Thursday, February 24, 2011

Beer Dinner: Valentine's Day

Beer dinners and cooking with beer have become topics of significant interest to the craft and homebrewing communities.  There are many factors responsible for this trend, ranging from the Slow Food movement to online resources, like The Homebrewed Chef on The Brewing Network, to books like Garrett Oliver's The Brewmaster's Table and Lucy Saunder's The Best of American Beer and Food.  The Brewers Association has also been running an annual event called Savour in Washington, DC that pairs gourmet food, cheese, and chocolate with craft beer from across America.  Even here at Lug Wrench, Jeff has experimented with cooking with beer for his Christmas dinner.  All of this information inspired me to attempt a beer dinner of my own, for Valentine's Day.

Many good beer dinners have a theme to help organize the experience.  The theme helps tie together the disparate parts of the meal and provides a novelty that can keep the guests guessing.  The November/December 2010 Zymurgy featured an article on organizing beer and food pairing dinners and discussed the importance of themes.  For the beer dinner I organized, the theme was American India Pale Ale (IPA).  My wife's favorite beer style is American IPA, especially those commercial examples with bright citrus flavors.  The beer dinner was organized around this theme, with each course both being prepared with an IPA and served with an IPA (the two beers used were Bell's Two Hearted IPA and Terrapin's Hopsecutioner).  The courses, and their inspiration, include:

Appetizer: Homemade Pretzels with IPA Mustard Sauce

Readers of Lug Wrench will note that, in addition to beer, I have a passion for making bread.  There are many similarities between bread and beer, including yeast, and I wanted the appetizer to feature a bread product.  Many people associate beer and pretzels together, so this seemed a logical pairing.  The pretzel recipe came from Peter Reinhart's Artisan Breads Every Day and I paired this with a Homebrew Chef recipe for Mustard Ale Sauce made with Two Hearted IPA.  The pairing worked really well.

Salad Course: Salad Greens with IPA Vinaigrette

The bright citrus character of Hopsecutioner lends itself to a salad dressing.  Taking information from Alton Brown's Good Eats, I created a vinaigrette that featured the IPA.  This course had the most freedom to it, as the dressing was created "on the fly" and I enjoyed dosing Alton Brown's vinaigrette with IPA until it tasted good, and then spicing with with salt, pepper, and a dash hot sauce.  The only problem with the dressing was that it was very thin.  The flavors were good, but if I tried again, the dressing would need to be thickened or some of the vinegar removed.

Main Course: Garlic IPA Brined Pulled Pork

The sweet flavor of roasted pork pairs well with the citrus quality of the Two Hearted IPA.  However, one of the challenges when cooking with IPA is that the bitterness of hoppy beer intensifies as the dish is cooked.  Sean Paxton, the Homebrew Chef, addresses this problem by using the IPA in a brining liquid, which the pork is soaked in.  I loved the concept of this dish, especially when served with the Mustard Ale Sauce from the appetizer.  The problem I ran into was not giving the Boston Butt-cut pork sufficient time to cook low and slow.  The pork I served was cooked through, and very flavorful, but it had not cooked to a pulled texture, which would taken another hour or longer.

Dessert: IPA Peanut Brittle

I was at loss for how to use IPA in a dessert until I found this recipe on the Homebrew Chef site.  The citrus quality of the IPA comes through in the final candy, but the bitterness is balanced by the other strong caramel flavors.  The brittle was simple to make, and very tasty, though accurate temperature measurement is critical to having the brittle turn out properly (something homebrewers are likely used to).  The brittle can also be made ahead of time, which can help manage the hectic schedule of preparing a multiple course meal.

Preparing a beer dinner for Valentine's Day was a lot of fun and a great way to play with my wife's favorite beer style.  If you are considering making a beer dinner, spend some time thinking of a theme and make sure to plan adequately.  A little thought ahead of time can make the cooking process less hectic and more enjoyable.



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