Better with beer
Published: Tuesday, March 12, 2013 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, March 11, 2013 at 2:02 p.m.
Founding father Ben Franklin may or may not have penned the famous quote, “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy."
But there's no question that the bubbly beverage has been making mankind happy for a long time, going back about 6,000 years to ancient Egypt.
Made from fermented grains, beer rode the wave of the agricultural revolution and eventually migrated to the colder climates of Northern Europe, where Germanic and Anglo-Saxon cultures embraced it as a refreshing accompaniment to cheeses, smoked meats and sausages.
And people have been cooking with it nearly as long as they've been drinking it. Guinness, a dry stout first sold in 1778 by Arthur Guinness of Ireland, became one of the most successful beers worldwide while making its way into some of that country's most beloved dishes.
“I grew up eating Guinness beef stew,” said chef Ciara Meaney, a native of Ireland who now lives in Petaluma. “Everything went into the pot, and everything got braised down, with the potatoes and carrots.”
Known as a “meal in a glass,” Guinness is made from roasted, unmalted barley, which lends it a bitter, burnt flavor. While the nuttiness and earthiness of Guinness translates perfectly into a braising liquid for beef, the brew also has an affinity with sweet substances.
“Guinness and chocolate tend to work beautifully together because of those rich, earthy notes,” said Meaney. “It's like adding a teaspoon of espresso to a chocolate cake.”
Meaney made Guinness Truffles for a Modern Irish Supper cooking class recently at Relish Culinary Adventures in Healdsburg, in anticipation of St. Patrick's Day.
But you won't find corned beef and cabbage on her menu, since that particular dish is more American than Irish. Corned beef was first popularized in New York, where Irish immigrants settled on it as a more affordable substitute for pork.
“People in Ireland could not afford to eat corned beef,” Meaney explained. “So I've included Colcannon (potatoes and kale), Brown Bread and Boxty (potato cakes) with Irish Salmon and Leg of Lamb.”
In “The Great Meat Cookbook,” author Bruce Aidells of Healdsburg includes a recipe for Irish Corned Beef with Vegetables that calls for a malty bottle of Guinness.
“The Guinness is so full flavored,” he said. “It has a slight bitterness from the hops, but the corned beef and the root vegetables balance that out.”
Aidells makes his own corned beef - “you throw it in a salt brine, and it takes about five days” — but the dish can be made with any good-quality, corned beef.
Aidells' recipe also provides two sauces: a Dill Pickle-Horseradish Cream and a Guinness-Mustard Sauce, for the requisite kick of flavor.
When he makes corned beef, Aidells always makes sure there is enough left over for Hash Cakes with Poached Eggs, another recipe from “The Great Meat Cookbook.”
In his 1992 book, “Real Beer and Good Eats,” Aidells takes readers on a journey through the history of beer and provides 175 recipes that incorporate the sudsy brew, from a Chocolate Porter Cake to Clams and Mussels Steamed in Beer.
Jackson's Bar & Oven in Santa Rosa has had a beer and shellfish dish on its menu since it opened. The Big Bowl of Wood Oven Roasted Mussels is cooked with beer and butter, roasted fennel and garlic, caramelized onions and parsley.
Together, the liquor from the mussels, the butter and the beer create a delicious broth that rides a flavor wave from briny to rich, with a slightly bitter finish.
“It's one of my favorite dishes,” said chef/owner Josh Silvers. “We use a lighter beer ... with a little sweetness to it.”
The mussels dish can be made with any citrusy, hefeweizen-style brew, from Blue Moon and Shock Top to Great White from the North Coast Brewing Company.
Mussels are traditional all over Ireland, from Dublin to Galway Bay, where they proliferate in the cold, clear waters offshore.
“We went to Ireland's West Coast, to Kerry, and the pubs out there give you a massive amount of mussels cooked in beer when you order a beer,” Aidells said. “They must be very cheap, because they were giving them away.”
This recipe is from Jason Denton, Chef de Cuisine at Jackson's Bar and Oven in Santa Rosa.
Jackson's Wood Oven Mussels with Beer
2 tablespoons roasted garlic (see note below)
2 tablespoons roasted fennel (see note below)
2 tablespoons caramelized onions (see note below
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound PEI (Prince Edward Island) mussels
6 ounces hefeweizen-style beer
4 tablespoons butter
Salt, to taste
Parsley, for garnish
To roast garlic: Take whole cloves, cut off bottom, and place in a pan in oven, face down at 350 degrees for 30 to 45 minutes. Remove skin.
To roast fennel: Dice fennel bulbs into a small dice, toss with 1 tablespoon oil and roast in the oven, stirring often, until light brown and soft.
To caramelize onions: Place 1 tablespoon olive oil in a hot pan over medium heat. Saute diced onion in oil until soft.
For mussels: Clean mussels, removing the beard and throwing out any that are open. Combine all ingredients except salt and parsley in a roasting pan or large saute pan. Cook in a wood oven or in a 500 degree oven, stirring regularly, until all mussels have opened. Taste broth to check salt, then season. Serve in a large bowl with chopped parsley and bread.
