Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Now You're Cooking!

A potentially overlooked but very versatile ingredient in many recipes is beer. I'm not just talking about having four or five while you nuke your Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, but good guess. Almost any recipe calling for some sort of wine can use beer instead. Beer makes an excellent soup base, can deglaze even the cruddiest pan, and makes chili amazing.

Cooking with beer first entered my consciousness when I was around eleven years old. My cousin's uncle had an electric crock pot full of hot dogs and Budweiser which had been slow cooking all day. At this age, I don't think I had tasted beer and probably would have found it disgusting, but those hot dogs were really good. Ever since then, it stuck with me: beer makes food better.

Let's expand the notion beyond beer-dogs and beer-battered-shrimp. We're higher class than that, right? Obviously we are not (since I'm sure your mouth is watering,) but indulge me.

What a lot of people don't often think about is the chemistry involved in cooking. A soup pot is just a big experiment which, much like in the chem lab, you hope does not end up filling your house with noxious brown smoke. In chemistry, solvents are used to dissolve solids, and alcohol is one of the best. By adding wine, beer, sherry, cognac, or anything else to the mixture you're dissolving compounds and allowing them to react (creating tons of new flavors which you couldn't get any other way.) You can throw all the Buckler Non-Alcoholic beer you want in that pan but it's not going to work out.

Deglazing a pan takes this one step further. You have crusty burned food stuck to the bottom of your favorite stainless steel pan that just won't come off (you can't use non-stick for sauce since the crusties stick to the food instead.) You could waste all this flavor potential and soak it in soap for a few hours, or you could do as the French do and make a wine (or beer) reduction sauce from it. The options are endless, but usually match the beer or wine with the food you're eating. One of the simplest reduction sauces is just red wine (like burgundy,) butter, sliced shallot, thyme (or tarragon for lamb,) and salt. Throw some wine on that nasty crust and mix in the rest to wind up with an excellent steak sauce (once it reduces to sauce viscosity.)

Also, if you have some skunked beer you don't want to drink, you can just throw it in the hot crusty pan to make cleanup a snap. Don't eat the sauce though; it'll probably taste like fried skunk stink-gland.

For the best flavor use beer that goes with the food, not the national brands. The beer you use in the sauce should go with the meal, so serve the other five along with it (assuming you didn't drink them all while cooking.) I use beer in a Rachel Ray pumpkin muffin stuffing recipe (which I'd post, but apparently it's not online,) as a soup base for pumpkin rarebit soup (link is similar, but I use the one from the Enchanted Broccoli Forest,) and as added flavor in chili. I've also had beer in the following and it's been amazing:

  • Steak Sauce
  • Sausages Simmered in Beer
  • Chipotle Gravy
  • Shrimp Cocktail (Beer in the Sauce)
  • Beer Bread
  • Beer-Battered Anything
  • Guinness Stew
  • Chili (try Chocolate Stout for added smoke)

Beer's low alcohol content means you won't be using it for Steaks Diane any time soon, but be glad your neighbors won't call the fire department. I hope you'll consider trying out a recipe. Let me know what you think!


  1. Mmmmmm, you had me at beer-dogs.......

  2. Yep! I was agreed, I'll keep in touch to your blog.
    This blog is so usefully, Thanks for the posted ;)