That's right folks, beer is food and people have cooked with it in every corner of the kitchen for longer than any of us have been alive. However, the growing movement of craft beer has ushered in a new era of unbelievable flavors over the last 30 years and with that comes the experimental urge of your local foodie and chef who wants to try something new in the kitchen. Craft beer provides very distinct flavors from the types of malts, hops and yeast that are used in the brewing process and cooking with these different styles of beer can translate those flavors into delicious foods. Porters, Stouts, Browns, Lambics, Wheats, Ciders, Hefeweizens, Belgians, and even Smoked beers; all these styles provide unique flavors and aromas that can be used to enhance your average meal.
My first experience of seeing beer used for cooking is a fond, distant memory of my grandfather and his grill where he always kept a can of light beer close in order to “moisten the burgers and control the flames”. The smell and flavors of that grill are ingrained into my memory and I can say this now that I am old enough to know better, but I won't waste my craft beer by pouring it over the meat and coals. My grandfather was a man's man though, a master of the grill if you will, and you ate whatever he put in front of you because you knew it would taste damn good! I wish he were still here today so I could impress him with how much I've learned about beer, both in and out of the kitchen.
If you're asking yourself how you could possibly use all the different varieties of craft beer in the kitchen, don't worry because I'll throw some ideas out there. If you were to take a stroll through the Meat section of your local grocery store it probably won't be too hard to find Beer Bratwurst or other varieties of encased sausages or bratwurst in the cooler. By all means, if this is your first time experimenting with beer in the kitchen, beer brats are a great meal to start with as they are easy to prepare and delicious for lunch or dinner. I've always preferred to sautée my bratwurst with green and red bell peppers and yellow onions in a Porter or Stout, which invokes rich malty flavors through the vegetables and meat. I start by using a little vegetable oil in the pan to sautée the meat and vegetables just enough so that both sides of the bratwurst are seared to a light brown color and then I add my beer. Unlike using oil for sautéing where a little goes a long way, you want to make sure there's enough beer covering the bottom of the pan (almost halfway up the side of the bratwurst) as if you're simmering the meat and vegetables. Naturally, you will turn the bratwurst and stir the vegetables while cooking but when they're done you should drain all the excess liquid from the pan. I recommend serving this dish with a side of sauerkraut and stone ground mustard as a condiment, which can stand up to the flavor and aroma of the beer. Like I said, this is an easy recipe that can be thrown together in a short amount of time for an entire family.
Another dish that I'm particularly fond of is Cider Glazed Turkey Breast because there are so many different flavors of ciders to choose from but in my experience, the fruit and spice-driven ciders work the best versus using a normal dry cider. I like to make my glaze by mixing a little corn starch with whichever cider I've chosen and baste the turkey breast before, during and after baking or grilling the meat. If you choose to bake the turkey breast in a roasting pan, you can also pour a little of the leftover cider into the base of the pan and roast some vegetables and apple slices underneath the turkey breast. For extra complimentary flavor, I like to add sprigs of fresh rosemary into the base of the pan and then on top of the sliced turkey breast when serving. As a side I recommend serving garlic roasted mashed potatoes or baked sweet potatoes with brown sugar and butter. This meal takes a little bit longer to prepare but is definitely worth it in the end.
If you're looking to add beer to your dessert then I have to recommend a Beer Syrup, which is a craft beer-based simple syrup that can be used as a topping for your ice cream or even as a glaze for layered cakes and brownies. One of my favorite dessert recipes is Chocolate Chip Cookies with Beer Candied Bacon, where you baste thick-cut bacon with the Beer Syrup before, during and after the baking process and then add it to your cookie batter. If you're feeling adventurous during breakfast too, you can substitute your old fashioned maple syrup and put it on your pancakes and waffles for a sweet, malty flavor that proves to be a delicious way to start the day.
Remember folks, Beer is Food and it can be added to any meal throughout the day!