Featured Ingredient: Beer
Gone are the days when beer was considered too pedestrian compared to wine for use as a cooking liquid. With the craft beer boom and mounting experimentation in the kitchens of tony gastropubs and up-market eateries, not to mention TV mega-food stars, the humble brew is finally getting a chance to show its culinary wings. Check out the Iron Chef beer battle. So take one down and pass it around to tap into beer’s huge flavor-enhancing potential.
From a culinary perspective, cooking with beer offers several benefits. The hops provide pleasant bitterness with the malt giving dishes a subtle sweetness. Stout beer makes chocolate baked goods even more chocolaty and lets you cut back on the oil or butter needed. Plus, the carbonation of beer contributes to the leavening (i.e. rising) of bread such as the recipe below with the malt producing a nice curst.
A few rules to abide by:
Just like wine, never cook with a beer that you wouldn’t want to imbibe.
Beer can merely be substituted for part or all of the liquid – water, stock, or wine – in recipes. In general, use a darker beer as a stand in for red wine and a lighter brew for white.
Sure, you’ll trim a few calories, but calorie-reduced light beers often don’t have enough flavor to stand up to cooking.
As beer cooks and reduces, it’s sweetness tends to cook off with the water, pushing it’s bitter aspects to the forefront. So use heavily hopped, bitter beers such as IPA in deeply flavored dishes or add them towards the end of cooking. A beer style that is very lightly hopped is perfect for reduction sauces and baking.
Full-flavored beers such as stouts and porters will have more impact on your dish, so a little goes a long way. Lighter lagers and pilsners can be used in greater quantities.
Ready to pour? Here’s a simple recipe to get you started in the wonderful world of cooking with beer. These mini breads are perfect served warm with a whisper of butter.
Roasted Garlic Rosemary Beer Bread
1 whole garlic bulb
2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup lager or pilsner beer, preferably room temperature
Preheat oven to 375°F. Remove the excess papery covering on the garlic and slice off the top of the head so most of the cloves are exposed. Wrap in foil and bake for 45 minutes, or until garlic is very soft.
In a large bowl, squeeze out the soft garlic pulp and mix with flour, sugar, olive oil, baking powder, rosemary and salt. Add beer and stir until just combined (don’t overmix). Bake for about 20 minutes, or until tops are golden brown and an inserted tester comes out clean. Let cool before unmolding.