Cooking with Beer – Beer and Cheese Bisque

When you work for a brewery you are not afraid to cook with beer, in Belgium, they cook with beer much as the French use wine. I think almost all aspiring food led pubs have included deep fried fish in a beer batter or a steak and ale pie on their menus at some stage and more recently they have started to include dishes such as diverse as beer bread, beer ice cream and beer can chicken. For virtually any recipe that calls for a liquid of any sort, the liquid can be substituted with beer.

As a marinade for meat or poultry, beer penetrates, flavours and tenderizes, it less acidic than wine so the food can be left in the marinade longer increasing the flavour. In roasting or braising when beer is used to baste the food or as an ingredient in the basting sauce it imparts a rich, dark colour as the sugars caramelise. So, beer is great for adding flavour to BBQ’s and slow cooked casseroles and stews.

In batter, a live ( not pasteurised ) beer can be substituted for yeast and water, the result is a crisp flavoursome coating for deep-fried fish such as cod, haddock, salmon, and squid. Beer is also delicious with shellfish like Mussels, cooking with it instead of wine, and I even developed a recipe in my day job to use with Oysters. Finally, beer and cheese are perfect companions, the famous Welsh Rarebit is the classic dish of cheese, beer and Worcestershire sauce combined together on toast and today’s recipe Beer and Cheese Bisque is really rather delicious.

As with wine when you boil and reduce beer you will increase some of the flavours and lose others, you will also evaporate off all of the alcohol. If you are using beer as a substitute for stock remember reducing a strong, intensely hoppy beer will leave a bitter residue. A sweetish mild or stout with little hopping will produce a fine gravy. A top tip is to reserve a little beer and add it when the cooking is finished to lift and enhance the beer flavours. A final note like wine never cook with a beer you would not drink.

IPA Bottle

Light Larger style Beers are ideal for batters as the carbonation produces a light, airy result and the sugars caramelise to a deep golden colour.

IPA Indian Pale Ales the extra hopping makes for an ideal medium for cooking mussels and seafood.

Traditional Ales – use in bread, pies, and stews, the Belgium classic Carbonnade  Flamande is very similar to a Beef Bourguignon with beer substituted for wine.

Stouts and Porters – are used in rich flavoured mustards and steamed steak and oyster pudding with Guinness.

Wheat Beer traditionally used in Waterzooi, a fish stew from the Flanders region of Belgium thickened with egg yolks and cream and the favourite of Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, born in Ghent. Wheat Beer is also ideal for batter mixes.

Speciality Beers – fruity lambic beers in chocolate cakes and puddings and raspberry or sour cherry Kriek beers with roast duck and fowl.

Beer and Cheese Bisque

Beer and Cheese Bisque        serves 4

Bisque is a term usually applied to creamy shellfish or roasted vegetable soups, where the main ingredients are first roasted and coloured then simmered to form a stock – the soup is therefore twice cooked or ‘ bis cuites ’. This soup is a little bit of a cheat as its ingredients are only cooked once but it sounds too nice a name to seriously quibble. You can substitute a well rounded not too dark beer for the Liberation Ale.

A good sized nugget of Jersey butter

A slug of quality Olive Oil

2 large mild Onions, peeled and thinly sliced

2 sticks of Celery, washed and finely sliced

1 clove of Garlic, peeled and crushed

250 gr of strong Cheddar Cheese, grated

2 tablespoons of Plain Flour

½ tablespoon of Dijon Mustard

¼ teaspoon picked Thyme Leaves

1 Bay Leaf

A 330 ml bottle of Liberation Ale

250 ml of Jersey Pouring Cream

Sea Salt and finely ground White Pepper to taste

for the croutes

8 pieces of stale Baguette, thinly sliced

1 Garlic clove, halved

Good quality Olive Oil

Grated Cheddar Cheese

Smoked Paprika

to garnish

Freshly chopped Parsley

Heat the butter and olive oil in a large heavy bottomed pan and gently cook the onion, celery, garlic, and thyme until the onion is softened but not browned – about twenty minutes. Stirring now and again to stop it catching. Add the flour and cook out for two to three more minutes, then add the beer, mustard, and the bay leaf and bring to the boil. Simmer for 20 minutes. Remove the bay leaf and blitz with a hand blender. Add the cheese and cream and reheat without boiling, as this will cause the soup to split. Correct seasoning before serving.

For croutes, toast the bread, rub each slice with garlic, then drizzle with a little oil. Sprinkle with the cheese and paprika and grill until golden and bubbling. Serve the soup with the cheese croutons on top sprinkled with parsley.

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