“Every Irish family has their own variation on this classic, hearty dish, where Guinness is the braising liquid,” said Ciara Meaney, who shared this recipe from her childhood in Ireland. “Cubed potatoes can be added in the last hour of cooking time to make this a one-pot meal.”
Guinness Beef Stew
Makes 4 servings
1 ounce unsalted butter
3 ounces bacon, diced
1½ pounds stewing beef, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 ounce all-purpose flour
— Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 medium white onion, sliced
1 pint stout, preferably Guinness
1 cup beef stock (good quality, low-sodium)
1 bay leaf
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 large carrot, cut into 1" cubes
½ tablespoon Italian parsley, minced
Heat the oven to 275 degrees. Melt the butter in a large dutch oven over medium heat and add the bacon. Cook until golden brown and remove and set aside. Season the beef liberally with kosher salt and fresh black pepper and toss lightly in the flour to coat. Add to the heated dutch oven. Cook the meat in a single layer, working in batches if needed and allow it to form a golden brown crust on its first side before moving it around in the pan. Brown the cubed beef well on all sides. Set the browned beef aside and drain off any excess fat that remains in the pan (leaving no more than ½ tablespoon). Add the sliced onion and sauté over medium-low heat until softened. Pour in the stout and the beef stock and turn up the heat to bring it to a rolling boil. Scrape all of the browned bits off the bottom of the pan. Return the beef and bacon to the pan and add the bay leaf and thyme. Cover the dutch oven and transfer to the heated oven to cook for approximately 2 hours or until your beef is fork tender. About an hour into the cooking time, add the cubed carrots. Serve hot with a sprinkle of fresh parsley over creamy mashed potatoes.
“Using a little beer to boil corned beef provides a pleasant malty flavor,” writes Bruce Aidells. “Choose a dark beer, such as Guinness or other stout or, for a hint of sweetness, try a porter. Dark German beer, called Dunkel, is also good.” This recipe is reprinted from “The Great Meat Cookbook” by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Irish Corned Beef and Vegetables with Dill Pickle-Horseradish Cream and Guinness-Mustard Sauce
Makes 6 servings, with plenty of leftovers
16- to 8-pound whole corned beef brisket, homemade or store-bought
112-ounce bottle Guinness or other stout, porter, or dark German beer
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
4 bay leaves
1 dried chile, such as cayenne
2 allspice berries
8 medium boiling potatoes, scrubbed
4 medium onions, halved through the roots
6 small turnips, peeled and halved, or 2 medium rutabagas, peeled and quartered
2 parsnips, peeled and cut into 2-inch chunks
6 medium carrots, peeled
12-pound green cabbage, cored and quartered
— Dill Pickle-Horseradish Cream (recipe follows)
— Guinness-Mustard Sauce (recipe follows)
Place the corned beef in a Dutch oven. Pour in the beer and enough water to cover the meat by 1 to 2 inches. Wrap the coriander seeds, bay leaves, chile, and allspice in a square of cheesecloth, tie with butcher's twine, and throw the spices into the pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer, cover the pot, and cook for 2 hours. Check the beef by inserting a knife into the thickest part. If it shows no resistance, the meat is tender. To make sure, cut off a bit and taste it. If it is not tender, continue to cook, checking every 30 minutes. Remove the beef from the pot and cover loosely with aluminum foil to keep warm.
Add the potatoes, onions, turnips, parsnips, carrots, and cabbage to the pot, cover, and cook at a slow boil for 20 minutes, or until tender. Return the beef to the pot to rewarm for 2 to 3 minutes. Discard the spice bag. Cut the meat across the grain into 1/4-inch-thick slices and arrange on a platter with the vegetables. Serve with the Dill Pickle-Horseradish Cream and Guinness-Mustard Sauce.
Dill Pickle-Horseradish Cream
Makes about 1½ cups
1 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives or scallion greens
6 tablespoons prepared horseradish, drained
1 tablespoon finely chopped dill pickle
Combine the ingredients in a small bowl. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or up to 2 days.
Makes about ¾ cup
½ cup coarse-grain mustard
2 tablespoons Guinness or other stout
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
½ teaspoon light brown sugar
1 tablespoon finely chopped shallot
Combine the ingredients in a small bowl. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or up to 4 days.
“Guinness has a chocolaty, nutty character that works brilliantly as a flavoring for truffles,” said Ciara Meaney. “I like to roll the finished truffles in nuts to add a crunchy texture to the smooth chocolate but a cocoa powder coating is equally delicious.
Guinness Chocolate Truffles
Makes about 30 truffles
½ pound bittersweet chocolate
6 ounces butter, unsalted
6 tablespoons heavy cream
2 tablespoons Guinness stout
— Cocoa powder or finely chopped toasted nuts (hazelnuts are my favorite)
In a heatproof bowl set over simmering water, melt the chocolate and the butter. Stir occasionally but be careful not to over mix or the chocolate will seize. Gently stir in the cream and the Guinness until the mixture is smooth. Refrigerate until firm, about 2 hours. Using a teaspoon or a melon-baller, scoop ½ " balls of the chocolate mixture and roll them between your palms to create smooth even balls. Roll the balls in either cocoa powder or finely chopped nuts. Serve at room temperature. The truffles can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 10 days.