Cooking With Beer

I taught a class to a wonderful bunch of folks on the topic of Cooking With Beer tonight.  The menu included Wassail, Lager Boiled Shrimp, Welsh Rarebit, Drunken Chicken, and Porter Cream Pie!  It was all delicious, and even included a Custard Miracle!

Here is a list of beers and the flavor profiles you will find that make cooking with beer easier and tastier:

Ale – a top-fermented beer that is the oldest of all brews. Ales tend to be stronger than bottom-fermented beers, and come in a variety of colors. Strong Belgian ales can complement some meat dishes, but most red meat dishes will require the use of dark brown ale rather than the lighter version.

Brown Ale – has a deep amber color, with a sweet flavor and even balances of malt and hops. Nut brown beer is ideal for rich dishes such as stews or cheese dishes.

Bock – A German term for strong beer, this style ranges in color from golden to tawny to brown. It is generally high in alcohol content and sweeter and heavier than most lagers.

Lager – a dry light, carbonated beer aged in storage from six weeks to six months before use. From the German lagern, meaning cold, a term applied to bottom-fermented beers in particular because it is fermented and stored at low temperatures. Lager beer is works well for baking breads and in pancakes because it adds a yeasty quality to the dough.

Lambic – commonly brewed in Belgium with barley and un-malted wheat. The mash is left to spontaneously ferment with wild yeast in the atmosphere. It then goes through a second fermentation where cherries, raspberries, or other fruits are added. Fruity beers work well with desserts. Lambics have a fruity complexity similar to a cider or chardonnay.

Pale Ale – originated in England, copper colored and has a fruity taste with a hint of malt and a dry hoppy finish. Pale ale complements a wide variety of recipes. Beer intensifies during cooking, so a lighter tasting beer may lend more of a blended flavor than a darker beer.

Pilsner – light body with high hops bitterness and pale in color with a medium alcohol content. Pilsners have a clean, dry, rich taste with a slight flowery finish.

Porter – developed in London in the late 1700’s, this style was originally a blend of pale ale and brown ale or stout. Porters are rich, dark, malty, slightly sweet and less hoppy than other ales.

Scotch Ale – Heavily dominated by malt flavor and reminiscent of scotch malt whiskey.

Stout – very dark in color and rich in flavor due to highly roasted grains. Stouts have a rich malty flavor, sometimes combined with a bitter hops taste. An ale beer that originated in Ireland in the 1770’s when Guinness began calling its porter “stout porter”.

  • Wheat ales can enhance seafood and poultry dishes.
  • Adding beer to batters produces a light and crispy texture.
  • Just like wine, select a beer to cook with that you would like to drink Don’t be afraid of using stale beer though. Most historic recipes using beer started with a need to use the old stuff up!
  • Take beer out of refrigeration and let it come up to room temp before you cook with it.
  • Tell diners or guests beforehand that you included beer as an ingredient to the dish. Some people have allergies to wheat or hops.
  • Consider serving a different type of beer with your beer-cooked dish to complement different flavors.
  • Try different beers to create an appreciation of different flavors and tastes

Here is the recipe for Drunken Chicken with Onion Dressing.  Enjoy!

Drunken Chicken with Onion Dressing

Serves 4-6

3 or 4 pounds chicken, cut into serving pieces
4 oz butter
1 cup chicken broth
1 cup brown ale
½ tsp finely ground black pepper
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp salt

Onion Dressing
2 lbs sliced onions
2 oz butter
1 cup dry toasted bread crumbs
½ tsp finely ground black pepper
½ tsp ground ginger
Generous pinch of saffron threads
Salt to taste

Heat butter in a skillet. Sprinkle salt, pepper and ginger on the chicken, tossing to coat. Sear the chicken in the heated butter, turning to brown on both sides. Add brown ale and half of the chicken broth, then reduce heat. Allow the sauce to reduce and thicken. Turn chicken to keep it coated as it cooks. If the pan starts to get dry before the chicken is done, add a little more chicken broth.  Remove from heat when the chicken is cooked. Taste the sauce and adjust seasoning. If the reduction has made the sauce too bitter, add a pinch of sugar or honey to counteract that flavor, but not too much as the bitter flavor compliments the sweetness of the onion dressing.  Heat 2 oz of butter in a separate skillet. Add the sliced onions and toss to coat, stirring frequently to cook until onions start to ‘wilt’, before they begin to turn translucent. Add the spices and toss to coat. Stir occasionally to ensure even cooking. As the onions turn translucent, add the breadcrumbs and toss. The saffron should turn the whole mixture yellow and give it a wonderful aroma. Allow the mixture to brown, stirring to mix the color into the dressing. Adjust seasoning to taste.

Serve dressing as a base, with pieces of chicken nestled into it. Add a spoonful of the reduced sauce to the chicken. Don’t add too much sauce, it could turn the dressing mushy and overbalance the bitter flavors.

3 thoughts on “Cooking With Beer”

  1. I want to make this for two. Would you decrease chicken and maintain sauce and seasoning or halve everything? I lean towards only decreasing the chicken since I love onions and gravy is a major food group on the pyramid. Just below chocolate.

    1. The Onion Dressing is pretty wonderful and there usually isn’t enough (it is supposed to be a simple side accompaniment, but people usually want more), so I’d go with your plan to keep those amounts the same and reduce the chicken. You probably won’t need as much beer/broth mixture though, just enough to braise the chicken, not enough to cover it up and boil it.

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