale stew and the ideal starter recipe for someone wanting to cook with beer. My version uses a big slab of brisket, softened for a few hours in the rich Belgian beer with some complementary spices like cinnamon and ground coriander. It’s great served with chips and a bottle of dark Belgian ale.