Beer: It’s What’s for Dinner

Feature by | Jul 2007 | Issue #7
Photo by Catalina Kulczar

It’d be nice if there were some wild origin story when it comes to cooking with beer. Alas, no anonymous chef of some ancient tribe accidentally elbowed his crock of primeval ale into the fire while the boar was roasting, and no frantic page attempted any emergency substitutions for the king’s Hasenfeffer once the castle ran out of wine. It’s rather been a long, slow process of trial, error and faith.

A little progressive for some, and utterly plebe to others, the notion of cooking with beer has certainly overcome taboo, but it has yet to completely trounce its reputation as being unfit for food. As five of the country’s best beer chefs are about to prove, beer is food. If you can’t make it to one of their excellent restaurants, at least treat yourself to one of their recipes.

Bon appetit! (Oh, and cheers!)

Tim Schafer
Tim Schafer’s at Lake Norman [closed]
Sherrills Ford, N.C.

Tim Schafer didn’t go from bagging groceries to running his own four-star restaurant overnight. There were a lot of steps in between—like the ones he took to the back of the store to work the meat room for seven years, the ones he later took as walked up to receive his diploma from the Culinary Institute of America, and the ones he still takes back and forth between the kitchen and the dining room, greeting customers who are continually wowed by his beer-cooking prowess.

Widely and simply known as “The Brewchef,” Schafer’s interest in cooking with beer started once he had already opened his eponymous Morristown, N.J., restaurant. After hosting a couple of beer dinners and heeding some advice from beer writer Michael Jackson, Schafer’s beer list began to lengthen—and his imagination broadened.

“I’ve found everything through experimentation,” he says. “Don’t be scared—it’s only beer!” Willy-nilly as this may sound, Schafer warns against “gratuitously” adding beer, emphasizing instead the benefits of reduction. A hearty German lager reduced with some honey, for example, makes for a lovely glaze for whitefish. The recipe for his Stout-and-Scotch demi-glace, included here, sports a similar perfection of balance between hoppy tang and complex sweetness.

While his cuisine at Lake Norman reflects a wide array of tastes (and talents), it’s his downright ease with experimenting (and succeeding) with beer that’s put him on the culinary maps of so many bona fide beer geeks. He’s been writing recipes and food pieces for the Ale Street News for 15 years (get a load of his Ale Spiked Peach Sorbet recipe on their website) and is currently preparing his first cookbook, ambitiously titled Beer: Not Just For Breakfast Anymore.

Tim Schafer’s Stout-and-Whiskey-Laced Demi-glace

1/2 tsp olive oil
1 white onion, diced large
10 whole black peppercorns
2 oz. single malt Scotch
4 oz Irish Stout
2 cup brown stock (If you don’t want to make your own brown stock, use a low-sodium beef broth.)
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp fresh herbs (rosemary, thyme, chives and parsley)
1 tbsp unsalted butter

Demi-glace is a fancy but classic culinary term for a natural sauce that has been reduced or evaporated by half, hence the “demi.” The combination of the sweetness left behind from the whiskey and the pleasant bitterness in the beer gives an interesting accent to this rich brown sauce.

Use this base sauce for any red meat, game or pork. If you love to cook, I recommend making this sauce all the time and keeping it on hand in the freezer. This recipe makes plenty of sauce probably enough for 4 to 6 servings and takes a while to make, depending on if you make your own stock.

METHOD:
In a 2-quart saucepan, heat the olive oil, and add onions and peppercorns. Cook for 5 minutes over medium heat until onions have become tender and golden in color. Remove the pan from the stove, then add the whiskey. Carefully, return the pan to the flame—the alcohol will ignite. Stir in the beer and cook for 4-5 minutes until half the liquid has evaporated. Then add the brown stock, and continue to simmer for approximately 15 minutes. There should be about 10 oz. remaining. Finish the sauce by straining out the onion and peppercorns, then season with salt and fresh herbs. Finish by whisking in the butter. If the sauce is too thick, add a little beer or beef broth. Serve hot.

