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This has happened to us all, I am sure.
It’s a little after noon one weekday, and you see the notification pop up on a group text you’re in with a few old coworkers: “I’m adapting Julia Child’s Beef Bourguignon recipe to beer and not sure what type to sub in for the wine.” Will this beer cook down to be too bitter? Would a sour mirror the acidity found in the wine? Could this beer be too light and be overpowered by the beef? Maybe. The answer to all of these questions really is maybe.
Cooking with beers can be tricky, but there are a few general guidelines you can follow to set yourself up for success.
First, don’t cook with something you wouldn’t want to drink on its own. If you didn’t like it the way it was brewed to be enjoyed, then you’re probably not going to like what it does in your recipe.
Secondly, don’t start off too bitter — not just hops but intensely roasty beers as well. Long cooking times and reductions will concentrate and intensify those bitter flavors. I strongly suggest skipping over coffee beers, too. The high heat brings out extra bite in the coffee like an over extended brewing time would.
Lastly, it’s better to skip anything you’d describe as subtle or delicate flavor-wise, as those flavors can be masked by other ingredients or lost in the cooking process.
So now that we got the negatives out of the way, let’s talk about the things you can and should definitely try.
Sweeter malty beers will concentrate over time and make an excellent choice for braising and stews. I love De Struise Pannepot, a really unique take on a Belgian Dark Strong Ale that veers towards Imperial Stout. One of the most decadent things I have ever eaten was at Nuetnigenough in Brussels where they served braised beef cheeks that had slow cooked in that beer.
Rich chocolatey stouts can be incredible in baked goods like brownies.
Steamed Mussels in Lambic are always delicious as well. I’ve enjoyed anything from a classic Gueuze with butter and garlic to Framboise with bacon. Recently, when it was a little too cold to break out the smoker, I even added a bit of Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Urbock to some onions, mustard and a pork shoulder and was very pleased with the results after a few hours in a 275°F degree oven. The smokiness wasn’t overpowering at all, and it even cooked down to a rich umami-packed sauce that would be just as good in vegetarian chili as it was here.
Anybody out there have a great recipe for cooking with beer they want to share with me? I’ve been wanting to try swapping out a little bit of the water in my pizza dough recipe for a crisp pilsner.
Oh, and if you’re curious what I suggested for the Bourguignon, I pushed for an Oud Brun with its maltiness and tart acidity, but those are getting harder and harder to find. I couldn’t even offer a classic example here, but the friend in question settled on a Right Proper Baron Corvo, which is a pretty damn good choice I’d say.