It seems like in nearly every issue we exalt the righteousness of Michigan beer. With good reason, too, we're in an incredible beer state, so professing our undying love should be no surprise. However, we always talk about drinking beer. Obviously, what else do you do with beer? Bathe in it? You could wash your hair with it, but use some swill to make your locks more luxurious. How about cooking with it?
I'm not talking about boiling some brats (although that is quite delicious). Rather, I'm talking about using beer as an integral part of the dish. Maybe not the star, but the beer would be a strong player in the flavor profile of the final product. This isn't some revolutionary idea, of course, but sometimes we forget how delicious cooking with beer can be. Also, remember this credo: if you won't drink it, don't cook with it. That goes for beer, wine, booze or any beverage you cook with. If it is not good enough for you to drink, why on earth would you cook with it?
We start with a hyper local beer – Royal Oak's Millking It Productions Axl Pale Ale. Axl is a classic American-style pale ale with a bold hop character and pleasantly dry citrus finish. Since it is summer and there is plenty of fresh, local produce around I decided to make a gazpacho.
Start with locally grown tomatoes, zucchini, yellow squash, red onion, jalapeno, Serrano, garlic and whatever else you like. The key to making this a beer gazpacho is to cut the tomato juice amount in half and add a can of Axl instead.
A couple things about adding beer to an uncooked dish: 1) yes, your gazpacho is now alcoholic, as in it contains alcohol. 2) while the soup is still vegan, it is no longer gluten-free. You could use a gluten-free beer to avoid wheat.
Gazpacho is one of those soups that can made be made to one's favorite specifications. If you don't like zucchini, skip it. If you love hot peppers, use a habanero instead of jalapeno. However, I wouldn't stray far from using a pale ale. The dry bitterness is a perfect match to spicy pepper and acidic tomato.
Added bonus: in staying with the vegan theme for the first course, try some cashew "sour cream." Soak cashews in water for 8 hours or overnight. Put them in a blender and add some Axl Pale Ale and lemon juice. Blend together until the consistency is similar to sour cream. Use in any dish like you would sour cream.
You've done the whole vegan thing for the first course, so why not carnivore it up for the second course? Using Dark Horse Brewing's Boffo Brown Ale, a nutty and malty brew with gentle notes of chocolate, we're going to make some steak tacos.
Season a skirt steak (about 1/2 lb.) liberally with salt and pepper. Sear on both sides in a very hot cast iron skillet. Pour one bottle of Boffo Brown Ale into the pan once steak is properly browned. Pour some beef broth into the skillet, too. It will appear that is a lot liquid in the skillet – don't worry, it'll reduce.
Slice some white onion, garlic and chipotle pepper (save that adobo!). Add to the skillet and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce heat to an aggressive simmer. Once the liquid is about one-third of its original volume, remove the steak and cut into desired pieces. Add steak back to sauce and cook for a few minutes more.
Warm some corn tortillas, add a dollop of steak and sauce to a tortilla, and top with fresh onion, cilantro and some of the cashew "sour cream." You could also top with cheese, jalapeno, or anything you'd top a taco with because, after all, this is your creation. Have fun with it!
The finished dish is quite spicy, but also delightfully sweet. Once the brown ale cooks down, its chocolatey nuttiness really shines through and compliments the smoky chipotle perfectly. Once cooked down, the onions are a textural dream and add additional sweetness. Serve the tacos with your favorite side dish like guacamole and chips, rice and beans or sweet corn seasoned with lime, cumin and chili powder.
Cooking with beer, especially in savory foods, can be relatively easy, but what happens when you want dessert? And let's be honest, you've cooked a lot already, so dessert should be simple, too.
There's nothing simpler than a float – ice cream scooped into a beverage (usually root beer or Vernors). It's an ideal hot weather dessert – cool, refreshing and creamy. It is perfectly acceptable to switch out that soda pop with a beer, too. For our float, we used Founder's Cerise, a beer brewed with cherries. It is more tart than sweet with a semi-dry bitter finish. Most fruit beers, stouts, porters or even the Boffo Brown Ale from the previous course would work as "dessert beers."
Scoop your favorite ice cream into the beer. Maybe some Treat Dreams Mexican Chocolate? How about some of your favorite non-dairy coconut milk ice cream? The sky's the limit really, depending on what flavor profile you're going after. The "classic" beer float would be a hearty oatmeal stout like Founder's Breakfast Stout with a big scoop of really good vanilla ice cream.
For each course, the ideal beer pairing would be the beer cooked with, but don't be afraid to experiment with different beer pairings, too.
Three courses. Three different Michigan beers and a lot of good food. Next time you're drinking some beer, consider cooking with it, too. Something delicious might occur. | RDW