There’s more to cooking with beer than using it just as a tenderizer of meats. That’s a job it does well, but beer also adds a raft of different flavours, including smoky, chocolatey, coffee, toasty, fruity and nutty nuances. Beer can be a bridge between flavours, as in a beef stew where it ties the slight charring of browned beef with its hint of bitterness, to sweeter caramelly notes in vegetables. Beer can change a dish by enhancing umami foods such as tomato concentrate, parmesan and mushrooms, making the whole richer in flavour, and can pick up on smoky notes in bacon and sausages. It can also cut richness in cheesy dishes, as in the dish of rarebit.
While it’s easy enough to simply replace any liquid called for in a dish with beer, and Hey! You’re cooking with beer – it’s a little more complex than that. As a rule of thumb, use wheat beers with poultry and fish, strong dark beers in stews, fruit beers in desserts and lighter beers such as lager in batters.
Getting the flavour from beer without overloading the dish with bitterness is of paramount importance. While delicate flavours will boil off – delicate beers are best in dressings or dishes where the cooking is brief – bitterness is concentrated as beer reduces. Here are a few tips:
Avoid cooking with IPAs (India Pale Ale) as they are generally too bitter;
Don’t use beer to deglaze a frying pan as it will taste bitter;
Bitterness usually dissipates over long slow cooking, but if a stew or meat dish tastes bitter at the end of cooking, add a little soft brown sugar – the caramel notes can help soften the bitterness.
Marinating beef in beer is an excellent way to get the deep flavours in dark beer to permeate the meat, rather than any bitter flavours you might get if you cooked the meat in it. The beer also helps the meat caramelize.
And, a funny thing – the finished dish may well taste better with a different beer to the one you used in the cooking. Rather than opening several beers of the same type when serving friends a dish cooked with beer, have several types of beer on the go with a range of glasses, and let everyone find their personal favourite match.
General Beer Notes
Beer is a great match with food because of its complex flavours. It’s also refreshing, and hops stimulate the appetite.
Get the food flavours sorted, then match these to beer. With food and wine you can come from either angle (food, or the wine, first).
Wine has grapes, terroir and barrel aging.
Beer has more ingredients added to it.
Barley adds sweetness, hops add bitterness, yeast adds bready flavours, then spices, nuts, chocolate, fruits and vegetables and botanicals add other flavours.
Hops help cut through fat and oiliness, even salt, much in the same way the lemony acidity in Sauvignon Blanc works.
There are two way of approaching a beer & food match, which is similar to wine & food matching.
This is always going to work. You take a sip, enjoy the flavour, take a bite and the food (or the other way around, food first, then beer), bounces back the taste of the beer. They are in harmony.
Each tastes good alone, but somehow following one with the other makes both taste better, think of a crisp lager chasing away the heat of a chilli dish like a hot Mexican taco, but the end flavour is fresh and lemony and you want more chilli!
So, why does beer make a great batter?
The beer carbonates the batter, making it more crisp, light & airy. Use stout, IPA or lager. Beer-battered Fish