Beer: It’s What’s For Thanksgiving Dinner

(and breakfast and supper and dessert.)

America's biggest feasting day of the year is less than a week away so I think it's a good time to revisit the concept of beer as an ingredient and list a few more recipes I've collected. The versatility of beer and the inventiveness of chefs and cooks never ceases to amaze me.

Let's start with breakfast. I'm just as fond of a simple, rustic breakfast as I am of a full English, heart-attack-on-a-plate breakfast with close to a dozen ingredients (eggs, bacon, sausage, black pudding, baked beans, fried tomatoes, fried mushrooms, bubble and squeak, fried bread and a mug of builders' tea). A loaf of fresh crusty bread, a big hunk of good quality cheese and a glass of ale is a splendid way to start the day as long as you don't have to go to work later, even though that used to be the first meal of the day for so many workers in times gone by. And if the bread is made with beer, so much the better.

Begin by gently heating 250ml (9 fluid ounces) of good quality lager to 110°F/43°C. Stir in two tablespoons of honey and mix thoroughly, then pour into a jug and set aside. Meanwhile mix together 425 grams (15 oz) of strong white bread flour and a teaspoon of salt in a large bowl. When the lager and honey have cooled to 95°F/35°C, add one teaspoon of active dried yeast and wait five to ten minutes for the yeast to bloom and become frothy. Pour it into the flour and add two tablespoons of olive oil (extra virgin). Combine to form a dough then knead on a floured surface for about ten minutes to develop gluten (or about five minutes in a mixer with the dough hook). When you have an elastic dough transfer it to an oiled bowl, cover with a damp teatowel (or put the bowl inside a large plastic bag) and leave it in a cool place while the yeast gets to work.

Yes, a cool place. I know most recipes suggest a warm place, but slowing down the yeast will give it time to develop more flavour, and it'll work even if you put the dough in the fridge and leave it there overnight. Either way, it needs to double in size before you take it out of the bowl and knead it once more for a few minutes. What you do with it at this point is up to you: you could form it into a round loaf, a couple of torpedoes or you could simply drop into a loaf tin. Whatever you decide upon, the dough needs to prove for a second time until doubled in size, and once again it needs to be covered or placed inside a big plastic bag to prevent a skin forming, which would inhibit a good rise. Pre-heat the oven to 400°F/200°C.

Bake the bread in your loaf tin, or on a sheet pan or a baking sheet covered with baking parchment for 20-25 minutes, turning it after about ten minutes to get even browning (unless you're fortunate enough to have a fan oven). If you notice the crust is getting too brown, drop the temperature by five or ten degrees F. When I'm baking bread I often start the oven hotter than the recipe calls for, drop it to the required temperature when I put the loaf in and gradually reduce the temperature by about 15 degrees F over the length of the specified cooking time. I figure that's how old brick ovens used to work and I've found that it produces a good crust. Lightly spraying the top of the loaf with water before you put it in the oven also helps, or if you have a drip tray on a shelf below the bread you could pour a little water into it as you put the loaf in. Slashing the top of the loaf with a sharp knife just before baking helps to get a good rise.

About the lager. A Czech or German pilsner works well with this recipe, but a dark lager such as a dunkel or a bock will give you a darker loaf with more flavour; a doppelbock even more so.

I imagine you've already got your heart set on a turkey, perhaps a big old ham, for Thursday's dinner but I'll throw in a main course recipe here too, just in case you're in the mood for a change. How about some pork shoulder with stout and brown sugar? This one includes a marinade so you'll need to think a day ahead.

This recipe starts with a boneless pork shoulder that's about 1kg/2lbs in weight. Cut three prunes and three anchovy fillets in half then make six incisions, about an inch long, spaced evenly around the surface of the joint and press one half prune and one half anchovy into each slit. Whisk together two tablespoons of olive oil and two tablespoons of white wine vinegar. Place one tablespoon of peppercorns, two teaspoons of salt, two teaspoons of dried oregano, one teaspoon of dried thyme, four cloves of garlic and two tablespoons of dark brown sugar in a food processor, then gradually add the olive oil/vinegar to make a paste. Rub the joint all over with the marinade, place meat and marinade in a zip-top bag, put that in a container of some kind (in case of leakage) and leave it in the fridge overnight.

Next morning (after your breakfast of lager bread and cheese) take the meat out of the fridge and wipe off the marinade, but don't throw it away - you're going to use it later. Heat some olive oil and butter in a large pan over a medium-high flame and brown the meat on all sides. A large Dutch oven or metal casserole dish that you can use on a stovetop/range is ideal for the job because that will be the dish you're going to roast it in. Remove the joint and set it aside. Drop the heat to low and add 40 grams (1½ ounces) of butter and a tablespoon of olive oil to the pan. Gently fry three thinly sliced onions and half a tablespoon of chopped sage until the onion is golden brown (but not burnt), about 20 minutes. Add three tablespoons of flour to the pan and cook for another five minutes, stirring to coat the onions evenly. Preheat the oven to 300°F/150°C.

Add 500ml (18 fl oz) of dry Irish stout and 450ml (16 fl oz) of chicken stock to the onions, turn up the heat to medium and stir. After a few minutes it'll thicken and become a rich sauce. Place the pork on top of the onions, lid it and cook for about four and a half hours, or until the meat is tender. If your casserole dish isn't suitable for the stovetop use a large skillet for the meat browning/onion cooking and pour the onions and sauce into the dish after thickening, lay the pork on top and then lid it.

When the roasting's done, take the meat out of the dish and keep it in a warm place, covered with foil. Pour the contents of the casserole dish into a food processor and blend until smooth. If it's a bit thin reduce it in a pan until thick. Use it as a sauce or gravy, poured over the sliced pork. If you've used a genuine Irish stout in the recipe it seems only right that it ought to be served with either champ, colcannon or boxty. I'll leave you to dig out recipes for those. Don't forget to put a little beer mustard on the edge of your plate. You don't have any? I can help with that!

