Welcome to the Kasbah: North African Beer Cuisine

Cooking with Beer by | Jan 2009 | Issue #24

Could the cuisine of Northern Africa become the next comfort food? Its sweet and savory components playing off the sensuality of eating with your hands may become just that: comfort food for the soul. Here are some recipes from Morocco and Ethiopia that will possibly make you think differently when craving comfort food during the cold weather of winter.

Moroccan-Inspired Brined Chicken
Combining the flavors of savory and sweet plays with the mind’s perception of what we are consuming. Having the juxtaposition of sweet and savory in a dish not only adds complexity, but opens the possibilities for pairing unique beers that might not normally be associated with chicken.

Brine Ingredients:
3/4 cup kosher salt
1/2 cup sugar, organic
2 tbsp. white peppercorns, whole
8 each bay leaves
8 each cinnamon sticks
1/4 cup ginger root, peeled and chopped
2 qt. water
2 each Meyer lemons, halved
2 each tangerines, halved
22 oz. Pranqster Ale from North Coast Brewery
1 qt. ice
1 each whole chicken, preferably free range or Cornish game hen

In a medium-sized pot, add salt, sugar, peppercorns, bay leaves, cinnamon, ginger and water. Turn heat down to medium and stir occasionally until the mixture comes to a boil. Turn heat to low and let mixture reduce to 1 quart. This will combine all the flavors.

Juice the lemons and tangerines into a container that can hold about 2 gallons of liquid. Add cold beer (leaving behind any slurry), ice and the Moroccan-spiced mixture to the container. Make sure the brine is below 40°F, as you want to keep the poultry cold. Rinse the chicken under cold water, removing any innards. Submerge the chicken into the brine mixture, making sure the fowl is completely covered by the brine. Cover and refrigerate the container for 24–48 hours. During this time, the proteins will de-nature, causing osmosis: The brine liquid and the juices from the chicken will switch, helping to season the meat from the inside, out.

When ready to cook, preheat the oven to convection roast to 475˚F. Remove the chicken from the brine and rinse under cold water. Dry the bird with paper towels, removing as much moisture from the skin as possible. This is a key step to creating a crisp skin. If time permits, place a small fan in front of the chicken on high speed for 20 minutes to further help dry the chicken. Truss the chicken with kitchen twine and place the bird spine-side down into a hot, oven-proof sauté pan. Place in the center of the oven and cook for 45 minutes. Remove the chicken from the oven and baste with any collected juices from the bottom of the pan. Let chicken rest for 10 minutes to relax the muscle fibers and redistribute its juices before slicing.

Note: Only use the brine once and discard after use.

Chicken Bastilla
Similar to a meat pie, this Moroccan dish is a combination of seasoned chicken, eggs, saffron, and candied almond, mixed together and wrapped in delicate layers of flaky phyllo dough.

Serves: 6

1 recipe Moroccan-Inspired Brined Chicken
6 each large brown eggs
2 oz. Damnation from Russian River Brewing Co.
1 bunch cilantro
1 pinch saffron
1 cup canola oil
1 cup blanched almonds
1/3 cup powdered sugar
1 tbsp. orange blossom water
1 package phyllo dough
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup honey malt, ground fine or DME

Take the cooked and cooled chicken and remove all the meat from the carcass, shred it into bite-sized pieces and place into a bowl. Save any liquid from the bottom of the pan.

Place a sauté pan over medium heat; add the reserved liquid from the chicken. In a bowl, crack the eggs and add Damnation, whisking until light and fluffy. Mix in chopped cilantro and saffron, adding to the hot pan. Cook the eggs into a soft scramble. Set aside.

In another sauté pan, heat the oil over medium heat until it reaches 300˚F. Add almonds and fry until they turn a golden brown (about 4 minutes). Remove with a skimmer and let cool slightly. Put almonds into a food processor and add the powdered sugar and flower water. Pulse until the almonds are a semifine powder. Set aside.

Open the package of phyllo dough and cover with a slightly damp towel. Take one sheet of the phyllo and lightly brush with butter, then dust with the malt powder. Repeat this process six times, stacking each layer of dough. Next, decide if this will be one large pie or several individual pies. If individual, divide the sheet into smaller squares using a sharp knife.

To assemble, take the chicken, cover with the egg mixture and then top with the candied almonds. Taking one corner of the pastry, fold to the center of the square. Take the next edge of the pastry and repeat, until the package is sealed. Flip over so the folds are on the bottom and place on a sheet tray lined with parchment paper. Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Lightly brush the pastry with butter and bake for 25–45 minutes, depending on the size. The Bastilla will be a golden brown. Remove from the oven and dust lightly with powdered sugar and any remaining malt powder; cut into wedges and enjoy.

Moroccan Lamb Tagine with Honey, Dates and Dubbel
A tagine is a domed cooking vessel that cooks with little moisture, designed for the arid desert. Meat is slowly cooked in its own juices, melting down to what we might consider a stew. Look at this recipe as a technique, and, as with each season, different fruits and beers can be used throughout the year with this dish.

