Cooking with Beer: Bayou Shrimp Recipe
Drinking Beer in Brewpubs
Celebrating at Beer Festivals

Knowing When You Can Use Beer in a Recipe

Anywhere wine, broth, or water is called for in a recipe, beer usually offers a unique alternative. Imaginative cooks can have a field day experimenting with beer as a substitute for at least part of the other common cooking liquids.

The easiest place to start fooling around (with cooking and beer, that is) is with steamed food, soups, stews, marinades, glazes, and bastes. Just pour it on or in. On the other extreme, you can try chocolate stout ice cream, definitely an exercise in open-mindedness: Try it as a float (with stout, not root beer). What’s next — beer mustard? Oh, wait — it’s been done!

If you’re new to beer and want to experiment with it in your own recipes, try using the following:

  • Pale Lager for thinning a batter; you can also use Pale Lager for half the liquid in any bread recipe and a fifth to a quarter of the liquid in a soup recipe

  • A lighter ale or lager (and some water) for steaming mussels

  • Pale Lager mixed with water (and spices) for steaming shrimp

  • Light- to medium-bodied lagers for lighter marinades

  • Full-bodied lagers or ales for stronger marinades (such as Chinese-inspired ones)

Good news for vegetarians: Flavorful beer, such as Scottish Ale, is a terrific substitute for chicken or beef stock. Beer is made from grain, so it has a natural affinity for grain-based dishes.

Anytime you use beer in a recipe, cook it long enough for it to impart its flavor, which depends greatly on the beer you’re using and what you’re cooking.

One of the simplest ways to start cooking with beer is with a roast chicken: Simply pour one bottle of a flavorful beer, such as Märzen or Brown Ale, under the baking rack and let it mix with the pan drippings; add corn starch or flour and fresh beer when done, for a wonderful, lumpless gravy (the rest is up to you).

Don’t automatically assume that beer is a complementary ingredient in every recipe. After all, of the four basic flavors (sweet, sour, salty, bitter), most beer contributes only sweet and bitter. Sometimes beer just won’t work, usually because its natural bitterness or sweetness gets concentrated by cooking. (Wine isn’t normally bitter, and sweet wines aren’t commonly used for cooking.) Consider whether beer’s concentrated sweetness or bitterness may detract from the dish you’re cooking.

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