Photo by Charles Russo

Photo by Charles Russo

Sean Paxton
homebrewchef.com

Let’s say you’ve been cooking with beer for a while. A few years, maybe. After enough trial, error and tinkering, you’ve become quite deft with the stuff. You might even say you’re good at it. Then you meet someone like Sean Paxton.

“I’ve been playing a lot with liquid nitrogen lately,” he says, pausing to stifle a slight giggle. “I mean, it’s really cool.”

Paxton is the type of guy who meets up with his brewer friends for a Brettanomyces swap. As a 14-year homebrewer, a board member for the Northern California Homebrewers Festival and a chef with 9 years’ experience, the confluence of beer and food in Paxton’s life seems to have come quite naturally. Oh, and he works in biotech. (Do they use liquid nitrogen in biotech?)

Paxton made a name for himself as “the food guy” at the yearly Homebrewers Festival, where he concocts elegant Friday-night six-course beer-enhanced menus that approach the complexities of beer with utter fearlessness. Past menus for the feast have included King Arthur Stone Soup (root veggies, herbs, garlic, Red Ale and “a few warm stones added for flavor,” all served in a pumpkin—now that’s earthy). He’s also prepared a Pilsner-brined salmon baked in salt, a slow-roasted pig injected with Arrogant Bastard and served with red pepper IPA jelly, and a life-changing Imperial Stout chocolate cake. The ubiquity of beer throughout the courses is a testament to Paxton’s faith that beer, though not found everywhere, can fit in just about anywhere.

“Sour, salt, sweet, bitter—you can use beer to play off of all of these components, and you’ll get well-rounded flavor,” he says. “It’s just so incredibly versatile.”

Sean Paxton’s Rib Eye Steaks Topped with a Morel Mushroom Doppelbock Sauce

STEAKS
4 rib eye steaks, preferably grass-fed (about 12 oz. each)
3 tbsp olive oil
11.2 oz Celebrator Dopplebock (if cooking sous-vide—see below)
sea salt and cracked black pepper

SAUCE
8 tbsp (1 stick) butter, unsalted
2 cup shallots, peeled and diced
8 oz fresh morel mushrooms, soaked in cold water and cut in half
8 oz crimini mushrooms, sliced
11.2 oz Celebrator Doppelbock
1 cup chicken stock, preferably homemade
2 tsp fresh thyme, leaves only sea salt and cracked black pepper

SIDE DISHES
Grilled Asparagus (perfect vegetable)
Fire-Roasted Yukon Gold Potatoes (perfect starch)
Firestone Walker Double Barrel Ale six-pack (perfect pairing)

Serves 4

As early summer hits, morel mushrooms pop through the pine-needle-covered forest. These earthy full-flavored ’shrooms pair wonderfully with a malty Dopplebock, adding complexity to a rich rib eye steak.

METHOD:

FOR STEAK: There are two options for cooking the steak: The first option is sous-vide. Sous-vide is a style of cooking in which the main ingredient is vacuum-sealed and submerged in a water bath at precise temperature for a set time. This fully cooks the meat to a perfect temperature, allowing flavorings to penetrate.

A food saver or vacuum seal machine is best for this method; however, a freezer Ziploc quart-sized bag will also work.

Take a large stockpot, and fill with water as full as you can, leaving room for displacement for the steaks; this will help regulate the temperature more evenly. Warm the water over low heat using a thermometer or temperature probe set to 120° (if you like your steak medium rare) or 130° (if you like your steak medium). Place the steaks on a plate and season both sides with olive oil, salt and pepper. Next, place each steak into a bag (either the vacuum bag or a Ziploc), and add half the Doppelbock. Remove as much air as you can, to prevent the bag from floating during cooking. Once sealed, add the steaks to the water bath and keep the temperature as close to 120°/130° as possible (turn heat to the lowest setting, sometimes turning the heat on and off), and cook for 1 hour. During the cooking, prepare the grill with hot coals.

Remove the steaks from the bag after 1 hour and pat dry. Lightly oil each steak, place on grill, and cook for 1 minute on each side, just to lightly brown the external surface area. Remove the steaks from the grill, and let rest for 5 minutes before cutting.

