A Beginners Guide to Cooking with Beer

The first thing you should know about cooking with beer is that it is in a whole different area than cooking with wines or spirits. Most modern beers, particularly lager beers, do not have a particularly strong or characteristic flavour. Add to this that the alcohol content of most beers is considerably lower than most wines and all spirits, because of the volume of liquid and you can see that if we want to use beer effectively in cooking, we need to be very selective both of the beer and of the accompanying ingredients.

I write from a British perspective, and can vouch for the unique and characterful flavour of many British bottled or draft beers, Greene King’s ‘Old Speckled Hen’ or Theakston’s ‘Old Peculier’ but I am aware that neither of these beers is universally available outside of the United Kingdom.

If you are a beer connoisseur, and know the beers of your local micro brewery, opt for a beer of around 5.5 to 7.0 percent ABV (alcohol by volume) if possible, and one that is dark in colour and contains an above average amount of malt. This is a generalisation as there are some delightful paler beers out there, but this is likely to give you more distinct flavour in cooking.

If you know little or nothing about micro breweries or beer that isn’t lager, don’t despair – use a bottle of Guinness, which is available just about everywhere in the world. (a word of warning, though, some export Guinness has twice the alcohol content of the domestic Irish brew!)

But enough about the beer – let’s get cooking….

Beer does not go too well with poultry or veal, and most definitely is a non-starter with fish of any kind. It is, however, good with beef and in my opinion delicious with venison. A favourite pub meal in Britain is steak and ale pie, and my home made version goes as follows:

You will need

6 ozs of lean stewing steak (or venison) per person, cut into 1″ cubes
A good bunch of parsley
About 300mls of bottled beer (as described above, any will do but my own favourite is Old Speckled Hen)
A good pinch of ground black peppercorns
Small pinch of salt (optional)
Two medium sized carrots, cut in small julienne strips
A little cornflour for thickening (or you could cheat and use some gravy granules from a packet)
Some puff pastry (I cannot make good puff pastry and always use frozen ready made. Unless you are a kitchen wizard, I suggest you do the same!)

Method:

Put the diced meat into a bowl, cover with beer. Cover the bowl with cling film and put into the fridge for at least one hour and overnight if possible to marinade. This will ensure that the beef or venison is extremely tender. If you find you need more beer to cover the meat, that’s fine. If you have too much, drink the remainder. You just can’t lose!

Put no more than a couple of teaspoonsful of good olive oil into a thick bottomed skillet or frying pan, and heat until just beginning to smoke. Put in no more than five of the pieces of meat taken from the marinade (KEEP THE MARINADE!) at a time and fry them until they are ‘sealed’ and have changed colour. Then take them out of the pan and keep them to one side.

Once you’ve sealed all the meat, put the pieces in a saucepan with the marinade, the julienne carrot strips and the pepper (and salt if used). Chop the parsley roughly and add it to the mix. Put the whole thing on a very low gas (or electric) burner, and simmer it for about 45 minutes. Check it quite regularly, and if necessary top up with more beer or with water. You should be left with enough liquid to make a good, fairly thick gravy.

When cooked (test meat and carrots to ensure they are tender) transfer to a flatter oven proof dish. Roll out enough Puff Pastry to cover the vessel, and make sure there is a hole in the centre (use a pie funnel if you have one – otherwise a small upturned espresso cup is a reasonable substitute) If you have neither, throw caution to the wind and just take a chance!

Put in a pre-heated oven at about 240 degrees Celsius (464 Fahrenheit)for approx twelve to fifteen minutes or until the pastry has turned golden brown.

Serve with chips or mashed potato and green vegetable(s) of your choice.