Cooking with Beer: Your new best friend
This article was contributed by: Daniel Matthews

Beer: it’s not just for kegs, football, or college (read: binge drinking) anymore. The perennial favorite beverage for all things party also can serve a culinary purpose. It’ll leave your guests asking, “What’s the secret ingredient?”

Don’t worry, non-drinkers will be able to indulge in your beer-infused dishes too—you don’t even have to tell them the secret ingredient. That’s because alcohol evaporates at 173 degrees Fahrenheit, leaving the malted barley, hops, yeast, and water to contribute to what’s cooking. Beyond flavor, beer lends nutritive value to food because it has niacin, riboflavin, and calcium, among other nutrients. And, it’s versatile as an ingredient.

What’s the best way to beer your culinary creation? The following will give you some tips on taking beer to new places in the kitchen.

The Three C’s

Just like any integral ingredient, the flavor profile of different kinds of beer is important to consider.

The first C: cut the richness in a cream-based sauce with a beer high in IBUs (International Bitterness Units). India Pale Ales, American Pale Ales and other brews with a lot of hops in them are effective cutters. How bitter these beers are varies from beer-to-beer, so experiment.

The second C: complement a hearty dish, such as chili, with an equally hearty, full bodied beer. Stouts, porters, and doppelbocks work well in this arena. The higher concentration of grain in these beers lends them their chewy, robust mouthfeel.

The third C: contrast a bland dish, such as a simple fish or chicken dish, with a full-flavored beer. Glaze or marinade the meat with beer. Guinness is a good candidate to qualify for the full-flavored distinction, as is an imperial stout such as Old Rasputin, or a brown ale such as Rogue’s stellar Hazelnut Brown Nectar.

Vying with wine

When it comes to the kitchen, cooking with wine has long been a staple. But beer is now carrying the cooking torch, so to speak, and offers an alternative option. Simply put, beer will take what wine does to a completely different level.

Take, for example a recipe for Pollo a la Brasa, which calls for 3 tablespoons of white wine. The sweeter the wine is, the less spicy the marinade will be (although, it’s not a super-spicy marinade as is). If one were to substitute a light beer, such as a pilsner, in the recipe, an interesting thing happens.

Now the spices—the garlic powder, the cumin, the paprika, and the black pepper—are pronounced. The sugar in the beer contrasts with them less.

The malted barley in the beer, though, adds a slight caramel hint to contrast with the spice.

Choose a beer that’s not light, but a little spicier, a little more hoppy, and more malty. An amber, or red ale will do well. Now there’s a whole other level to the marinade. It’s spicy, but the sugar is higher and the caramel more pronounced. The marinade takes on a completely different character than with the wine or the pilsner. It’s bolder, with spice and notes of caramel and the slightest citrus hint from the hops all grappling for attention. Brilliant!   

Just desserts

Beer also does great things to dessert. A stout beer makes chocolate cake moist, fluffy, and rich. The bubbles in stout act as natural leavening agent, so you need less baking soda. A stout with a higher level of bitterness from hops, such as the Old Rsaputin, will contribute a complexity you’ve never tasted before in chocolate cake.

A raspberry lambic beer turns sorbet into a sweet concoction with a slight bite. The naturally-occurring sugar in beer is a carbohydrate that works great in pastries and cakes. But remember the 3 C’s. If it’s a bitter, hoppy beer, keep it away from the sweet stuff.

Just like with any new food adventure, experimenting with beer in your cooking is the fun part. So dive in, check out your local craft beer options, and enjoy the process!


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