Taste It, Don't Waste It: Beer

Cooking with wine is a pretty common practice. It is used to deglaze pans, added to braises, sauces and stocks, is the basis for many marinades and on and on. Perhaps it is because much of today's modern cooking is based on French techniques (thank you, Julia!) that we veer toward vin in so many recipes.

But beer can do the same job. And in places such as Belgium, where beer is the more popular sip, it is often used in the kitchen as well; so much so that cooking with a cold one has its own culinary category there, cuisine à la bière. Waterzooi, the traditional Belgian stew, is a warm comforting thing made more so with the addition of a few glugs of local beer. Carbonnade Flamande is the Belgian version of Boeuf Bourguignon that swaps out the burgundy wine for some hearty Belgian beer. It's so good, even French-to-the-core chef Jacques Pépin likes it enough to feature it in his book, Essential Pépin.

It goes without saying that if it isn't good for drinking, it isn't good for eating. Beer that tastes bad out of the bottle will be equally awful in your recipe. So, this isn't a way to use up that super skunky six pack you forgot about in the garage a year ago. Or the treacly sweet raspberry homebrew that was a bit of a miss. This can be, however, a great repository for the extra beer or two left over from game day. Perhaps, gasp, even some half bottles that have gone flat overnight. Or a good way to split some of the tasty large-format import bottles on offer that might be more than you care to drink in a sitting. 

Flavor Characteristics of Beer for Cooking

For the best finished dish, you have to understand the taste profile of your beer. Subtle flavors in the grains and hops used in beer making can bring nuances to the dish, flavors ranging from grassy, citrusy notes to the heavy, rich flavors of caramel. As a general rule, use wheat beers and lambics, which won't overpower lighter foods, for chicken and seafood. Lighter beers such as pilsners are great for breads and batters where you don't want the beer flavor to overpower. Choose ale, porter or stout, which accentuate meaty flavors, when cooking pork, beef or lamb. Stout adds nutty, molasses like notes that are also great with chocolate and other sweets.

The bitterness of beer can be used to your advantage to cut the richness of cheese dishes and stews. But avoid those that are too hoppy, such as IPAs. Cooking intensifies the flavors of beer and too much bitterness will overwhelm your dish.

Some popular pours are brewed with flavoring agents such as orange peel, fruits or other added ingredients that you need to factor into your recipe. Your pumpkin ale might be great in bread but taste off in fondue.

Benefits of Beer 

Beside taste, beer brings a couple other great bonuses to the party. First off, it's fizzy. The carbonation lightens the texture of batters, making them thinner and more delicate and cracklingly crisp. The sugar in beer encourages browning. Beer has less acid than wine so meats can marinate longer, yet it contains enzymes that tenderize so your stews and roasts will be super succulent. And don't worry about the alcohol. It evaporates during cooking, rendering your beer buzz-free.

How to Use Up Leftover Beer

From beverages to dips to soups and stews, beers bring a lot to the party! Here are some ways to use up every last drop of leftover beer: 

In Beverages

Michelada:  I'm not going to say that Michelada, the traditional Mexican beer cocktail, is medicine. But, as Rick Bayless demonstrates, it's a beverage that can have its medicinal purposes.

Michelada Bloody Mary:  Take your Michelada to the next level with the addition of a little tomato, citrus and tequila for this Michelada Mary.

Shandy or Radler:  I spent a summer in England as a teenager and was shocked and delighted that Cambridge University found it completely acceptable to offer the underage set shandies in their boxed lunches. Made of half beer and half lemon lime soda, shandies are a super refreshing summer treat and made school trips that much more enjoyable. Radlers are the German equivalent.

Beer Float:  This is what happens when hipsters get hold of childhood memories. The beer float is just as it sounds: a pint of beer topped with a scoop of ice cream. Put a moustache on it, Brooklyn.

Beer-y Dips and Condiments

Fondue:  The fondue party. So '70s. So right. Beer in the fondue. Beer with the fondue. Groovy, baby!

Beer Cheese:  This pub cheese spread is perfect for game day and makes a nice filling for a sandwich, a la pimento cheese.

BBQ Sauce:  Beer brings an earthy layer of flavor to barbecue sauce.

Beer Mustard:  You may not think about making your own mustard but on the spectrum of DIY kitchen projects, this one is pretty easy. Bottle it up in cute glass containers and give as gifts. Mustard has a lot of "wow" factor for very little effort.

Beer in Soups and Stews

Steak and Guinness Pie:  This famous British dish is the exact thing to have on a cold winter's night.

