Creole Cuisine: Going to the Beer Bayou
In May, I collaborated with Brouwer’s Cafe and Firestone Walker Brewing Company to throw a beer dinner for Seattle Beer Week. Matt Bonney, from Brouwer’s, had just returned from a trip to New Orleans—as we chatted about his travels, it struck us that New Orleans would make a great theme for the dinner. So David Walker and I began sorting through Firestone Walker’s lineup to find beers that would highlight the complex flavors in Creole cuisine. The recipes below are from the dinner, scaled down for the home kitchen. Using these recipes, the homebrewer/cook can re-create a smaller, more intimate version of the 10-course menu we crafted for over 100 guests. I hope you enjoy.
Cajun Spice Blend
This is an all-purpose spice blend that’s full of New Orleans flavors. This blend/rub can be used on chicken, white fish, alligator, and vegetables.
Makes: as much or little as needed
4 parts Hungarian paprika
3 parts oregano
2 parts kosher salt
1 part cayenne pepper
1 part onion powder
1 part garlic powder
1 part white pepper
1 part black pepper
1 part celery salt
1 part thyme, freshly chopped
1/8 part bay leaves, dried
Start by figuring out approximately how much of the spice blend needs to be made. Then, use either a teaspoon, tablespoon, 1/4 cup to a full cup, or a pint glass as your base measurement for equal parts. Using the same measuring tool, measure out the spices and place them into a mixing bowl. Mix all the spices together using a whisk, until they’re evenly combined. Place the spice blend into a sealable jar and keep out of the light, in a cool area, for up to 4 months.
Beer-Braised Pork Belly with a Creole Seasoning
Pork belly is uncured bacon. What this pre-bacon can add to a dinner is sublime. This recipe can be a stand-alone dish, or it can become an ingredient in a recipe.
Serves: 8–10 people
Beer-Braised Pork Belly Ingredients:
36 oz beer, DBA from Firestone Walker Brewing Co. or other English Pale Ale
1 tbsp sugar, brown
1 tbsp kosher salt
2 tsp thyme, fresh
2 each bay leaves
1–4 tbsp Cajun Spice Blend (see page 25), depending on heat
5 lb. pork belly, Berkshire if available, skin removed
Beer-Braised Pork Belly Directions:
Begin by combining the beer, brown sugar, salt, thyme, bay leaves and as much or as little Cajun Spice Blend as desired, in a 9-by-13-inch pan, mixing all the ingredients together well. Add the pork belly, cover with aluminum foil and place into a preheated 275°F oven. Place into the center of the oven and braise for 4–6 hours, looking for a tender but not falling-apart texture.
To press the pork belly (compressing the layers of the belly to make it easier to cut and serve), cover the cooked and cooled pork with plastic wrap and place a slightly smaller flat pan on top of the belly. Fill the top pan with some canned food or heavy items and place in the refrigerator overnight to cool and compress. The next day, remove the weights and the pan, uncover the pork belly and remove it from the braising liquid (which you can reserve for other uses). Place the pork belly onto a cutting board and, using a sharp knife, trim the edges, cutting into serving-size pieces. For an appetizer or multi-course event, try a 1-by-1-inch size; for an entrée, cut to a 2-by-3-inch size.
Blackened Pork Belly Directions:
On the top side of the portioned-out pork, sprinkle an even layer of the Cajun Spice Blend. Place a heavy-bottom pan, preferably cast iron, over high heat and let the pan heat up for 4–5 minutes, until it starts to smoke. Make sure the range/stove area is clean and free of any other combustibles (towels, pot holders and the like). Add a few tablespoons of butter to the pan and let melt. Be careful, as the butter will smoke and most likely catch fire. This is OK, as the milk solids smoke and the fat ignites. Using tongs, place the pork belly seasoned-side down and let cook for 1–2 minutes, searing the spices and blackening them. Turn the pieces over and let warm through. Remove from the pan and serve immediately.
Pairing: Firestone Walker Double Jack Double IPA,
Red Beans and Union Jack Rice
Red beans and rice is a staple of the Creole kitchen that can be served either as a side dish or as a main course. This version uses a Porter pork stock to cook the beans, and it’s served over a slightly bitter IPA rice. To make this an entrée, add the Barrel Wood-Smoked Quail on top.
Serves: 4 guests as an entrée or 8 guests as an appetizer or course
Red Bean Spice Blend Ingredients:
2 tsp onion powder
2 tsp garlic powder
2 tsp white pepper
2 tsp oregano, dried
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp thyme, freshly chopped
3 each bay leaves
Red Bean Ingredients:
1 lb. red beans (Rio Zape or kidney), washed and soaked in water overnight
1/4 cup butter, unsalted
2 cups onions, yellow, peeled and chopped
2 cups celery, chopped
1 cup bell pepper, yellow, seeded and chopped
1 cup bell pepper, red, seeded and chopped
1/4 cup garlic, peeled and chopped
3 each bay leaves
1–2 tbsp Cajun Spice Blend
1 lb. andouille sausage (or other smoked sausage), sliced
2 each pork shank or hock, preferably smoked
22 oz beer, Porter style, such as Walker’s Reserve from Firestone Walker
5 cups water
Red Bean Directions:
Starting the night before, wash and sort the dried red beans (kidney or an heirloom bean called Rio Zape—try buying them online from RanchoGordo.com) and place into a container that has enough room for the beans to rehydrate. Cover with plenty of cold water and set aside. The next day, rinse the beans and set aside until ready for cooking.
