Beer and food pairings are nothing new. It’s a lot like pairing wine with food, and you can really amp up the enjoyment of a meal with the right combination. However, if you want to go the extra mile in your love of cuisine and food, there’s nothing quite like cooking with beer. Of course, beer batter has been around seemingly since humans first started frying foods, but there’s so much more that can be done with a good brew and some food.
Cooking with beer opens up the door to amazing creativity, some truly remarkable flavors and can make a singular difference in both your cooking process as well as how much you and your family and friends enjoy the food that comes out of your kitchen. However, before you start pouring lager into your boiler, there are a few things that you need to know.
The #1 Rule
While you can achieve some remarkable things with beer added to the cooking process, you can also experience some dismal failures. Experimentation is the rule here, but remember this – never cook with a beer that you wouldn’t want to drink. Don’t care for Bud Light? Don’t put it in a recipe. Don’t like Pabst? Keep it out of the kitchen. Any beer that you use is going to be present in your food, so if you don’t like the brew, you won’t like the results.
When using beer in any recipe, you’ll be using it to replace liquids called for. For instance, if you’re making bread, you’ll use the beer to replace water. If you’re making a stew, the same thing holds true. Never add beer on top of the liquid called for in a recipe unless you really want to thin it out. Beer is a liquid, and the wetter your recipe, the thinner and more watery whatever it is you’re cooking will be.
Overcooking Beer Can Be Bad
Another important thing to remember about cooking with beer is the fact that overcooking it will cut down on the amount of taste and flavor it provides your meal. This is particularly true if you want that hoppy aroma in your finished dish. If you just want to add body and a hearty flavor, then add your brew at the beginning of the cooking process – stout added to dark stew, for example. If you want the hops aroma to last, though, you’ll need to add it after the hottest cooking is done.
Good Starter Ideas
Finding the right place to begin is half the battle. While experimentation is the rule, there’s nothing that says you have to start with a complex dish. In fact, one of the best places to start might be with a simple bread recipe. You can find a ton of different beer bread recipes out there, but it’s not hard to come up with your own. Just replace some of the liquid with your favorite brew and see what happens.
Another place to start is to use beer in a marinade. Different brews pair well with different herbs and spices, as well as other additives, so there’s plenty of room for trial and error here. You’ll also find that beer can help tenderize meat. Let your meat sit for at least an hour (overnight is better) and then toss it on the grill and enjoy. Of course, you can always go the batter route. Adding beer to batter in place of water or another liquid can give you a lighter, crispier dish, and you’ll find that it can also add quite a bit of flavor to your meal.
Know Your Brew
Different types of beer lend themselves to different dishes. You’ll find that lighter beers are better for lighter fare, while darker beers are ideal for robust, hearty dishes. Fruity options should be left for desserts, though they can add an interesting character to some meat dishes. Generally, lighter beers (color, not body or flavor, mind you) are excellent choices for marinades, bastes and brining, while darker brews are the ideal option for adding heartiness to wetter dishes (soups and stews), but that’s only a general rule of thumb. You’ll find plenty of recipes out there that call for dark beer, like Guinness cake.
Beer Cooking Myths
While humans have been cooking with beer pretty much as long as the beverage has been around, a number of myths concerning the practice have grown up. Here are the most common myths and the actual truths.
1. The Alcohol Goes Away – This is perhaps the most common myth out there. There is no way to cook out all the alcohol when using beer in your meals. This goes for wine and any other type of alcohol as well. Even after 2 1/2 hours of cooking there will still be about 5% of the original alcohol remaining. It’s certainly not enough to make you tipsy, but it’s definitely still present in the food. What’s more – it becomes part of the food.
2. Beer Makes Food Healthier – This isn’t as common as the one about alcohol burning off during cooking, but it’s present, particularly with the new information coming out about the health benefits of beer. Any health advantages offered by beer are usually canceled out during the cooking process. You can’t make fried food “good for you” by adding beer to it.
3. Adding Beer to Food Gets You Drunk – This one goes back to #1; you’re not going to get drunk from eating food cooked in beer. While there’s no way to remove the alcohol completely, it is reduced enough that even young children can eat the dish without worrying about any adverse effects.
Cooking with beer can be a lot of fun, and it can open up an entirely new world of enjoyment in culinary terms. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different types of beer and different recipes. You might just find that you create some new family favorites (and you get to drink what doesn’t get used in the recipe).