Beer:  It’s Not Just For Drinking

Forget wine, the new trend is to pair food with beer. It’s no longer relegated to hanging out with its buddy pizza.  Restaurant chefs create intricate, unique menus to complement local craft beers. At home, beer goes beautifully with almost everything, especially tacos and spicy Asian dishes. It’s also a perfect accompaniment to both cheese and chocolate. Have you ever tried dark chocolate with a smoky porter? How about sharp cheddar with a nut brown ale?  Don’t get me started.

Aside from pairing with food, beer is also perfect for preparing said food. It makes an excellent substitute for wine (or any liquid for that matter) in most recipes. You can create soups and stews, braise meat and enhance sauces/gravies. Because beer has yeast, it’s perfect for baking breads and making pancakes, as it adds both levity and flavor. One can even buy contraptions to make “beer can chicken.” (If you’re not familiar with this dish, basically you stick a can of beer up the crotch of a chicken carcass and cook it on the grill. I realize my description isn’t terribly appetizing, but the result is actually phenomenal – moist, flavorful chicken with charred, crispy skin.)

If you haven’t tried cooking with beer yet, now is a great time as we wind down from summer and the dishes get heartier and richer. I personally cook with beer often and for me it’s trial and error: If a recipe calls for a liquid like wine or stock, I replace it with beer. If I’m making carnitas in the slow cooker or searing shrimp for tacos, I’ll throw in a Mexican-style lager like Tecate or Corona. If I’m making something rich like beef stew or braised short ribs, I’ll go dark with a nut brown ale, or even a porter or stout.

When selecting a beer to cook with, do remember that, like wine, the flavor will be intensified upon cooking, so choose the beer that bests complements the dish you’re making. Therefore, if you don’t want your chili to have pumpkin flavor, stay away from the pumpkin spice ales. On the flip side, that same ale would certainly elevate a vegetarian stew made with roasted pumpkin, white beans and kale. Serve it with a salad, some crusty bread and, of course, your favorite beer; a perfect fall meal.

Here are a couple of examples of successful dishes I’ve made. Both are simple, yet tasty and comforting. Feel free to adapt them to suit your own taste.

Beer Makes Better Beef Stew

Ingredients:

1.5 lbs of stew meat

¼ cup flour

Salt and pepper to taste

Olive oil

12-15 cippolini onions (if you can’t find these, Vidalia onions, quartered, make a fine substitute)

2 cloves crushed garlic

2 carrots and 2 parsnips, peeled and sliced

1 lb mushrooms (preferably crimini)

Thyme, fresh, 1 teaspoon chopped

1 hearty beer of your choice; Guinness works well but any dark beer will do

¼ cup of chopped parsley

Heat your Dutch oven to medium high heat. Add olive oil. Meanwhile, dump your flour and a generous amount of salt and pepper into a plastic bag. Add the stew meat and shake. Remove each piece of meat, shake off the excess flour and add to the pan. Cook for 2-3 minutes — long enough to get a sear on the meat — then flip. You don’t want to overcrowd the pan so you might have to do this in batches.

Once all the meat is seared, remove it from the pan and set aside. Add onions to pan, then garlic, sliced carrots, mushrooms and thyme. Once the onions have softened and carrots have begun to brown, add ¾ of the beer (yes, you can drink the remainder). Scrape up all the brown bits and cook to a low boil. Add the meat then reduce heat to simmer and cook for an hour. Add fresh parsley, plus salt and pepper to taste. Serve with mashed potatoes, egg noodles or a loaf of French bread.

Mexican Vegetarian Green Chili

Ingredients:

2 garlic gloves

1 medium sized onion, chopped

1 jalapeno, chopped and seeded

Salt and pepper

½ teaspoon ground cumin

1 can chick peas (if you’re not a vegetarian you can substitute the chick peas for shredded chicken)

1 can white beans

1 jar green salsa (I like Mrs. Renfro’s but, unlike red salsa, most jarred ones are pretty good)

1 can/bottle of Mexican beer (Tecate is my personal favorite)

Bunch of chopped cilantro

¼ cup sour cream

Once again, drag out that Dutch oven and heat it with oil, this time on medium heat. Add your chopped onion, garlic and jalapeño. Once the onions begin to soften, add salt, pepper and cumin. Throw in your salsa, beans, chick peas (or shredded chicken) and ¾ of the beer. Cook to a low boil then reduce heat; add more beer if needed and simmer for 30-45 minutes. Unlike the beef stew, which can cook all day, the beans can get overcooked if you simmer for too long. At 30 minutes, taste the chili. Add salt and pepper if needed and cook for 15 minutes longer if the beer taste is too prominent. Stir in fresh cilantro and sour cream; serve with anything you like, such as additional sour cream, crushed tortilla chips, jalapeno slices and chopped scallions.

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