When people think of cooking with beer, I assume many picture cracking open a cold one and throwing a couple steaks on the grill. While this is certainly one of my favorite ways of cooking with beer, beer can also be a key ingredient in many foods, from bread to mussels.
Cooking with alcohol is obviously not new. The culinary cultures of central and southern Europe, especially the French and Italians, have used wine as a braising and deglazing liquid since the beginning of time. This is to say nothing of their use of spirits in cooking, and the myriad other culinary uses those cultures have for wine. Countries further north in Europe, such as Germany and the UK, use beer in some of their dishes, but typically as an ingredient, not as a culinary multi-tool. However, with a little experimentation, beer can act just like wine, and be used as a braising and deglazing liquid, or even to add sweet notes to dessert dishes.
As the Food Network notes in a piece on cooking with beer, “beer adds a rich, earthy flavor to soups and stews that makes them taste like they’ve been simmering for hours,” and “beers with a sweet or nutty taste can add depth to desserts.” As Bon Appetit magazine explains, beer is also a great braising liquid, “especially the lighter lagers, [which] contributes a pleasantly sour note that is tailor-made for pork,” while “darker stouts and porters play well with beef, as do certain Belgian ales.”
There are a couple tips for cooking with beer that any home chef should keep in mind. As beer expert Bryce Eddings points out, beer, like any other liquid, will reduce during cooking and thereby magnify the flavors of your beer choice. If you’re using a beer for a deep rich stew, an IPA might not be the right choice, as it will magnify the bitter flavor of the hops. And the golden rule of adding any wine or beer to your dish is, of course, if you don’t like it in a glass you probably won’t like it in a dish (the one exception I’ve found is with beers that have hot pepper flavors, such as habaneros or ghost peppers, that I think are absolutely awful, but do add great flavor to chilis or when used in a marinade!)
Below are a few of my favorite recipes that are either authentic or heavily inspired by their place of origin:
British Steak And Ale Pie
This British dish combines hearty steak, vegetables, and beer in a pastry in a two-fer of stew and pie. My favorite recipe comes from The Guardian, which has one of the best renditions of this savory dish. I personally like to pair this dish with anything in the brown beer family (mild, brown, porter, stout) or a light clean lager to let the pie shine.
German Potato And Beer Soup
If you’re noticing a trend, it’s that I’m a huge fan of comfort foods. And there is nothing more comfortable than potato soup. The chunky potatoes, smoky bacon, and savory seasonings bring a little bit of breakfast into lunch or dinner. This recipe, from the Cooking Channel, uses a bit of chicken stock, but also a cup of light German beer to add a bit of malty flavor to the soup. This soup, along with some freshly baked pretzels, is a go-to for cold winter nights. Pair with the rest of the beer you didn’t put into the soup or, for something a little different, try a bock or dunkelweiss for an added flavor bonus.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t add one of France and Belgium’s best culinary exports, mussels. This recipe by The New York Times keeps it simple, adding fresh herbs and some Belgian beer to 8 pounds of mussels. Try this recipe two ways, with lighter Belgian beers such as a Singel (or Singel substitute such as Hardywood’s) or Tripel or the darker Dubbel or Quadrupel for a different profile all together.
If you’re looking for a quick and easy bread recipe to go with your hearty steak pie, or to dip in a bit of your potato soup, beer bread should be a staple. This recipe from King Arthur Flour has four ingredients and no yeast, meaning you can have it on the table in an hour or less.
If you’re not in the mood to traipse around the Internet looking for your favorite new recipe, check out The American Craft Beer Cookbook by John Holl. A noted beer journalist, Holl visited hundreds of brewpubs and restaurants around the country to find some of the best beer-infused recipes to add to his book. If you can’t find something good in here you’re not trying hard enough!
While these are a couple of my favorites, there is no shortage of recipes out there to try your beer in. Think chili, beer-battered fried chicken or onion rings, beer and cheese soup, or even something more exotic like ice cream or chocolate cake — the possibilities are really endless. At the end of the day, giving beer a shot as an alternative to wine, water, or broths and stocks, can open up new culinary possibilities. You might even be shocked that your favorite dish comes out a bit better with beer than with your traditional ingredient.
Salvatore Colleluori is a political writer by day and a homebrewer and beer enthusiast by night. He holds a degree in Political Science from the George Washington University and enjoys reading about alcohol, history, and foreign relations. He is also an avid music lover, specifically jazz and the Grateful Dead.
Photo credit: Divya Thakur