Ask a Chef: How to Cook With Beer

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Have you ever made beer bread? It's incredible. It's one of those things that is so logical you feel dumb for not coming up with it yourself. You just pour beer over some flour and baking soda and mix it with melted butter and bake and, holy crap, it's bread. All the yeast and fizz in the beer helps it rise without the hassle of waiting and punching and kneading. I mean if you enjoy that, great, you do you, but it’s the 21st century! Quick and easy beer bread is the future!

Anyway, beer bread’s flavor changes dramatically depending on what beer you use, because surprise, beers have strong and varied flavors. Just like cooking with wine, there is a whole world of pairing beers to dishes to compliment and enhance flavors. But unlike cooking with wine, the rules aren’t as widespread. We know not to use a dessert wine in a hearty stew, but what’s the difference between cooking with an IPA and a Saison? We spoke with Chef Dennis Marron of The Commoner in Pittsburgh, PA about some of the ground rules.

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"The most important thing to consider is to Match Strength with Strength," says Chef Marron.  "Big food wants big beer, delicate food wants a delicate beer." Light, herbaceous food likes a light, herbaceous beer, whether you're cooking with it or pairing it for dinner. Heartier beer likes heartier food. "A good trick is to pair beer and food by country: 'German beer is great with German food. English beer is great with English food. Same with cooking, use an American Lager (preferably Local) to make barbeque."

You should also be specific with the beer you cook with. Don’t just use whatever you have around the house and expect it to be good. Buy beer specific to that application, and make sure it’s a "quality beer." It's not always the case, but usually the more expensive, craft beers are going to taste better. I know what you're thinking: what does it matter if you’re cooking with it? But cooking concentrates the beer flavor, so if it’s not something that tastes good on its own, it’s going to be even worse when it’s cooked down. And sorry, when asked if anything worthwhile can be made with Bud Light, Marron responded with a resounding "NO."

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So, just what kind of things can you make with beer? It lends itself well to chilis and stews, or for braising meats, or deglazing a pan for a quick sauce. "Brown ales are great for stews," says Marron. "Stouts are good for desserts and dark meat dishes, Kolch for bratwurst, IPA for beer battered fish (for fish tacos!)." And it’s not just meats beer works for; Marron suggests using a Marzen to braise kale, and serving with caramelized cipollini onions and mushrooms.

Really, a lot of the same rules for cooking with wine apply to beer. Focus on similar flavors, and if you like drinking it, you'll probably like eating it. Except for Bud Light. Sorry, can’t help you there.

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