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10 recipes featuring beer that are sure to impress

The older and more traditionalist cooks among us might turn up their noses at the very idea, but beer in the kitchen isn’t just a fashionable new trend of the recent brewing renaissance.

Simone Massenza
Simone Massenza
birra e cucina

The older and more traditionalist cooks among us might turn up their noses at the very idea, but beer in the kitchen isn’t just a fashionable new trend of the recent brewing renaissance.

There’s no trick or illusion, ladies and gentlemen. Just a reliable (and historic) ally in the kitchen… but one that’s not traditionally ours! However, if we draw a simple parallel with the fermented product that, more than any other, represents Italy (aka wine), no one would bat an eye. Wine, not only in the glass, appears regularly in our grandmother’s recipes, from Risotto al Franciacorta, to the more homey and familiar Brasato Piemontese, and of course the timeless sauteed mussels. Great, now zoom out (like when you bring your thumb and index finger together on Google Maps) and, for just a moment, feel your European-ness.

There’s a whole world out there which, not having wine, for centuries cooked with… beer! The most difficult thing is choosing the right one to exalt your recipes and dishes. So indulge your fantasy of being a small, misunderstood 3-star Michelin chef.  There’s just one thing to be careful about: hops. Unless you happen to be a Jew during Passover, and want to create a mārôr-effect (a bitter-herb effect), or an intransigent secessionist from Treviso, beer’s bitterness tends to become stronger when you cook with it.

So feel free to use sweeter and more balanced beers. And don’t think of it as a Plan B. It’s every bit as valid as wine, just… different. Here are 10 recipes with which to introduce beer in the kitchen, all of them sure to impress your friends and family. (Step aside plebeians!)

1. CARBONADE FIAMMINGA

When you imagine a culinary paradise, Belgium isn’t exactly the destination that comes to mind. Speculoos, waffles, chocolate, mussels and French fries. Despite a more than enviable landscape of beers, the (peasant) food is hearty and simple, but lacks creativity and variety. One of the few exceptions is the Carbonade Fiamminga. This dish is a variation of Italian (previously mentioned) braised beef, in which the meat soaks happily in a sweet, well-structured, and complex Belgian beer.

The whole thing dressed abundantly with onions, smoked bacon, thyme, bay leaves, mustard, and pepper. It’s a dish that, outside of Belgium (recognized as the undisputed capital of this delicacy), we find, with some variations, throughout Central Europe. As soon as we leave the wine-belt we start seeing Carbonades… and beer! By cultural osmosis, we even find this word in Val d’Aosta, an Italian region with a decidedly northern European identity, where it’s used for the more or less classic beef braised in wine. Any medium to full bodied Belgian-style beer is right for this dish, like a Dubbel, Tripel, Abbey, Trappist, or Strong Belgian Ale.

P.S. The same holds true for the iconic Schweinshaxe in Bier (it’s not a tongue twister, but rather a shank cooked in Bavarian beer).

2. MARINADES

Beer makes an incredible marinade for meat. From the most delicate white meats, like chicken and turkey, all the way to pork ribs and belly, you can leave your favorite meat to soak in it with the spices you prefer, as well as a pinch of salt and pepper. I also recommend adding some citrus juice, like lime, orange, or lemon. After having left it to marinate, sealed and covered, for at least 6 hours, your meat is ready to be grilled or browned in the pan.

You can also make small cuts in the meat to allow the juices to penetrate better. So easy, but with that extra little touch. Oh, and the golden rule applies to fish as well! Sword fish, cod, salmon, or shrimp are excellent marinated in beer! Feel free to use very light and delicate beers, like Helles, Lager, Weizen, or Bière Blanche, but you can also experiment with citrus and exotic beers like NEIPA. For mollusks and shellfish you can even go so far as a dark beer; an Oyster Stout would be perfect.

carne e birra

3. BEER CAN CHICKEN

A modern and Made in the USA version of one of the first dishes that became a hit during the fabulous 80s/90s (alongside penne alla vodka and shrimp cocktail), threatening, for a short time, Italy’s culinary sovereignty: Beer Can Chicken. Unlike the original, this modern variation is as fun as it is vulgar, given that the beer, as can be deduced from the name, is used in its entirety, including the can! The not-sugar-coated name of this red, white, and blue dish is even more suggestive (Warning: not for the easily scandalized): Beer Butt Chicken.

