If you’ve ordered fish-‘n’-chips or contemplated making your own chili you’re familiar with the idea that beer can be used as an ingredient. Today I want to set out some easy tips for how to master the idea of beer cooking. We’ll go over the ideas of cooking with beer so that you don’t need to stress and we’ll discuss the finer points that will set you up for fine-tuning your own recipes.
Beer is Foamy
Who am I to argue with every safety video produced in the span of human existence? So, safety first. If you think cold beer foams a lot when it hits a cool glass, you should see what happens when you pour one into a hot pan. The similarities to grade six science experiments are obvious. Naturally, the effects are even more exaggerated for a beer like a foamy hefeweizen.
The best strategy is to choose a volcano, er pan, whose sides are a couple inches taller than you would usually need. As well as creating foam, beer also sticks like crazy to elements after boil-overs. Trust me.
Choosing the Right Beer
Be suspicious of any recipes that has either just “lager” or “ale” as an ingredient. Both of these families include a rainbow of brews with widely varying characteristics. Imperial stouts and American pale ales are both ales, but will have entirely different effects on your recipe.
On the other hand, don’t pass over recipes that name a specific, difficult-to-get beer. If you’re on the east coast and know you won’t be able to find the IPA from BC that the recipe is written for, know that it is almost always fine to substitute a local IPA–just so long as it’s an actual IPA and not a certain stag’s head imposter. It’s the beer style that’s important to how a beer performs as an ingredient, not the particular beer.
Cold is Better for Batter
As I alluded to in the introduction, beer batter is one of the flag-bearers for beer cooking. Almost all beer has bubbles. Some beers have more carbonation than others. Beer styles with lots of wheat in the recipe tend to have more of the dissolved proteins that will help create a light foamy and long-lasting head on top of the glass. These carbonated, hefeweizens and Belgian wits are the styles that will help create light and crispy beer-battered fish and chips or onions rings.
Even if you don’t use a wheat beer for your batter there is one common technique that always helps. Cold beer makes a lighter batter because cold liquids hold carbonation better than warm liquids. This is one time when you want your craft beer to be Rocky Mountain cold.
Bitterness Gets Stronger
The first three tips are ones I offer to those I assume will be working from a recipe; the fourth is for the experimenters. This is the most important rule to remember when loosely adapting from a recipe or developing your own.