Grind two tablespoons of yellow mustard seeds in a coffee grinder or mortar and pestle (you could substitute 1½ tablespoons of Colman's English Mustard Powder) and add two more tablespoons of whole yellow mustard seeds and a tablespoon of brown mustard seeds. You can play around with the combination of seeds to suit your own taste: black and brown are spicier and more pungent than yellow.

Finely chop one small onion and a clove of garlic, and place those in a small saucepan with 125ml (4¼ fl oz) of beer, 75ml (2 fl oz) of cider vinegar, one tablespoon of honey, one tablespoon of muscovado sugar, one quarter teaspoon of turmeric, half a teaspoon of allspice and half a teaspoon of salt. Bring these to a boil and gently simmer, uncovered, until it's reduced by about half. Remove from the heat and pour it over the mustard seeds/powder, mixing thoroughly. Cover it and set it aside for two days at room temperature for the flavours to mingle and develop. When it's ready you can grind it some more, either in a food processor or mortar and pestle, to your own preference. I wouldn't recommend a blender - too aggressive. Adjust the viscosity by adding more beer if too thick or more mustard powder (previously mixed with a little more beer) if too thin.

When it comes to putting your proto-mustard into jars you should observe the same sanitation procedure as jam and preserve makers do, especially as this is a cold recipe. Jam makers have the advantage that they're pouring a near-boiling liquid into their jars. Sterilise the jars either by boiling them for ten minutes in a pan deep enough to cover them with water and air-drying them in a low oven, or by leaving them in the oven for half an hour. You'll need to sterilise the lids too but the boiling and brief oven-drying method is best for those because there might be a plastic seal on the inside. You'll only need a couple of small jars for this recipe.

Fill the jars, screw on the lids and wait for another three or four days. Although, technically speaking, this is a preserve because it has vinegar and sugar, it's probably not going to keep as well as a commercially made mustard so you might want to store it in the fridge, especially after it's been opened. There's plenty of room for adaptation with this recipe: with the beer, the spices, the blend of mustard seeds and how much you grind the finished product. Be creative.

Perhaps you'd like to deep fry something in beer batter to accompany the main dish, such as onion rings. Couldn't be easier.

A beer batter can be something as basic as just beer and flour with a little salt and pepper. Some chefs might add a little extra spice but that's not for me, and I keep the pepper to a minimum too although I do add a teaspoon or two of vegetable oil to mine. The choice of beer is a little more important because although it does modify the taste of the batter a bit, its main purpose is to add lightness. Yes, most of the carbonation will be lost in the process, and I've seen recipes that call for an extra addition of soda water. I don't recommend using a dark or heavily flavoured beer for making batter unless that's what you really like. A hefeweizen, with its higher carbonation, can make for an interesting batter because some of those clove and banana flavours can sometimes make it through the frying, but my own preference is for a pale lager, a pilsner or a pale ale that's not too heavily hopped. If you're in an extravagant mood a pale Belgian beer is worth a try. Duvel is particularly good, and it fits in well with that old chefs' adage: don't cook with any wine you wouldn't drink. Quantities will depend on how much batter you need so it's best to just eyeball this one and go by viscosity - the batter should be thinner than double cream but thicker than paint. I also like to rest the batter for 30 minutes so that the flour can hydrate.

Now, I think it's time to tackle dessert.

Maybe, like me, you don't have an ice cream maker. Maybe you could go out and buy one but they're not entirely necessary. Ice cream makers do two things: firstly they keep the mixture moving while it freezes, which helps to keep the ice crystals small and give you a smoother product, and secondly they work some air into the ice cream, although nowhere near as much air as commercially-made ice cream which is why home-made is more dense than most shop-bought ice cream. You often pay for a lot of nothing when you buy ice cream.

Let's make a no-churn beer ice cream, and we'll work air into it by incorporating meringue. Start by reducing two US pints (one litre, 1¾ UK pints) of stout or porter down to a syrup, about two fluid ounces/60ml, by gently boiling it, uncovered in a saucepan. As it gets towards the end of the reduction you'll need to keep an eye on it in case it burns. Set aside and leave it to cool down to room temperature. Separate eight eggs into whites and yolks. Begin whipping the egg whites. When you start to get some volume gradually add 200g/7oz of fine sugar and continue whipping until your meringue is glossy and at the stiff peak stage. In another bowl combine 600ml/20 fl oz of double (heavy) cream and your stout reduction and beat to soft peaks, then carefully fold in the the meringue and then the lightly beaten egg yolks. Yes, we're using raw eggs here so if you have any concerns about salmonella use pasteurised eggs, but please don't use egg powder for this ice cream.

Pour into a container and freeze overnight. Apart from adding volume the meringue should inhibit large ice crystals developing, but if they do you can cut the ice cream into cubes, blend it in a food processor and re-freeze, although you'll probably lose some volume and it'll never be quite the same.

Again, this is a recipe you can play with and adapt. You don't have to use stout or porter but I don't recommend a very hoppy beer – boiling those to the extent required to reduce them does some very unpleasant things to the flavour. You could also make a second reduction to use as a sauce, and perhaps add extra ingredients to complement the beer, such as pecan porter with pecan nuts or a pumpkin beer with added spices - very seasonal, and perfect for Thanksgiving. How about adding cherries and/or coconut to a doppelbock ice cream?

To all our US readers, have a great Thanksgiving Day (and don't forget to raise a glass to The East India Company or Thanksgiving Day might not exist). If you're not celebrating Thanksgiving, try out a recipe or two anyway.

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