The second option is to fire up the grill with a mesquite charcoal. Place the steaks on a plate, and season both sides with olive oil, salt and pepper. Lightly oil your grill to prevent sticking. When your coals have turned a golden red, place the steaks over the coals, and cook for about 3-4 minutes each side (depending on the thickness of the meat and how you like your steak cooked). Remove the steaks from the grill and let rest for 5 minutes before cutting.

FOR SAUCE: In a sauté pan over medium heat, add butter. Melt the butter until it foams slightly, which brings out a nice nutty flavor. Add shallots, and sauté for 10 minutes, stirring often to caramelize. Add prepared mushrooms (soaking the morels in water helps remove any dirt and leaves from the cracks and will not waterlog this mushroom), and cook till the mushrooms have given up their liquid, about 6 minutes. Deglaze the pan with the Dopplebock; use a wooden spoon to scrape off any fond. Add the chicken stock and thyme, raising heat to medium-high; cook to reduce the volume by half. Taste and adjust seasonings with salt and pepper.

TO FINISH: Using the hot coals, place Yukon gold potatoes and asparagus rubbed with olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper to the grill. Once the meat has rested, slice across the grain of the meat fibers, and serve with the morel-Dopplebock sauce and a pint of Double Barrel Ale. This oak-barrel-fermented ale works well with the earthy mushrooms, the smoke of the fire and the malt complexity of the grain bill. The touch of Magnum, Styrian Golding and East Kent Golding hops will add balance to the marbled steaks’ richness.

Sean Paxton’s Liquid-Nitrogen-Infused Rochefort 10 Ice Cream

2 cup cream, not ultra-pasteurized
1 cup whole milk
1 cup sugar (organic)
1 cup Dark Candi syrup
4 egg yolks
1 pinch sea salt
11.6 oz Rochefort 10, Abbaye Notre-Dame de Saint-Remy
4-5 qt liquid nitrogen

Serves 4

When making ice cream, the whole trick is to minimize the formation of ice crystals. Liquid nitrogen is 320° F below zero (or -196° C), which can freeze alcohol and just about anything else. When using it to make ice cream, you can freeze a quart of ice cream in 2-3 minutes.

What’s also nice about using liquid nitrogen as a freezing medium is that it allows you to make smaller batches of ice cream, even custom flavors for an ice cream party—each guest can have their own favorite flavor.

METHOD:

ICE CREAM BASE: In a medium-sized pot, combine the cream, milk, sugar and Dark Candi syrup (or dark soft sugar) over medium heat. Stir to dissolve the sugar, and bring mixture to 170°, then remove from heat. In a separate bowl, add egg yolks, and whisk for a minute. Then whisk in 2 oz. of hot cream mixture to the yolks to temper them. Add another 2 oz., whisking to prevent cooking the mixture. Pour yolk mixture back into the remaining cream mixture, whisking to incorporate. Strain mixture through a fine sieve into another bowl to remove any cooked yolk. Chill mixture in either a water bath or refrigerator, until mixture is cold (around 36°).

In another medium-sized pot, add the bottle of Rochefort 10. Over low heat, warm this Trappist Ale to a soft simmer, and reduce by half. This slow-cooking will help caramelize the sugars and intensify its flavors of fig, vanilla, honey, date and plum. Remove from the heat, and add to the ice cream base.

ICE CREAM: Place your cooled flavored ice cream base into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Turn on the mixer for a few minutes to whip some air into the mixture. Then turn the mixer off, and carefully add about 2 cups of liquid nitrogen, turning the mixer on low after the liquid nitrogen has been added. Repeat this same procedure until the ice cream has set, usually with about 6-8 cups of liquid nitrogen per half-batch. Serve immediately.

Photo by Dylan Ousley

Photo by Dylan Ousley

Raymond Scott
Stone World Bistro
Escondido, Calif.

When Raymond “Scotty” Scott started at the newly opened Stone World Bistro nine months ago, he wasn’t new to cooking—but he was new to the increasingly warm reception that beer cuisine was getting.

“Every weekend, it’s just been bigger and bigger,” he says. “So, is cooking with beer still experimental? The answer is no. It’s gaining so much more acceptance, even though it changes every day.”

