Cuisine à la Bière

Let's have a virtual blowout before the dietary proscriptions of Lent begin on Wednesday.

It's been too long since we did this. Let's work through the menu from soup to dessert. Maybe next time (and there will be a next time, oh yes) we'll go from soup to nuts.

Carrot soup with honey beer and cumin

Carrot and cumin is a pairing worth remembering and using often. Toast the seeds first by gently dry-frying them to intensify their flavour.

Ingredients:

20 oz chopped carrots
1 medium onion, chopped
1½ tablespoon cumin seeds
16 fl oz honey beer
8 fl oz vegetable stock (or 8oz water and a bouillon cube)
Butter and oil for frying
Salt and pepper
Goat cheese

Method:

Place a large saucepan over medium heat. Once it's up to frying speed add a knob of butter and a splash of olive oil (just regular oil, not the good stuff). Sauté the onions and cumin seeds until the onions are caramelised but not burnt, then add the stock and all but 3 - 4 oz of the beer to de-glaze the pan and cook for a few minutes before adding the chopped carrots.

Simmer the soup until the carrots are soft, about 15 - 20 minutes, add the remaining beer, liquidise in a blender or with a stick blender and season to taste. Garnish the soup with a small round of goat cheese floated on top and sprinkle a few cumin seeds around the edge. Serve with crusty bread, or cumin seed crackers.

Any kind of beer with a good addition of honey will work in this recipe including Brasserie Dupont Bière de Miel, White House Honey Ale (home-brewed or commercial), Young's Waggle Dance, Barbãr Honey Ale, Big Sky Summer Honey Ale, or a braggot if you can find one.

Salmon steamed in beer with beer and OJ sauce

I think a pale lager would work best for this recipe: Sam Adams Boston Lager, Pilsner Urquell, any of the German helles lagers or something from one of your local breweries.

Ingredients (for four people):

4 salmon steaks
11 oz sugar snap peas (mange tout)
¾ oz butter
3 tablespoons sugar
1 shallot
20 fl oz beer
Juice of one orange

Method:

Blanch the peas for two minutes in salted boiling water. Peel and chop the shallot then sauté it in the butter for two to three minutes without browning it. Add the peas and a little salt and pepper and cook for five minutes, stirring. Empty into a bowl and set aside in a warm place.

Sprinkle the sugar into the same pan and melt it over medium heat, stirring it to make sure it doesn't catch. Once melted, add about 3 oz of beer and the OJ, and reduce the liquid by one third. This will be your sauce.

Pour the remaining beer into the bottom of a steamer, or a pan with a steaming basket, and apply the heat. When it starts to boil place the steaks in the steamer basket and cook for three to five minutes depending on the thickness of your fish.

Serve with the cooked peas/shallot, sauce and a salad of your choice.

Potatoes au gratin with beer

The choice of beer for this recipe is a matter of taste. A dark lager such as a dunkel, a bock or a Vienna lager will give a slightly sweeter, maltier result, while a pale lager such as a pilsner or a helles will add more hoppy flavours. A blonde ale would work well with this recipe too.

Ingredients:

5 fl oz pale or amber lager
3 lbs sliced potatoes
2 lbs chopped onions
5 oz butter
7 fl oz double (heavy) cream
4 oz grated cheese
Salt and pepper
Grated nutmeg
Grated cheese for the top

Method:

Sauté the chopped onions in half the butter until they begin to caramelise. In a large baking dish layer the potatoes, onions and cheese, seasoning with salt and pepper and a little nutmeg as you go. Mix the cream and beer and pour into the dish – it should almost cover the top layer. Sprinkle on another few ounces of grated cheese... or however much you want. I find that most recipes for a gratin are a little too parsimonious with the cheese that goes on top so I usually disregard the numbers and put on a good covering. Bake for one hour at 350°F/180°C/gas mark 4.

Chicken à la Chimay Grande Réserve

When I first saw this recipe I wasn't sure that it I was reading it right. Chimay Blue, a heavy, bold Belgian dark ale, is usually reserved for cooking or serving with rich, gamey meats rather than something like chicken, but it works surprisingly well - although it might not be for everyone. Use Chimay White if this one isn't to your taste.

