Foodiesan was a late bloomer when it comes to beer. It was only during her second pregnancy when she developed a craving for beer and coffee cake (not together, but I bet there is a recipe for that too!) that she even came to like beer. And then she wasn’t allowed to drink at all. Well, maybe a sip.
After giving birth to her son, she might enjoy beer occasionally but would never actually consider cooking with beer. It just seemed déclassé, like making pot roast with Doctor Pepper, or wrapping Pillsbury Crescent dough around canned Vienna sausages, or making anything with American cheese. What a snob she was.
Thus, the notion of cooking with beer has a slow realization to Foodiesan. In that respect she has been a slow adopter, and she hangs her hubris heavy head in shame.
With the cold wet months upon us, the soul cries out for food that is rich, substantial and deep in flavor. There is something about cooking slowly with beer that renders protein into tender and satisfying morsels.
Some people like the drama of dropping a shot of tequila into their mug of beer. The following recipe applies these same ingredients to a delectable carnitas-like stew. I came up with the idea when a friend gave me a big bag of chargrilled ancho chiles (Andale!), but you could also use regular peppers.
Start with a hunk (3-4 pounds) of pork shoulder, cut it into stew-sized pieces and season the pieces with salt. Brown them in batches (don’t crowd) and throw the meat into a crockpot. In the same pan, saute sliced onions and 4-5 cloves of garlic and put them in the crockpot along with a cup of grilled peppers. If you don’t already have grilled peppers, you should sauté one large green pepper at this time and then add that to the crockpot. Dump in a can of beer, ¼ cup of tequila, and a large can of stewed tomatoes. At this point, I add a couple of chopped chipotles in adobo sauce, but that is up to you. Season with a fistful of dried oregano, 2 teaspoons of cumin, salt and pepper to taste.
I then set the crockpot on high for 3 hours and at low for at least another three hours.
I bet you could add a couple cans of hominy while you are at it. I bet that would be really good.
When it’s all nice and soft, correct the seasonings and serve with warm tortillas and condiments like chopped tomatoes, cilantro, scallions, and shredded cabbage. And beer.
The following recipe comes at the suggestion of my dear friend, Sarah, who has fond memories of carbonnade as a young girl. Sarah is from Birmingham, England but the disk is Flemish. Which got me to wondering what the “Flemish” actually means.
Q: Is it a nation? A: No
Q: Is it a place? A: Kind of.
Q: Is it a culture? A: Bingo!
Once again, demonstrating my ignorance, I always considered the Flemish to be Dutch, probably because the only context I had was the Flemish artists, which I ignorantly equated with Rembrandt. Flemish refers to the former Belgian county of Flanders and to the region and culture of West Belgium. They speak Dutch, as do 59% of the rest of the Belgian population. The other 41% speak French, like Inspector Poirot.
But here’s the thing. When you google “Flemish food,” you are quickly directed to a “Beer Tourism” page. It is little wonder that Carbonnade Flamande is so revered in that part of the world.
This is actually supposed to be better if you make it a few days ahead, but I wouldn’t know. First, sauté a half pound of sliced bacon lardons in a large stewpot. When they are just about crispy, add a 2 chopped onions and a head of chopped garlic and cook over low heat until that is nice and soft. Then sauté 2 or 3 pounds of sliced beef in the same pan, and season with 2 teaspoons each of allspice and thyme. After searing, throw in 1/3 cup of flour (I use Wondra) and stir that around a bit to make kind of a roux. When that seems cooked, at 2 ½ cups each of dark beer and beef broth, 2 tablespoons each of sugar and cider vinegar, ¼ cup of wholegrain mustard, a couple springs of parsley and tarragon and a couple of bay leaves. Season with salt and pepper. Simmer for about 3 hours.
This is something that you could serve with mashed potatoes or egg noodles. Carrots are a nice side dish, and Sarah and I would even just add them to the pot in the last half hour of cooking. They add more sweetness and contrasting texture to the stew. But, it’s up to you.
So, another way that I have enjoyed beer in cooking has been with steamed mussels. I learned this recipe from my dear late friend, Frank Mahler, who was as much a foodie as I am.
Frank’s July 4th Mussels
Sauté a diced andouille sausage in a big wok. When they give up their oil throw in a half of a sliced onion, 2-3 cloves of garlic, and a half of a sliced fennel bulb. Add a cup of chopped tomatoes and red pepper and simmer for a little while before dumping in about 2 pounds of fresh, clean mussels and a bottle of darkish beer. Cover the whole thing for just a few minutes until the broth is simmering and the mussels pop open.
I miss you, Frank! So much.