Ale and hearty options for cooking with beer

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“If there is one form of cookery that has been neglected more than any other in Britain, it is beer cookery,” writes Elizabeth Craig in Beer and Vittels.

“You have to go abroad to find people cooking freely with beer, and taking trouble about what they serve with it. There are plenty of books telling you how to introduce wine to fare, but few extolling the flavour of beer; plenty of inns serving excellent beer, but not enough taking pains with its accompaniments.”

The Belgians, who were the first to add hops to beer, use their excellent brews as a stewing broth, much as the French use wine. Beer marinates and tenderises meat and fish too. In her Ultimate Venison Cookery Book, Nichola Fletcher marinates a venison joint in a litre of strong brown ale mixed with two tablespoons wholegrain mustard, and then uses the mustard and ale marinade as a rich, dark cooking liquid for stewing and braising.

You may have also heard of ‘beer can chicken’, where you drink half a can of beer, plonk a chicken on top of the open end, and then roast it sitting in a covered charcoal barbecue or in the oven until the juices run clear. While the skin goes crispy, the beer keeps the meat inside moist. Beer and cheese are perfect companions too: Welsh rarebit is simply cheese on toast, thinned with beer.

Beef or Venison & Traquair Ale Casserole with Herb Dumplings

There are quite a few things you can do with Traquair Ale other than drink it. ‘As Cool As’ at Overlangshaws Farm near Galashiels makes a Jacobite Ale ice cream, and in mid-April Traquair’s 1745 Cottage Restaurant will launch a range of beer mustards and chutneys, and an ale spice cake. Or why not try this casserole recipe sent in by Catherine Maxwell Stuart.

1lb-2lb braising beef; 1 or 2 tbsp oil; 6 oz butter; 1lb carrots, peeled and sliced; half oz flour; clove of garlic, crushed; three quarters pt Traquair House Ale; quarter pt hot water; salt & pepper

Cut meat into one inch squares. Brown pieces on both sides in hot oil in a saucepan. Add sliced onions and brown well. Add carrots, stir and cook a few minutes then sprinkle on flour and add garlic, ale, water and seasoning. Turn into a covered casserole and cook in a moderate oven for about an hour until tender. Forty minutes before serving add dumplings. Venison may be used instead of beef in this recipe. When using venison leave out the carrots.

Herb Dumplings

2oz self raising flour; 2oz fresh breadcrumbs; 2oz chopped suet or butter; 1 tbsp mixed herbs; small egg.

Mix flour, breadcrumbs, butter/suet either by rubbing in by hand or in mixer. Then add chopped mixed herbs, salt and pepper and bind with a small egg. Shape into small balls the size of a bird’s egg and add to the casserole. Cook for about 40 minutes, basting with gravy now and again.

Ale Crowdie

Crowdie, essentially oatmeal and water mixed into a gruel, was a staple for 18th- century Scots, but there were luxurious refinements like crannachan and Atholl Brose: oatmeal steeped in water, then sieved and the liquor mixed with honey and whisky to sustain the long night of partying at Hogmanay. Ale crowdie was served at harvest festivals, as described here by F Marian McNeill in The Scots Kitchen:

“A large earthenware pot is filled with ale, and treacle is added to sweeten it. Then oatmeal is stirred in until the whole is of a sufficient consistency, and finally whisky is added in such quantity as is desired. The dish is prepared on the morning of the festival to allow the meal time to be completely absorbed. It is served up at the end of the feast. A ring is always put into the mixture, and whoever gets it will be the first to be married.”

Stout Batter

The best meals are memorable, and five years on I still remember Wheelers Oyster Bar in Whitstable, and their oysters deep-fried in this stout batter, written below from their book The Oyster Seekers:

200ml stout; 4 tbsp cornflour; 2 tbsp plain flour; salt; vegetable oil.

Make the batter by mixing the cornflour, flour and salt, and then slowly adding the stout, whisking or beating all the time. If you do have oysters, pat them dry, dip them into the batter, and fry in hot oil for no more than two minutes until golden and crispy, and then serve in the shells. If not, then coat and fry any white fish like cod, haddock, pollack, whiting, ling or coley.

Beer Sorbet

One and a half bottles (18 oz) flat, dark beer; 5 tablespoons sugar

Pour the beer and sugar into a large mixing bowl and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Transfer the mixture to an ice cream maker and freeze following the manufacturer’s instructions.

From Ben & Jerry’s Homemade Ice Cream Book.

Lager-Baked Batons

Brown ale, stout or smoked beer gives the deepest flavour to wholemeal bread, and pale ale a more subtle taste. Here, in these light, thin white batons from The Bread Book by Sara Lewis, there is the mildest hint of lager once baked.

425g strong white flour; 1 tsp salt; tsp fast-action dried yeast; 2 tbsp olive oil; 2 tsp clear honey; 250ml lager; extra flour for dusting.

Put the flour, salt and yeast into a large bowl. Add the oil and honey. Gently warm the lager in a saucepan, then gradually add to the mixture to make a smooth, soft dough. Knead on a lightly floured surface for 10 minutes until smooth and elastic then put back into the bowl, cover with oiled clingfilm and leave to rise is a warm place for an hour or until doubled in size.

Tip the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead well. Cut into 4 pieces and then roll each piece into a 12 inch length. Transfer the dough to a large greased baking sheet, cover loosely with oiled clingfilm and leave for 30 minutes or until the dough is half as big again.

Dust with a little extra flour and bake in a preheated oven at 220C/425F for eight to 10 minutes until golden and the bread sounds hollow when tapped. Holding the tin with oven gloves, loosen the bread with a palette knife. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Cold Beer Soup

The German soup called bierkaltschale is “a little meal to be enjoyed on one’s own,” writes Elizabeth Luard in European Peasant Cookery: “perhaps with a small salad of leftover boiled beef tossed with slivers of pickled cucumber and capers dressed with grated horseradish.”

100g/4oz brown bread, crumbled; 2 tbsp currants or sultanas; 1 tbsp schnapps or plum brandy; 600ml/1pt light beer.

Crumb the bread with a grater or in the processor. Put the currants to swell in the schnapps or brandy in the bowl in a warm oven for ten minutes. Take the bowl out of the oven, put in the breadcrumbs and pour in the beer. Put all in a cool place to soak. Ready to eat in ten minutes. Sprinkle it with brown sugar, and serve it with cream.