Ingredients (for four people):

4 chicken thighs, bone-in, skin-on
One large bottle (750ml) Chimay Blue
8 oz mushrooms
8 oz smoked pork belly (unsmoked will also work)
2 large onions
15 shallots
2 cloves garlic
2 large carrots
1 stick of celery
2 oz butter
4 cloves
½ teaspoon cinnamon
A sprig of thyme
2 bay leaves
2oz butter
Salt and pepper

Method: Peel the garlic, carrots and 2 large onions. Dice the carrots and celery into small (1/8”) cubes (brunoise) and finely chop the garlic and the onions. Cut the bacon into small pieces. Place all of those in a zip top bag, along with the chicken, cloves, thyme, bay leaves, cinnamon and a pinch of salt and the beer. Marinate in the fridge for 12 hours.

Remove the bag from the fridge one hour before cooking time. Clean (don't wash) the mushrooms (don't peel them either. I can't believe I used to do that with mushrooms). Peel and halve the shallots. Remove the chicken thighs from the marinade, remove the cloves and sieve the marinade. Keep the liquid in a jug or bowl and set the vegetables aside – you're going to need those.

Melt 2 oz of butter in a pan over medium heat then add the chicken pieces and cook for five minutes each side. Add the shallots, mushrooms, bacon and the vegetables from the marinade, reduce the heat and cook for five minutes. Pour the beer into the pan (add more if needed – it should cover the chicken and vegetables) and cook on low heat at a gentle simmer for one and a half to two hours, until the chicken is falling off the bones.

Remove the chicken and keep it in a warm place, covered. Remove the shallots, mushrooms and bacon and set those to one side. Strain the cooking liquid, return it to the pan and reduce over high heat until it coats the back of a spoon (nappé), add the second 2 oz of butter and stir well in, return the bacon, onions and mushrooms and cook the sauce for one more minute.

Spoon some creamy mashed potatoes in the centre of each plate, put one chicken thigh on top and ladle a good helping of the sauce around the edge.

Beer pancakes

If you're reading this on the day of publication, tomorrow is the day before Lent begins. In the US that's most closely associated with Mardi Gras, but where I come from it's called Shrove Tuesday, and that means just one thing as far as I'm concerned – pancake day! People around Britain will be getting out the flour, eggs and milk and hoping that the first couple of pancakes aren't going to stick to the pan... too much. Just as with Mardi Gras the purpose of pancake day is to use up the food you're not supposed to eat for the coming six weeks or so by having some kind of a feast.

Now, since pancakes are made from a batter similar to that which fish is fried in, and beer-battered fish and chips is a common sight on restaurant menus these days, it follows that you can make pancake batter with beer. At first glance it might seem that adding a carbonated liquid to batter is more suited to American style pancakes because they're leavened, which is what makes them thick and puffy, unlike French crêpes and British pancakes which are unleavened, and flat and rollable (and/or foldable), but it works just as well with the thinner variety as with the thicker.

Ingredients:

8 oz plain flour
2 eggs
11 fl oz pale or amber beer
a pinch of salt

Method:

Mix all the ingredients in a bowl until just combined. Cover and put in the fridge for at least 30 minutes, an hour if you can wait that long. You're looking for a batter that's about as runny as single cream (thicker than half and half but not as thick as heavy cream) so it's best to make it a little too thick before you refrigerate it and make adjustments when you bring it out of the fridge.

I probably don't need to tell any of you how to fry pancakes, but if you're only used to making the American version you might need a little guidance on how to make the flatter variety. I use an eight-inch cast iron skillet over high heat, lubricated with a little vegetable oil, and I ladle about 2 fl oz of batter into it for each pancake which should be about an eighth of an inch thick. As soon as you've put the batter in you'll need to pick up the pan and swirl it around so that it covers the entire base of the pan evenly (giving you that nice round shape), then get it back on the heat, pronto.

It shouldn't take them more than a minute to get GBD (golden brown and delicious) on the underside, but now you're faced with a dilemma – to flip or to toss? If you got the consistency of the batter right the top of the pancake should be almost set but still tacky by the time you need to turn it over, which means you can toss with alacrity, but if the top surface is still runny it's probably best to flip, unless you really want to clean some batter off the hob later on.

If you want to be French about it you could put a little beer and some sugar into another pan (I don't recommend a hoppy beer for this), cook it down and quickly finish each pancake in this beery caramel.

If you decide to do that you might not need a topping/filling for your pancakes. I prefer to keep things simple so I forego the caramelisation and put either brown sugar and a squeeze of lemon juice, or a little golden syrup (available at your local megamart and all good online British grocers) on mine, roll up each one and eat it with my fingers. Honey or agave syrup are good substitutes.

Make the most of it while you can. 'Lent' and 'abstemious' are two words that go together for some, but it's still possible to get your daily portion of John Barleycorn and we'll take a look at that next week.

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