Chili:  People feel very strongly about their chili recipe. To bean or not to bean? The bigger question; to beer or not to beer? This recipe makes a tasty argument.

Cheddar Broccoli Soup:  Beer and cheese are a delicious combination. As in fondue, the bitterness of the beer cuts the rich flavor of the cheese in this soup.

Waterzooi: As mentioned above, Waterzooi, is a traditional Belgian stew. It was commonly made with seafood but the modern versions more frequently feature chicken. 

Carbonnade Flamande: As described above, this stew is the Belgian version of Boeuf Bourguignon, made heartier by the addition of beer instead of wine. 

Beer in Your Main Dishes

Beer Can Chicken:  Who can deny the elegance of a bird straddling a can of beer? Or at least half a can--the other half is for the cook! 

Braised Sausages:  Sausages braised in beer and then finished on the grill get the best of both worlds. They're tender from their bath in the brew and pick up the delightful smoky flavor from a visit with the charcoal. 

Steamed Shrimp:  The best seafood boil. Perfect for a casual summer get together.  

Beer in Breads and Batters

Fried Fish:  The beer lightens and flavors the batter in this beer battered fish recipe.

Onion Rings:  Beer and seltzer bring double the bubble to this recipe for super light onion rings.

Beer Bread: This super easy "starter loaf" relies on the yeast in the beer for leavening. A no fuss, no muss recipe for beginner bakers.

Pancakes:  One way to have beer for breakfast; put it in your pancakes!

Waffles: Beer in your waffles gives them that crunchy, crispy exterior.

Beer-y Desserts

Chocolate Stout Cake:  Chocolate and Guinness are a classic combination that come up in all kinds of desserts (and I'm sure more than one late night nightcap). Try it out in this gorgeous looking treat.

Porter Cake:  A fruitcake worth eating. Because it's made with beer. 

Pale Ale Pie:  This recipe uses pale ale in the crust, filling and garnishing cream. Why do, when you can overdo? 

Non-Food Uses for Beer

Shampoo:  Add beer to your hairdressing routine to bring bounce and luster to your locks. And maybe attract a few bar flies.

Feed Your Slugs:  And by "feed" I mean "kill" your slugs, lest they pick off all of the plants in their path. Build a beer trap and at least they go out smiling. 

Pest Deterrent:  How do you keep picnic pests at bay? Buy them a round.

Recipe: Pork with Beer Mojo

Mojo is a traditional Cuban citrus and garlic marinade that adds a big shot of flavor to any meat you soak in it, making the meat tender and delicious. I've added a little beer to the mix here to add another level of funk that matches particularly well with pork. Be sure to let your shoulder bathe all night in this lovely sauce for maximum mojoness. 

Ingredients:

½ cup fresh lime juice

½ cup orange juice

½ cup lemon juice

2 tablespoons minced garlic

1 tablespoon salt

½ teaspoon ground black pepper

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 teaspoon oregano

½ cup neutral flavored oil

1-12 ounce lager beer, flattened by leaving it out overnight or pouring into a large bowl and whisking vigorously to remove the carbonation

1-6 pound pork shoulder roast, preferably bone-in

¼ cup chopped cilantro

Method:

In a medium bowl, whisk together citrus juices, garlic, salt, pepper, cumin, oregano, ½ cup of water and oil. Pour half into a small saucepan and bring to boil. Cool, cover and refrigerate. Whisk beer into remaining mojo.

Cut hatch marks across the thick flap of fat on the roast, being careful not to cut through to the meat. Place roast in a non-reactive roasting pan just large enough to hold it. Pour the beer mixture over the roast, rubbing it all over the exterior and between the folds of the meat. Turn the roast so that the fat side is facing down. Cover with parchment paper and then foil and refrigerate for at least 8 hours and up to twelve, turning the meat once.

Remove the roast from the refrigerator and let stand at room temperature for an hour. Preheat the oven to 325. Place the roast in a v-rack or other roasting rack and return to the roasting pan. Add 1 cup of water to the pan. Recover with the parchment and foil, sealing it tightly. Roast until the meat is nearly fork tender, about 5 hours. 

Remove the roast from the oven and increase the temperature to 425. Return the roast to the oven and roast until deep mahogany brown and tender, about another hour to hour and a half. Remove from oven and allow to rest for twenty minutes.

Whisk the cilantro into the reserved mojo. Cut the meat into large chunks or slices and serve, passing the cilantro spiked mojo separately.