Sunday, February 24, 2013

Cooking with Beer

Beer, it's not just for drinking
By: Chef Cristian Feher

Beer, it's not just for drinking. Well, it's mostly for drinking, but that's only half of what beer does well. Much like beer's snobbier cousin - wine - there are hundreds of ways to pair and combine beer with food. And for most of us, it can be a new, and much more accessible hobby.

Before I continue, I would like to clarify that I do not consider myself a "wine connoisseur" or "sommelier". I do not own a wine cellar. But as a personal chef, I have the good fortune of cooking for clients that, not only have their own wine cellars, but have a very good taste in wine - and they like to share! This is how I have been able to experience the difference between run-of-the-mill wine, and the good stuff!

There is a mile of a difference between cheap wine and good wine. In fact, I almost gave up on drinking it before I figured out that the good stuff starts at around $50 a bottle. I really didn't see what the big deal was until I tasted some of these more refined vintages. Which leads me to believe that cheap wine should classify as something else entirely - they should call it grapety-booze, and the good stuff should retain the name, Wine. There is nothing wrong with grapety-booze, just as there is nothing wrong with grape Kool-Aid and vodka - if that's what tickles your fancy. 

What does this have to do with beer? It's simply more affordable to get to know good beer, than it is to know good wines. And fortunately, there is little compromise - good beer is just as good as good wine.

If you thought pairing food and wine was fun, wait till you start playing with beer! Below are some of my favorite beer pairings.

Beer and Fruit are a match made in heaven. There are many craft breweries that infuse the taste of citrus fruit and berries into their brew. You can also make your own combinations. One of my best creations to date has been a frosty mug of Alexander Keith's India Pale Ale (Canadian beer) with mandarin orange segments. I also love wheat beer with frozen blackberries or frozen blueberries in the glass. And have you ever drank ice-cold Jamaican Red Stripe out of a hollowed out pineapple with your toes in the sand?  You really should.  From Tsing Tao with rambutan fruit, to Negra Modelo (dark Mexican beer) with chocolate covered coffee beans, I encourage you to try your own fruit and beer mixtures.

Beer makes good dishes even better. When I make Spanish seafood paellas over coals (the traditional way) I like to cut the seafood stock in half and use a light beer, like Carib or Corona, to add an extra depth of flavor. Likewise, you can add a richer flavor to a tomato meat sauce or Cuban picadillo with the addition of beer. I almost always start my cheese fondues with garlic and beer to give them a really rich malt flavor that goes great with ementhal and other melting cheeses. And if you're a fan of steamed mussels, garlic, onion and beer make the best steaming base for this dish!

Beer and Fine Dining? Absolutely! There is nothing shabby about beer escorting you on an evening out for fine dining. I took up this habit during my travels to Argentina years ago. It is not scoffed at in Buenos Aires to order a nice Quilmes or Stella Artois to accompany a fine meal. And if it's good enough for the Argentinians (which, in my opinion, have the best food on the planet) it's certainly good enough for Americans. The next time you're enjoying a perfectly cooked sea bass fillet with a saffron veloute sauce, you may be pleasantly surprised how well it will pair with a pale lager.

Future episodes of my cooking show, Food Chain TV, will undoubtedly feature some food and beer pairings. Do you have beer pairings of your own? If so, you can always email me at I am always happy to try out new ideas from foodies like you!

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