Scott’s approach is certainly steered by a sort of common sense—the why-didn’t-I-think-of-that kind of common sense. A flavorful filet of tilapia is marinated in sturdy Stone IPA before being served cold (ceviche-style) with spicy peppers; Carlsbad clams and mussels are steamed in Stone Pale Ale and fennel; and, to the fanfare of dozens of visitors to the brewery, Scott’s “Spud Buds” are the very vision of pragmatic genius: beer-and-garlic-enhanced mashed potatoes, rolled into balls, beer-battered, deep-fried and served with beer-jacked barbecue and cheese sauces.

Practical as Scott is, an entrée of beef braised in Arrogant Bastard and spun into Asian-style handrolls with habanero-carrot salsa proves that he’s not completely past experimentation. (Thank goodness for that.)

“Just don’t let your brain trick you out of trying something,” he says. “Beer is forgiving. And don’t go with the fizzy yellow stuff—get something good. If it tastes good before you cook with it, it will only get better once you do.”

Raymond Scott’s Spud Buds

People go crazy for these things. Once you make the two recipes below, the process is simple: Roll little mashed potato rounds about 1 inch in diameter, freeze ’em, then dip them in the batter and fry until golden brown.

Of course, you can do whatever you like as far as the beer goes, but I’m (understandably) partial to Stone. Just remember: Fear no beer, and keep cooking no matter what!

BEER AND GARLIC MASHED POTATOES
1/2 gallon Yukon potatoes, scrubbed and quartered
1/4 cup kosher salt
1/2 cup roasted garlic oil
1/2 cup beer of your choice (anything Stone works well)
1/2 tbsp white pepper
1/2 cup roasted garlic
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1 cup brewer’s yeast water, as needed

MASHED POTATOES: Cut potatoes into 1/2-inch cubes. Sprinkle with salt and place in pot. Cook until soft, straining extra liquid when finished. Place remainder of ingredients in mixer with paddle attachment, and whip on medium speed until creamy. Cool and store for next stage.

GREAT ALE BATTER
2 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp kosher salt
2 tbsp Cajun spices
1 tbsp paprika
2 tbsp garlic, chopped
1 tbsp brown sugar
22 oz Arrogant Bastard Ale

ALE BATTER: Reserve flour to side. Whisk together dry ingredients and garlic, then whisk in beer. Slowly add flour until it reaches your desired consistency. Place mixture in ice bath. Follow directions above to complete Spud Buds.

Photo by Matt Tueten

Photo by Matt Tueten

Jim Sklaver
The Publick House
Brookline, Mass.

Jim Sklaver has been something of a godsend to a number of constituencies. For Publick House co-owner David Ciccolo, Sklaver represents a continually renewing set of possibilities for the kitchen; for Brookliners, he graces the neighborhood with what could very well be the nation’s most ambitious menu of cuisine à la bière; and for BeerAdvocates (especially the novice chefs among their ranks), his thoroughness, fortitude and try-anything-once gusto is nothing short of inspiring.

When eating at the Publick House, you get the sense that your pockets are the only things without any beer in them: Pistachio-crusted scallops arrive with Swiss cheese flan and a Lindeman’s Framboise reduction; Maredsous 10 (a bold, bottle-fermented Tripel) lends a stealthy tang to their infamous Bolognese; and smoky Schlenkerla Rauchbier parties with tiny cubes of bacon and sweet corn in the best damn mussel-steeping broth ever brought to a simmer—period. Sklaver even covers the condiments: There’s McChouffe in the mayo, Wostyntje in the mustard and Dogfish Indian Brown in the barbecue. Even the cheese has beer in it, from the Guinness-veined Cahill Irish Porter cheese to Chimay and Orval, both straight from their Belgian breweries.

“I try to get beer into whatever I’m making,” Sklaver says. “And nine times out of 10, it works.”

As experimental as Sklaver can get, like any artist, he does so with a mastery of the basics, a lesson any newbie beer-cook might take to heart. His take on beer bread is as simple as they come—though its suggestion of bolder flavors via pronounced Belgians is welcome pressure to up the ante. Meanwhile, his simple beer batter for fish provides a trusty foundation from which to launch any number of variations.

