Most of us would agree that sipping a frothy beer is one of life’s great pleasures — a delight, it turns out, that is nearly as old as civilization itself. Babylonian clay tablets detailing recipes for beer date to 4300 BC. And Egyptian hieroglyphics reference brewing and include an inscription asserting that the mouth of a perfectly contented man is filled with beer.
Yet strangely, this beloved beverage hasn’t made a lot of headway in the cooking arena. When you consider the components of beer — grain (barley), herbs (hops), water and yeast — it would seem to make for a potent kitchen ingredient, one capable of adding a whole new flavor dimension to a dish, much the way adding herbs and spices can.
Before you put it to the test, however, there are a few things to know. First and most important, don’t cook with a beer that you wouldn’t drink. If it doesn’t appeal to you as a beverage, it won’t appeal to you in a recipe. The beer flavor should not dominate food; it should enhance it, as wine does in certain dishes.
Beers differ from one another at least as much as white and red wines do, and you need to use the right type with the right recipe. As a general rule, light wheat beers go well with chicken and seafood, whereas a dark ale, porter or stout is better with pork, beef or lamb. Beer works with dessert, too. Choose light, fruity varieties, such as a Belgian white or saison, for fruit-based recipes, and stouts, noted for their coffee and chocolate notes, for desserts with that ingredient.
That’s just for starters. When you really get into it, you can select from the more than 150 recognized beer styles, each of which has its own flavor profile and nuances. There are thousands of brewers around the globe making these beers, and each brewery imparts its own character into them. So when you cook with beer, you can experiment widely — and therein lies the fun.
(MORE: Beer and Cheese: 7 Perfect Pairings for Fall)
10 Ways to Eat Your Beer
Whether you’re looking for a special way to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day or simply like the idea of cooking with beer, this is a wonderful time to discover its culinary powers. Here are 10 delicious suggestions to get you started.
- Mix a marinade This is one of the easiest ways to cook with beer. And because it has less acidity than wine, you can marinate such foods as chicken, pork, beef or vegetables for longer periods of time, which results in even more flavor.
- Bake bread This classic Irish technique of using beer instead of yeast produces a dense, tender and extremely flavorful loaf.
- Roast a chicken You’ve may have heard of beer can chicken, a delicious way to roast a whole chicken on the grill or in the oven. The bird is perched on an open can of beer, and while it roasts on the outside, the inside is bathed in beer steam, keeping the meat juicy and tender, and imparting a soupçon of beer flavor to the chicken.
- Whip up a chocolate cake Many stouts and dark beers are said to have chocolaty overtones, so this combination is a no-brainer. The beer also makes the cake incredibly moist.
- Simmer a soup Unlike wine or liquor, you can substitute beer cup-for-cup for stock or water when you’re making soup (or braising a meat). I like to use a lager when making split pea or lentil soup.
- Fry a fish Use a light beer, like a lager, in the batter to fry fish or onion rings. The carbonation, along with the sugars, makes the batter light and airy, plus it will brown faster and more evenly.
- Dress up salad Replace the vinegar in a vinaigrette with a beer. An IPA (India pale ale) is a good choice for this. It’s especially tasty with mixed greens or a blend of radicchio, arugula and orange segments.
- Roll it into truffles Adding a little stout to a dark chocolate truffle batter will give the candy a depth of flavor and complexity.
- Stir up a stew Beer is a great replacement for stock or wine in stew, plus it adds a robust punch. It works especially well in beef stew. Use a hearty variety, like a stout or an ale (pale or dark).
- Cook rice Simply replace some or all of the water with beer. Try preparing Jasmine rice with a nut-brown ale.
Fun Facts About St. Patrick’s Day
- On any given day, some 5.5 million pints of Guinness are consumed around the globe. On March 17, that number more than doubles to 13 million.
- St. Patrick wasn’t Irish. He’s believed to have been born in either Scotland or Wales.
- The very first St. Patrick's Day parade was not held in Ireland. It was in Boston in 1737.
- The practice of dying the Chicago River green for St. Paddy’s Day started in 1962, when the local government added 100 pounds of green vegetable dye to the river — enough to keep it green for a week. Today, to minimize environmental damage, only 40 pounds of dye are used, and the river turns green for only a few hours.