Yes, you read that right, it’s not a typo. I imagine that you’ve already reached the unmistakable conclusion of where the can, after having been washed and popped open, gets inserted… It’s unclear whether the bird is consensual or not. Anyway… the chicken can first be marinated, or massaged with brown sugar and spices (tex mex or cajun style). After having given it a good rub down and having… positioned… the can in the… (the line between “food porn” and “YouPorn” grows ever thinner), the chicken will remain upright, as though sitting on it. When cooking, this allows the beer to evaporate inside, keeping the meat moist and juicy (and not tough and stringy) and the skin crispy, while also emitting a delicious fragrance. In terms of beer, you can try everything, even bitter beers (the exception that proves the rule), as long as the aromas complement the spices being used.

4. RISOTTO

If you have some experience in the kitchen, after having allowed the rice to toast, then you too usually leave it to simmer for a moment in white wine, or occasionally red wine. Well, beer can be used in exactly the same way.

You can then decide whether to leave it like that, perhaps with a pinch of aromatic herbs like parsley, dill, or scallion, or go further and add any other ingredient you like, from sausage to speck for a heartier dish. When it comes to beer you have plenty of room to maneuver, as long as it’s not at all bitter.

5. BATTER

Cholesterol, saturated fats, and love handles aside… raise your hand if you love fried foods!  It’s okay, you can say it. We all know everything tastes good fried!  And what’s better than a perfect batter: light and dry, soft on the inside, crunchy on the outside? We’ve just described “beer batter”, thanks to which you’ll be frying like there’s no tomorrow.

It’s so easy to prepare. Just five minutes and your scampi will never be the same again! Mix together roughly the same amount of flour and beer (the trick is that the beer needs to be ice cold!). The bubbles will create texture in the batter, expanding when cooked. Light, non-bitter beers with lively carbonation are recommended, like Weizen and Bière Blanche.

6. BREAD

Admit it… after having experienced the quarantine of the past few years, during which you baked industrial quantities of pizza and croissants, you’ve become a black belt in baking, and the art of bread making has no more secrets left for you.

Now are you ready to move on to the next level? Simply replace the water in your favorite recipe with beer, and… les jeux sont faits! You’ll have a loaf of bread with an unmistakable, flavor, fragrance, and aroma! Obviously, you need to choose a beer that isn’t bitter and has aromas of malt, toast, caramel, and dried fruit, like Brown Ale, Bock, or Doppelbock.

7. BIRRAMISÙ

Is it possible to improve upon one of the most iconic, perfect, and delicious Italian desserts ever? Though purists will be horrified, the answer is yes, thanks to beer! (Thank God for the Beer.) Birramisù, which for years has been the proud and exclusive property of the first Italian beer-tasters, like a Holy Grail or secret password for some cult, is nothing more than a variation on tiramisù, now world famous, in which the ladyfingers are dipped in beer instead of coffee.

Choose a beer with strong toasty aromas of coffee, cocoa, and chocolate, like a dark British Porter or Stout, and continue with the preparation according to the traditional recipe. You’ll be surprised by the notes of milk and cappuccino. Want to know my little trick?  Pour a drop of beer into the mascarpone cream as well and then tell me what you think!

birra e tiramisu

8. VINAIGRETTE

Tired of the same old oil and vinegar to dress your sad little salads and vegetables? Try a vinaigrette made with orange juice, beer (not bitter and not alcoholic), and a bit of mustard (to your liking). You’ll bring something new to the table, that you’ll no longer be able to do without, and it’s also perfect on meat!

9. SAUTÉED MUSSELS

I can’t resist them.  I don’t know what I love more: the mussels or that exquisite broth that seems made specifically to be soaked up with a slice of crusty bread. (Give. Them. To. Me.)

Okay, so changing nothing else in the recipe for the sautè (garlic, oil, parsley, chili pepper, and pepper), try replacing the white wine with a light, not bitter, blonde beer (Helles, Lager, or Bière Blanche). The flavor of this dish will be even richer, more intense, and more complex! And if you want to prepare something really special, try using an #Extravagant beer (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, then hurry to take the Taste Test), like a Geuze, Belgian sour beer, or Gose, a salty German beer. Obviously you can also try sautéd clams, or any other bivalve you like, by themselves or mixed.

birra e cozze

10. CAKES

If birramisù isn’t your thing, or its preparation is below your minimum standard of difficulty as a master chef, then get ready to pull out (and grease) your cake pans and molds. Beer can replace water in most cake recipes, from Margherita cake to apple cake, as well as every variation of chocolate cake you can think of.  Now you know!

In this case, any and all form of bitter hops are prohibited (be gone with you!), and it’s open season for sweet, yet strong beers. Go with light or amber beers for plain cakes, and veer without hesitation towards dark beers for chocolate cakes. The former will add a note of caramel or candied or dried fruit, while the latter will intensify the toasty flavor and contribute notes of prune or red fruits that go perfectly with chocolate.