Cook sensibly. Just make sure to follow Publick House protocol: Save some beer for yourself!

Jim Sklaver’s Bread and Batter

QUICK AND EASY BEER BREAD
3 cup self-rising flour
3 tbsp granulated sugar
12 oz Belgian beer (try to find one with lots of sediment in it—Sklaver suggests Don de Dieu from Unibroue)

FISH BEER BATTER
3 large eggs
2 cup hoppy beer (Sklaver recommends Mojo IPA)
2 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp cayenne pepper, ground
2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp baking powder
flour for dredging

This bread is full of flavor, and pairs very well with strong cheeses.

BREAD: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease or spray a 9x5x3-inch loaf pan. Combine all ingredients, mixing well. Pour into prepared pan, and bake for 1 hour. (Not joking about that “quick and easy” part.)

FISH: Heat cast-iron skillet over medium heat with vegetable oil—do not use olive oil. Beat eggs in mixing bowl; when solid yellow, pour in beer and mix lightly. Slowly whisk in flour until smooth. Wash fish of choice under cold running water and pat dry. Dredge fish in flour to coat. Dip in beer batter to cover fish completely. Place in hot oil and cook until browned—about 2-3 minutes. Flip fish and cook additional 3 minutes. Should be served immediately, but may be kept warm on cookie sheet in 350 degrees oven for about 10 minutes.

Photo by Rich Schultz

Photo by Rich Schultz

Michael Adams
The Farmhouse [closed]
Emmaus, Pa.

While BeerAdvocates are globetrotters by nature (at least when it comes to what’s in the fridge), there’s something to be said about drawing inspiration from your immediate surroundings.

Witness Michael Adams, chef and owner of the Farmhouse Restaurant, whose closeness to the agricultural riches of the area earned him Best Chefs props at a competition in his home state earlier this year. Wielding a dish of seared venison with Stilton, sage-braised endive and blueberry gastrique, Adams turned a preselected palette of Pennsylvanian offerings into otherworldly magic, besting a big-city five-star rival and snagging a cool grand—for victory beers with his friends, of course. There’s an audio clip of an interview with Adams right after he won posted on the state’s agricultural website; he sounds as if he just tore through a downhill slalom, like every bit of him was put into the run. That’s how he sounds when he talks about food—and beer.

“They didn’t touch on beer in culinary school at all,” says Adams. (It’s the mantra of beer chefs.) “I wasn’t even old enough to drink. When I came [to the Farmhouse], the owner at that time had this idea of having a really great beer list. It was an amazing experience putting it all together. I was so young. It was awesome and inspiring to me.”

So inspiring were these initial explorations that Adams has developed much of his cuisine to incorporate beer. There’s no gimmick at work; similar to the appeal of fresh, local produce, Adams is as drawn to beer’s practicality as he is to its endless array of flavors. Try his chilled peach soup to taste what I mean.

“It’s still moving, and it hasn’t slowed down,” Adams says of beer’s increasing presence in menus everywhere. “There’s so much energy behind it right now. It used to be hard to get your hands on great beer in the ’90s—today, it’s a different story entirely.”

Michael Adams’ Chilled Peach Soup with Créme Fraîche & Poblano Chilis

We did this at a beer dinner three years ago. It was the heart of the summer season, and I had all these ripe local peaches. I put them together with some local poblanos, Dentergems Witbier (which we had on tap—the timing was perfect!), some peach Lambic and some simple syrup. It just worked.

Serves 4

8 fresh ripe peaches (peeled and seeded)
1 cup Pêche Lambic
1 cup Witbier (Dentergems, Southampton Double White)
1/4 cup honey
1 tbsp cilantro
4 tbsp lime juice
1 poblano chili (seeded)
1 cup créme fraîche

METHOD:
Place peaches, Witbier, honey, lime juice and poblano into blender, and puree. Swirl the créme fraîche into the soup, and add cilantro.

For the créme fraîche
1 cup heavy cream
1 tsp vinegar

Mix in non-reactive bowl. Let set in fridge overnight. Enjoy with a nice Hefeweizen or summer Witbier. Yum!