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Wednesday, Dec. 17, 10:39 a.m.
Style & Culture

The Hop Report: Beer an easy, flavorful add to many foods

Even before the days of Julia Child, wine was the dominant alcoholic beverage to add to cuisine: It’s tried and true — not to mention delicious. As the microbrew revolution led to a new golden age for beer enthusiasts, hard-working and adventurous chefs around the world began to discover the immense versatility of beer as an ingredient.

Fast forward a few years and by now everyone knows of the crispy, prosaic joys of beer-battered onion rings, but most people don’t have the necessary time to make elaborate beer reductions or infusions. From chicken to waffles to burgers, steamed mussels, chocolate cake and beyond, beer is something you can add to your food without a lot of complications but with great results.

Starting with breakfast, consider adding a fruit beer to your waffle batter. Almost any batter can be improved by the addition of beer, but adding a dose of blueberry ale to your waffle mix or pancake batter may alter your weekend breakfast routine forever. Before you respond with outrage at the idea of profaning the breaking of your fast with anything related to beer, recall that our founding fathers enjoyed ale with breakfast. Also know that the amount of beer going into your waffle batter cannot exceed the amount of milk or water you would have normally used — unless you like runny waffles.

That’s right: It doesn’t matter whether you’re using a boxed mix or starting from scratch. It doesn’t matter whether you’re adding an apricot wheat beer, any flavor of the Belgian Lambic beers, or opt for one of the great New England blueberry ales. You should only replace the same volume of beer for the water in your recipe — you can only add so much, so relax. Besides, some of that alcohol should cook out of your waffles.

For lunch, knead half a glass of robust porter or Scottish ale into your hamburger before you form it into patties for the grill. The more robust the beer, the more flavor will shine through in your finished burger. If you don’t want to get your hands dirty — or wish to keep one hand free — baste your burger with some beer as it cooks.  It will be juicy, delicious, flavorful and above all, easy.

If that’s too simple, marinate chicken tenders in minced garlic and India pale ale, shake them dry, dredge them in seasoned flour, then toss them into this remarkably complex beer batter before you fry them — one cup of all purpose flour, one cup of beer, salt and pepper. If that batter is too simple, add a teaspoon of baking powder, a single beaten egg, a quarter cup of vegetable oil and a splash of Worcestershire or sriracha hot sauce. Not bad, but blueberry ale waffles and IPA beer-battered chicken might not be fancy enough to impress that certain someone, say, on Valentine’s Day.

For date night, try this: Mince some garlic and shallots while you heat up a pan coated with olive oil or butter. Toss in the garlic and shallots with a tablespoon of sweet chili sauce. When the shallots become translucent and slightly soft throw in enough mussels to cover the bottom of the pan. Toss the mussels in the deliciousness to coat them. Then add half a diced tomato and, depending on the size of your pan, a bottle of Belgian white ale. In less than 10 minutes, the mussels should be open. At this time, toss in a small handful of loosely chopped basil, and toss once more. Serve it in a large bowl alongside a crusty baguette or grilled sourdough bread to soak up the beer and mussel juices. Results may vary, but you should be able to get a second date.

If you’re gunning for true love this year, select one of the numerous recipes for Guinness chocolate cake from the Internet, or buy ready-made cake mix. Remember, if you’re using a boxed cake mix there’s no rule against sacrificing a cup of your stout for a unique dessert; just like with the waffle batter, only replace the equivalent amount of water or milk with beer, if you want to play it safe.

You can leave it at that. But for the committed, split the batter into two pans. When they’ve cooled and been extracted, mix powdered sugar, vegetable shortening, Irish whiskey, and cream liqueur together to make a filling. Note: if you want to be successful in constructing the “Irish Car Bomb Cake,” you must exercise moderation while you cook. While you spread the filling on one cake and set the other on top, melt dark chocolate together with butter, confectioners’ sugar and a little more stout; then simply pour the whole mixture over the top of the cake.

Finally, for the simplest and most satisfying of midnight snacks, pour most of a bottle of porter or stout over a scoop of ice cream. While counter intuitive, chocolaty notes of dark beer are wonderful with vanilla ice cream. You don’t have to believe me, but it’s remarkably tasty.

There you have it. Regardless of skill or inclination, you can spice up your dinner with a tasty brew. It’s easy, it’s delicious and it’s unlike the pretentiousness that can be associated with wine. Cooking with beer can be as simple as beer-can chicken and as pretentious as a porter-glazed peppercorn porterhouse steak.