In a medium to large stock pot, add the butter and place over medium heat. Once the butter is melted, add the onions, celery and peppers (called the “Holy Trinity”) and sauté for 5–6 minutes, until transparent. Add the garlic, bay leaves and the some of the Cajun Spice Blend, and cook another 3–4 minutes. Add the sliced sausage and lightly brown the meat for 3–4 minutes more. Add the pork shank (if smoked, have your butcher slice into four pieces each with a band saw), deglaze the pot with the Porter and add the water. Bring to a simmer and turn the heat down to medium low. This will make a pork stock for the beans to cook in. Let the stock cook until the pork shanks are tender, about 1 1/2 hours.
Remove the shanks from the stock, setting aside in a bowl. Add the drained, rehydrated beans to the pot and cook until they are tender, about 30–40 minutes, depending on how old the beans are (the older they are, the longer they take to cook). The liquid level should cover the beans by about 2 inches. Stir the beans periodically to prevent scorching. Meanwhile, remove the meat from the shank bone and shred it. Add a half-cup of water if needed, to fully cook the beans and prevent scorching. When the beans are tender, add the shank meat back to the beans. Season with more Cajun Spice Blend if more heat and spice is needed or desired, adjusting with salt and pepper. Tabasco sauce or another Creole hot sauce can be added for more spice, too.
To serve, place the Union Jack Rice into a bowl and make a small crater in the center. Ladle the red beans over the top.
Union Jack Rice Ingredients:
2 tbsp olive oil
1 each onion, yellow, peeled and chopped fine
2 tbsp garlic cloves, peeled and minced
2 each bay leaves
2 cups rice, white, medium grain
24 oz beer, Union Jack IPA from Firestone Walker
1 1/4 cups water
1 tsp kosher salt
Union Jack Rice Directions:
Place a medium-size pot with a lid over medium-high heat and add the oil. Once hot, add the onion and sauté until transparent, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté for about a minute. Add the bay leaf and the rice, and toast the rice for 2 minutes, stirring to coat it evenly with oil. Add the beer and water, bringing the mixture to a boil. Turn the heat to low and cover the pot with a lid, leaving a tiny crack to allow steam to be released. Cook the rice until tender, about 25 minutes. Once all the moisture is absorbed into the rice, remove from the heat and let rest for 5 minutes, covered. Using a fork, fluff rice and serve.
Barrel Wood-Smoked Quail
Simple, straightforward flavors of smoke and a delicate quail meat combine with a beer brine to enhance all of the flavors in this easy-to-make dish.
Serves: 4 guests as an entrée or 8 as part of a multi-course meal
12 oz beer, Double Barrel Ale by Firestone Walker Brewing Co., or other English Pale Ale
1–2 tbsp Cajun Spice Blend (adjust according to desired heat)
2 tbsp kosher salt
4 each quail, semi-boned, whole for an entrée or halved as a course
barrel chips or other wood chips (oak, pecan or cherry)
Pairing: Firestone Walker Union Jack IPA made into a New Orleans Hurricane Cocktail
Make a quick beer brine by adding the beer, Spice Blend, salt and brown sugar to a medium-size bowl. Whisk together until the salt and sugar have dissolved. Wash the quail under cold water, pat dry and add to the brine, submerging completely in the liquid. Place the bowl into the refrigerator and let the quail brine for 2–4 hours. Remove the birds from the brine and pat dry. Place the quail onto a cooling rack and into the refrigerator uncovered, letting air-dry for 1–2 hours, to form a pellicle. This pellicle formation is an important step—it allows the smoke to stick to the skin and infuse flavor into the little birds. After 2 hours, remove the quail and place into a smoker (keep the temperature below 150°F) and add some beer-soaked wood chips to cold-smoke the fowl for 2–3 hours. Take the birds out of the smoker and place into the refrigerator until ready to finish. This can be done up to two days in advance.
To finish the quail, preheat the oven to 425°F (convection roast). Place the cooling rack onto a sheet tray and lightly dust the top of the quail with some of the Cajun Spice Blend. Add a few drops of olive oil and rub to coat evenly. Place the tray into the oven for 5–6 minutes. The quail should be served medium rare (132°F) to medium (140°F), so they are tender and juicy. Serve this atop the Red Beans and Union Jack Rice.
Pecan Praline with Bourbon Barrel-Aged Barleywine
This Southern dessert is great alone, but try mixing it into ice cream or using it as a sundae topping.
Serves: 6–8 servings
1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1 cup sugar, white
1/2 cup beer, Bourbon Barrel-Aged Barleywine (saving the rest to serve with)
1/2 cup milk, evaporated
2 cups pecan pieces and halves
1 tbsp bourbon
1/4 cup butter, unsalted, cut in pieces
Combine the sugars, beer and milk in a 4-quart saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring constantly to dissolve the sugars; bring to a boil. Cook until the mixture reaches soft-ball consistency, 238°F. Remove the pan from heat, stirring in pecans, bourbon and butter. Using a tablespoon, immediately drop tablespoon-size mounds onto wax paper or a Silpat-lined sheet tray. Let cool completely. Transfer to an airtight container until ready to serve.
Pairing: Firestone Walker 14 Anniversary Blend ■