I’m a home brewer and advocate for good beer, which means there’s little doubt what you’ll find in my glass around 6 o’clock. Since I’m also usually starting dinner at that time, it makes sense to share a little with the pan, too. To put my own spin on Julia Child’s famous quip, I love cooking with beer, and sometimes I even put it in food.
Beer is remarkably complex for something made with only four ingredients: malted grains (which are soaked in water so they germinate, then dried to halt germination), hops, yeast, and water. Malted grains like barley, wheat, and rye give beer its sweeter flavors, like those of toasted bread and dark caramel. Hops, the green flowers of an herbaceous plant, balance this sweetness with some bitterness, much the way herbs balance out a stew. Yeast can leave a beer tasting crisp and clean or spicy and fruity, depending on the type. Even the water used for brewing plays a part in the final flavor.
Different brews run the gamut from light and citrusy, to full of toasty malt flavors, to bitterly hoppy, to dark and chocolatey. This is true whether you’re drinking them or cooking with them.
Beers with complex flavors, like India pale ales (better known as IPAs) and porters add instant depth to simple dishes, while more straightforward beers like mild English ales add maltiness or yeastiness to complement more complex dishes. Others, like malty amber ales, are good with almost anything.
The point at which you add the beer also affects flavor. For example, a splash of hoppy beer can brighten a rich dish just before serving, but becomes more bitter as it’s cooked. That bitter edge might be desirable in a rich dish, so sometimes a hoppy beer is a great addition to a braise. Light, mild beers, on the other hand, might lose their flavor altogether if cooked for a long time, but can act as the acid in a dish if added later.
If this sounds like a lot to keep track of, don’t worry. The four recipes on the following pages feature different beers; think of them as a starting point for your own experiments. And if you’re wondering what to drink with each dish, that’s easy: the same beer you cooked with. So grab a bottle opener and get cooking with beer.