Serves: 8 people

1 tbsp. coriander, whole
1 tbsp. white peppercorns, whole
4 each cloves
2 1/2 tsp. cinnamon, ground
1 tbsp. sea salt
4-5 lb. leg of lamb, de-boned and cut into 1-inch cubes or lamb stew meat
1 each white onion, peeled and finely grated
1 tbsp. ginger, peeled and minced
750 mL Allagash Dubbel
3 tbsp. unsalted butter
1/2 lb. Medjool dates, pitted and chopped
3 tbsp. local honey (almond, wildflower or orange blossom variety)
1 tsp. orange blossom water (optional)
pomegranate seeds for garnish

In a sauté pan over medium-low heat, add the coriander and toast the spice for 3–4 minutes, until it’s aromatic and just starts to brown and pop. Remove from the heat and add to a spice grinder, adding peppercorns and cloves. Grind to a fine powder. Add the cinnamon and salt to the mixture.

In a large Dutch oven, add the cubed lamb, onion, ginger and spice mixture, and cover with Dubbel. The level of the brew should cover the lamb. If it doesn’t, add more beer or chicken stock to cover. Mix well and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a medium low, partially cover the pot with a lid and let simmer for 2 hours. Stir periodically. The meat will be tender, resting in a sauce with the reduced beer, onions and spices. Add the dates and cook another 15 minutes, adjusting the liquid by adding 1/4 cup of beer or stock if the sauce is too thick. Add the honey at the very end of the simmer; taste to see if more salt and pepper or more honey is needed. The flavor should have a richness of the spices, beer, dates and lamb, but shouldn’t be overly sweet. If adding orange blossom water, add now.

•  Dried Apricots, Tripel, Saffron and Lamb Tagine – Substitute the dates for the apricots, Dubbel for the Tripel and add 1/2 teaspoon of saffron to the spices, reducing the cinnamon to 1 teaspoon.
•  Pomegranate, Dried Cherry Lamb Tagine – Substitute the dates for dried cherries, Dubbel for a Quad or Kriek, adding 3-4 tablespoons of pomegranate molasses and increasing the cloves to 8.

Preserved Lemon, Apricot and Wheat Beer Couscous
Made from semolina and ground wheat, these little pearls add a wonderful textural element to this cuisine.

Serves: 4

11.2 oz. Witbier, Saison or Hefeweizen
2 tbsp. preserved lemons, washed and diced
12 each dried apricots, chopped
1 1/2 cup couscous
1 tsp. sea salt
2 tbsp. olive oil

In a medium-sized pot over medium heat, add the beer, preserved lemons and apricots. In a small bowl, add the couscous, salt and oil, mixing together with your fingers to evenly distribute the oil over the individual grains. This will help create a light and fluffy finished texture in this side starch. Once the liquid is boiling, add the couscous and mix well, covering with a lid and removing from the heat. Let sit for 20 minutes to cook. Once finished, using a fork, flake the little pearls to separate them. Keep warm until ready to serve.

Injera Bread
More like a crêpe, this Ethiopian bread is the perfect replacement for an eating utensil.

Makes: 10

1 1/2 cup teff or millet flour, available at most health food stores
1 cup Hefeweizen, rousing the yeast into suspension
1 cup water
1 tsp. salt

In a stainless steel or glass bowl, mix together the flour, beer, water and yeast into a batter, similar to a thin pancake consistency. Cover the bowl with a damp towel and let sit on the counter for at least 1–3 days to ferment. This will create a nice tang, similar to sourdough bread.

Heat a nonstick or cast iron pan over medium heat. Mix the batter before using. Adding a touch of vegetable oil to the pan, coating evenly, add about 1/4 cup of batter to the center of the pan. Tilt the pan as if making crêpes, creating a thin, even layer on the bottom of the pan. Cook for about 1 minute, until the top of the bread is dry and covered in little popped bubbles and the bottom is lightly browned. Remove from the pan and set on a plate, covering with a clean towel. Repeat.

Harissa Sauce
This Tunisian hot sauce is both a condiment and an ingredient in the complex flavors of Northern Africa. You can modify this recipe for your heat tolerance by substituting the chiles to all New Mexican (or other varieties) or by adding some roasted red bell peppers for a less spicy version.

Makes: 8 ounces

6 each New Mexican chiles, dried, seeds and stems removed
6 each Ancho chiles, dried, seeds and stems removed
1 tsp. coriander seeds, whole
1 tsp. cumin seeds, whole
1 tsp. caraway seeds, whole
1 tsp. smoked sea salt
4 each garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
1/4 cup India Pale Ale
3 tbsp. roasted almond oil or extra virgin olive oil

Begin by removing the stem of each dried chile. Next, using a knife, slice one side of the chile to open the pepper like a book. Remove the seeds from the pods. Next, place a sauté pan over medium heat and place a chile on the bottom of the pan, pressing with a spatula to lightly toast the skin of the chile. This will take about 20–25 seconds each. Remove from the pan and add to a small pot. Once all the chiles have been toasted, cover with hot water and let sit for 20 minutes.

As the chiles are soaking, mix the coriander, cumin and caraway seeds together and add to the sauté pan. Again, place the pan over medium heat and toast the spices, helping them release their aromatics. This will take about 3–4 minutes, stirring the entire time. Once the smell of the spices fills the kitchen, remove them to a spice grinder or mortar and pestle. Grind to a fine powder. Add this powder to the bowl of a food processor or pitcher of a blender. Add the salt, garlic cloves, IPA and oil, topping off with the drained chiles. Process this mixture into a smooth paste.

To store, place in a sealable container and top the surface with more oil to cover, sealing the paste from any air. This paste will last up to one month refrigerated.

Tip: Chiles that are soft and pliable are usually fresher and of optimum quality. The crisp and brittle chiles are usually old and stale in flavor by comparison.