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Cooking With Beer

Updated on March 20, 2011

The flavors of beer are extremely exciting to cook with. The beer chef can get an outstanding variety as there are about 65 styles and subsets of styles in North American brewing. Since all beers are based on grain, it's a natural ingredient for any cook. It wasn't too long ago that American consumers didn't have a lot of choice in styles, as most beers were straight North American lagers. Now, most areas of the country have wheat beers, auburn and pale ales, stouts, and even bock beers.

Quick breads and biscuits are very compatible with many flavors of beer when made with savory grains like corn. In recipes that use baking soda, beer enhances the leavening action. With yeast breads, you have to very careful what styles of beer you add. If the beer is bottle conditioned, it still has live yeast cells in it. This can cause overproofing of the dough, which will make the bread develop a strong alcoholic aroma. Overproofing can be avoided by using filtered and pasteurized beer or malt extracts.

Syrups made of concentrated barley malt and water are called malt extracts. They give the malty flavor of beer without the alcohol aroma. You can make a yeast dough with malt extracts and then put beer in the glaze or filling. However you want to balance the ingredients so that the result is pleasing and you can taste other flavors besides beer. A good example of beer enhancing a dish is that it can extend the heat of chiles and peppers. Beer also brings out the smoky flavor in grilled foods. Beers low in acidity can accentuate oily or buttery flavors. If you're grilling an oily fish like salmon, you want to use a wheat or other acidic beer to cut through the oiliness and keep the meat from tasting very fishy.

If you're going to venture out of the realm of the flat beer you drank in college or the nameless brews at sports events, you'll have to try new beers. Perhaps this isn't such a hardship. Whether you're cooking with beer or just drinking it with food, it's a good idea to taste beer and think about what kinds of flavors go well with it. Everyone has different tastes, and you should pair flavors that you personally like.

Maybe a cheese and beer party is the way to begin as having a beer tasting is one of the easiest ways to entertain. You can set out a variety of beer styles, cheeses and breads for your guests. Beer is a great complement to cheese. The slight carbonation and acidity help cut the palate-coating quality that you get with some aged cheeses. Instead of a cocktail party or Bloody Mary brunch, consider a beer and cheese tasting the next time you entertain.

Whenever you cook or bake with beer, make sure to pinpoint the style of beer to be used. Because there are so many different types, if you know what specific styles of beer are usually like, you have a better idea for the flavors they'll impart.

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