Cooking with Beer

Chefs describe how to add flavor and froth without bitter side effects.

From the fizz in a batter to that tang in bread and unctuousness in ice cream, cooking with beer can elevate a dish from good to great to truly special.

“Beer is a versatile ingredient and can be used in marinades for meats, seafood, sauces, and even desserts,” says Michele Ragussis, executive chef of The Pearl in Rockland, Maine, and a finalist on Food Network Star. “The quality ingredients in craft beer can provide a built-in ‘spice packet’ that infuses dishes with exciting flavors.”

Still, cooking with beer is a lot different than pairing beer with cooked foods. Far from cut and dry, different rules apply.

“Beer tends to get more bitter the longer it cooks,” says Lucy Saunders, culinary and craft beer consultant, instructor at the Siebel Institute of Technology in Chicago, and author of The Best American Beer & Food: Pairing & Cooking with Craft Beer. “When you look at beer as an ingredient, you have to keep in mind that the brewers designed it to be drunk not boiled.”

Unlike wine, the complex chemistry of beer—with its differing levels of hops, malt, yeast, and other flavor builders—becomes even more complex when cooked. While pairing beer for sipping holds no bounds, cooking can introduce new, unforeseen flavors. That said, there are some basic philosophies when making these choices.

Sautés and Sauces

Saunders says one of the most important tricks when cooking with beer is adding it in the final stages to preserve the fresh taste and prevent bitterness.

When deglazing a pan with beer, Saunders suggests adding just a touch of beer and bringing the liquid to a simmer, not a rolling boil. To flambé a dish just before service can also add flavor without bitterness.

Additionally, beer works great as a base for brines or pickling liquids. Saunders has made a quick kimchi on the fly with an IPA and chili flakes to add a tangy, yeasty flavor to the vegetables as they ferment.


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