- The color originally linked with St. Patrick was blue. But since green is associated with Ireland (“The Emerald Isle”), the saint came to be associated with green as well.
Three Great Beer Recipes
Chocolate Stout Bundt Cake
Stout gives this cake a wonderfully interesting taste and texture. I like to use a flavored variety, like Widmer Brothers Raspberry Russian, for an extra punch.
Serves 8 to 10
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 cup stout beer, like Widmer Brothers or Guinness
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, preferably Dutch-process
3 large eggs
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup low- or nonfat sour cream
2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
Chocolate Ganache Glaze
1/3 cup heavy cream
1/2 tablespoon corn syrup
1-1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
Preheat the oven to 350° F. Coat a 12-cup nonstick Bundt pan with cooking spray.
- In a small saucepan, combine the butter and stout. Cook over medium heat, stirring, until the butter is melted. Remove from heat, add the cocoa and whisk until smooth.
- Using an electric mixer, beat the eggs and sugars on medium-high until fluffy. Beat in the chocolate mixture and sour cream. Reduce speed to low and gradually mix in the flour, baking soda and salt until just combined (do not overmix).
- Pour into the prepared pan and bake until a skewer inserted in the center comes out with a few moist crumbs attached, 45–55 minutes. Let cool 30 minutes in the pan, then invert onto a rack to cool completely.
- Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, bring the cream to a boil. In a heatproof bowl, combine the chopped chocolate with the corn syrup and butter. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and let stand until melted, about 5 minutes. Whisk until smooth. Let the glaze cool until thick but still pourable, about 5 minutes.
- Pour the glaze over the cooled cake. Let the cake stand until the glaze is set, at least 30 minutes, before serving.
Belgian Ale Beef Stew
This hearty entree features the malty taste and hop aroma of Belgian pale ale, though most amber beers or brown ales, like Newcastle, would work just as well. The stew can be prepared ahead and refrigerated for up to two days.
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
2-1/2 pounds boneless chuck roast, trimmed and cut into 1-1/2 inch cubes
Salt and ground black pepper
2 cups chopped onion (about 2 medium)
4-1/2 cups sliced cremini mushrooms (about 12 ounces)
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 (12-ounce) bottles Belgian pale ale, like Blue Moon or Orval
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup low-sodium beef broth
2 tablespoons country-style Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon dried thyme
2 cups peeled, sliced (1/2 inch thick) carrots (about 1/2 pound)
- In a large Dutch oven, melt 1 tablespoon butter with 1 tablespoon olive oil until sizzling. Season the meat with salt and pepper. Add half of the meat to the pot and cook over high heat until lightly browned on the bottom, about 2 minutes. Turn the meat and brown the other side. Transfer the meat to a large plate. Repeat with the remaining butter, olive oil and meat, reducing the heat if the meat browns too quickly.
- Add the onion to the pan and cook, stirring often, for 4 minutes. Add the mushrooms and garlic and cook, stirring often, for 4 minutes. Stir in flour and cook for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Stir in the beer and bay leaves, scraping up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Add the beef broth, mustard and thyme and return the beef to the casserole along with any accumulated juices.
- Add the carrots to the pot. Bring the stew to a boil. Cover and simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the meat is tender, about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Season the stew with salt and pepper, discard the bay leaves and serve.
Mexican Beer-Marinated Chicken
The marinade in this dish, made with dark or amber Mexican beer, gives chicken a fresh kick. It is also good for marinating pork chops or steaks.
2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 cup amber or dark Mexican beer, like Dos Equis Amber or Negra Modelo
1 pound skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
Coarse salt and ground black pepper
Fresh cilantro leaves (optional in marinade, and/or as garnish)
- Combine the soy sauce, lime juice, oil, Worcestershire sauce, garlic and cilantro leaves (if desired) in a large measuring cup. Pour in the beer and mix until well blended. Place the chicken in a zip-top plastic bag. Add beer mixture to bag and seal. Marinate in refrigerator for 1 hour, turning occasionally.
- Prepare grill to medium-high heat. Remove the chicken from the bag; discard marinade. Sprinkle chicken evenly with salt and pepper.
- Place chicken on grill rack coated with cooking spray and grill 6 minutes on each side or until just done. Garnish with cilantro leaves, if desired.