Cooking with beer is not something that most of us do very often. The reason is simple: Beer is generally bitter.
But there are plenty of ways to work with this bitterness, or work around it, to add a startling amount of depth to a meal, and nearly endless variations of flavor. By using a few simple tricks, you can negate the bitterness and coax the beer to blend harmoniously with the dish.
Perhaps the most common method of cooking with beer is to simmer tough pieces of meat gently in it for a long time.
Stews and braises slowly cook off the bitterness while retaining the essential flavor of the beer.
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I used beer to make a braise. A braise is very much like a stew, except the meat is not entirely submerged in the liquid; the beer only goes partly up the side of the meat.
In this case, the meat was turkey and the dish was beer-braised turkey tacos. The beer was Negra Modelo, a dark brew from Mexico.
You begin with dark meat, both for flavor and its ability to stand up to braising. Turkey drumsticks or thighs (I used drumsticks) are browned and then cooked in a mixture of beer, water, onions, garlic, oregano and tomato.
Three extra ingredients make all the difference: a hot jalapeño pepper, a mild and flavorful ancho pepper (it’s the dried version of a poblano) and a stick of cinnamon. The peppers and cinnamon create a warmth, rather than a heat, that suffuses the meat and sauce and brings it all to life.
Be sure to serve it on corn tortillas. The corn is a perfect foil for the still-assertive flavor of turkey that has been tempered by its extraordinary sauce.
Bread is an obvious example of cooking with beer because, when you think about it, beer is basically just liquid bread.
I like a hint of beeriness to the bread, not an overwhelming dose, so I used a Pilsner in my version. Stronger ales lead to a loaf that tastes like chewy beer, not beer-kissed bread.
It is phenomenal toasted or just with butter. It makes a great bread for meat sandwiches, too. But jam? You’re better off spreading that on a different loaf of bread.
Beer-braised turkey tacos
Makes 12 tacos
Recipe by Deborah Schneider in Food & Wine.
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
Two 1-pound bone-in turkey thighs or drumsticks, skin and fat removed
Salt and pepper
4 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 medium white onion, cut into 1-inch dice, plus minced white onion for serving
1 large oregano sprig
1 large jalapeño, stemmed, seeded and sliced crosswise 1/4-inch thick
1 medium tomato, coarsely chopped
1 ancho chili, stemmed, seeded and coarsely chopped
1 cinnamon stick
12 ounces Mexican dark beer, such as Negra Modelo
1 cup water
12 corn tortillas
2 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted
In a Dutch oven or large pot, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Season the turkey with salt and pepper and cook over moderately high heat until richly browned all over, about 8 minutes. Transfer the turkey to a plate.
Add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil to the pot, along with the garlic, diced onion, oregano and jalapeño and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until the onion is softened, about 8 minutes. Add the tomato, ancho and cinnamon stick and cook, stirring, until the tomato releases its juices.
Return the turkey to the pot, add the beer and water and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer over low heat, turning once, until the turkey thighs are tender, about 1 hour. Transfer the turkey to a plate and let cool. Discard the oregano sprig and cinnamon stick and boil the sauce over high heat until reduced and thick, about 12 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Wrap the tortillas in foil and bake about 8 minutes, until softened and heated through. Meanwhile, remove the turkey meat from the bone and shred it. Transfer the sauce to a food processor and purée. Return the sauce to the pot and stir in the shredded turkey. Season with salt and pepper. Spoon the turkey onto the tortillas. Top with minced onion, sesame seeds and cilantro sprigs, and serve.
Per serving: 173 calories; 6 g fat; 1 g saturated fat; 44 mg cholesterol; 12 g protein; 17 g carbohydrate; 2 g sugar; 2 g fiber; 11 mg sodium; 52 mg calcium.
Berghoff beer bread
Note: Lighter beers, such as Pilsners and lagers, will create a milder flavor. Heavier beers, such as red ales or dark beers, will make a heartier bread. Recipe from “The Berghoff Family Cookbook,” by Carlyn Berghoff and Jan Berghoff, with Nancy Ross Ryan.
3 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for kneading
1 1/2 cups whole-wheat flour
One 1/4-ounce package rapid-rising active dry yeast
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
One 12-ounce beer of your choice, see note
2 tablespoons canola oil, plus extra for bowl and pan
In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, place the all-purpose flour, whole-wheat flour, yeast, salt and brown sugar. Mix on low speed. Add the beer and oil, and mix on low to form a cohesive dough. Turn off the mixer, scrape down the paddle and replace with the dough hook. Knead the dough on low for 10 minutes, adding all-purpose flour as necessary by the tablespoon for desired consistency. The dough should leave the sides of the bowl and cling to the dough hook.
(This can also all be done by hand – mix dry ingredients with a whisk, stir in the liquid ingredients with a sturdy spoon and knead by hand).
Turn out the dough onto a surface lightly dusted with all-purpose flour, and knead to shape into a ball. Lightly oil a large bowl. Put in the dough, turning once so the oiled side is on top. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled, 1 1/4 hours to 1 1/2 hours.
Turn out dough on a surface lightly dusted with all-purpose flour, and knead to remove any air pockets. Shape into an oblong loaf and place in an oiled 9-by-5-inch loaf pan. Cover with a lint-free, clean kitchen towel that has been wetted and wrung almost dry. Let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour.
While the loaf is rising the second time, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Bake 40 minutes, until the top is browned. Transfer from the pan to a wire rack. Do not slice until completely cool.
Per serving: 162 calories; 2 g fat; 0 g saturated fat; no cholesterol; 4 g protein; 30 g carbohydrate; 3 g sugar; 2 g fiber; 11 mg sodium; 294 mg calcium.