Beer has a wealth of flavors. It is made in (and imported from) all over the world, and there are sophisticated beers from boutique or micro breweries that have developed their own unique flavors with locally-grown ingredients.
Using beer as an ingredient in cooking can add a whole new dimension of flavor to a recipe, just like adding salt or spices can. The beer flavor should not dominate, but enhance the flavors. Common usage of beer in cooking includes beer-can chicken , soups and stews, mussels and bratwurst steamed in beer, beer-battered foods that then get fried in oil, and desserts – particularly made with chocolate and Guinness. (See links below)
For the beginner cook, substitutions are very tricky and certain beers can negatively alter the appearance, as well as the flavor of the recipe. For example, using a stout for beer-battered recipes can turn the batter an unappealing shade of grey. Do be careful with substitutions. If the recipe specifically says what type of beer you should use, then do not substitute it for another beer. (For example, my recipe for Guinness Stout Beef Stew is based on using stout beer not light beer or ale.)
What about the alcohol?
According to our friend Kevin Wagner (a frequent contributor to this blog):
“Alcohol boils at 172 degrees, so any cooking you do with any kind of alcoholic beverage won’t leave any alcohol in the food once it’s done. It all evaporates off early and fast. So, you can serve/use any of these recipes/techniques for the whole family including kids and others who may be sensitive to such things.
Plus, there’s not that much alcohol in beer to begin with; it’s mostly water. The tricks you see in some food presentations where they flambé things (French for “set on fire”) only work if they pour concentrated alcohol (usually brandy) on right at your table and light it immediately, and you’ll notice it goes out very quickly as the fuel is consumed so fast.
The truth is, beer doesn’t have enough alcohol in it to burn. But, it does taste good, so here are some useful things you can do to share the wealth.”
Beer-Can Chicken is one of those odd inventions that seems to have developed a life of its own. The basic premise is to stand a chicken up on an empty beer can and cook it standing up.
For beginner cooks, I would rate the “Degree of Difficulty” on all Beer-Can Chicken recipes as “med-high,” as most involve firing up a barbecue grill in addition to preparing the chicken.
Crepes of Wrath has a great photo-tutorial on how to make Beer-Can Chicken
If you don’t have a barbecue, Vicki’s Healthful Eats and Sinful Treats demonstrates the same idea in the oven, following a Food Network recipe.
LiveFire actually uses the can method to smoke chickens. They look really scrumptious!
And finally, Cooking for Engineers shows us how to make Smoked Beer-Can Turkey. This recipe would be a fabulous change of pace for Thanksgiving dinner!
Warm, hearty soups and stews made with beer are great wintertime meals. Shaula at Your Mileage May Vary may well have fallen in love with Vermont because of this Cheddar and Ale soup recipe! I really like the look of this recipe as it is very specific about what beer, cheddar cheese and type of potatoes to use. This is very important information for the beginner cook!
Chocolate and chili sounds unusual but it’s quite a popular flavor combination. Jen has what looks like a fabulous Chocolate Stout Chili photo-tutorial that is also made with jalapenos. If you know how to brown beef, chop an onion, cut jalapenos, and mince garlic, this recipe is for you!
One of the simplest ways to cook with beer is to make Beer and Brats, as in bratwurst sausages. Brewed for Thought has two photos that are enough to make me want to try this recipe. In a nutshell, you sauté (fry) onions and sausages until they develop a nicely browned color, then pour on some beer, and let the onions and bratwurst simmer in the beer for 15 minutes. Then sit back and enjoy.
(Note: Be sure not to boil the brats in the beer as the intense heat may make the skin burst.)
Baking with Beer
Beer breads are generally described as “quick breads” as they use baking powder or baking soda to rise instead of yeast and take a lot less time to make. I did an Irish Bread video that is also a quick bread. Have a look at that video to see if quick breads are something you are ready to tackle.
The ingredients for beer bread are simple; flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, and beer are the basics. You can then add all sorts of herbs/cheese to fit your taste.
Farmgirl Fare has a really good basic recipe called Beyond Easy Beer Bread Recipe: A Warm Crusty Loaf In Under An Hour. She also gives all sorts of variations including adding shredded cheddar cheese and dill, or garlic and herbs, or rosemary and feta cheese, etc.
Epicurious has a really simple recipe using just the basic ingredients as well. They use 3 Tablespoons of sugar whereas Farmgirl uses only 1 Tablespoon of sugar. Neither recipe specifies what kind of beer to use, which is a pity.
My Chocolate Cake For Beginners is made with Guinness.
This moist, rich, dense, chocolate cake is one that you will want to make again and again. (Here is the Metric Recipe.)
We all know that pairing certain foods with certain wines makes perfect sense. The same is true with beer. The right pairing of beer and food can make a huge difference to the taste of the meal. For example, as the NBWA says; “light ales and lagers go well with spicy Mexican, Indian, and Caribbean cuisine while brown ale beers go well with steak or roast beef. Just as nuts like walnuts and hazelnuts and potatoes roasted with garlic and rosemary go well with stout, dark ale.”
If you have used beer as an ingredient in the meal, you may want to serve that beer at your dinner party as well.
I would like to stress that I am not a beer drinker. I do hope that some of my readers that have had experience cooking with beer will jump in and help with any questions or comments.
**I would also like to thank Kevin Wagner for inspiring this post and Jessica Howard for her input!
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