There has been a lot written on the subject of pairing beers with foods. There are some classic books for example Garrett Oliver’s The Brewmaster’s Table and countless websites and blogs touching on the subject.
Still with this information available people still seem hesitant to approach the subject due to some unfounded fear. So today I am going to break it down to the basics. If you like it, go with it. Think of a pizza menu. There are so many options and combinations the reason for this is everyone’s tastes are different.
It’s the same thing with beer there are so many flavors for the same reason. So if something works for you i.e. an American Lager and a bacon Swiss cheeseburger that’s cool. Your choice of beer does not have to change if you decide one day to go with cheddar and caramelized onions. That would be overly anal retentive by my standards.
That being said I still want a beer that is going to compliment my meal. Here are some basic guidelines to go by.
When pairing are you going to match the beer and food complimentary or contradictory? With a barbequed steak you may want to play off of the charred flavors of the steak with a smoky rich porter. The other school of thinking is pairing sour ale with some sweet fresh fruit to get some balance of flavors. Neither way is right or wrong.
Most beers will have a description of the flavors on the bottle or carton. Ask yourself could I use this same description on my meal. Look for descriptors roasted, toasted and spicy if they match your desired meal go for it. If they are not on the beers packaging they will most likely be on the brewer’s website.
Think about weight. If you are having a thick hearty meat stew a light beer would not be my first choice. Maybe a nice dry stout would be the way to go with tons of hops to play off of the spicy flavors in the stew (I use a lot of black pepper in my beef stew). If I was having a light frosted cake for desert a sweet light beer might be the perfect compliment. The heavy carbonation would also help clear the frosting off of the palette.
The easiest thing to do is ask. If you are in a brewpub get their suggestions. Do not expect the stoner kid behind the bar at TGIF to know what a beer pairing even is. But if you are in a beer bar they will be sure to have suggestions. You can also ask were you are buying your beer. If neither of those options work for you can always ask in the TMRzoo beer forums and I am sure you will get plenty of suggestions.
Let’s get some real world pairing done. I will give you a recipe and a beer to get you started. Today we are going to pair Thai Cashew Chicken with Michelob Pale Ale. The Cashew Chicken is an interesting dish to pair with; there are a host of flavors. There the sweetness of brown sugar, saltiness of the soy and spiciness of the chili pepper to start with add to that garlic, onions and nuts.
A Pale Ale plays perfectly to a Thai dish. The malt compliments the sweetness and the hops play off of the chilies. Why Michelob Pale Ale? There are a lot of Pale Ales on the market that are very hop heavy, not that hop heavy is a bad thing. In this exercise I want to use Michelob Pale Ale because it is hop forward not hop heavy.
Michelob Pale Ale is a perfect interpretation of the style. This way you have a neutral starting point. Later as you experiment you may want to go hoppier or maltier but this is a perfect place to start.
So we have our beer what about our Cashew Chicken recipe? This recipe is quick, easy and healthy.
Securb’s Thai Cashew Chicken
2 lbs of boneless chicken
6 tbls of soy sauce (I use Braggs Liquid Aminos)
1 tsp corn starch
1 bell pepper
1 large onion
1 ½ cups of chopped bok choy
1/3 cup of cashews
1/4 cup of shiitake mushrooms
1 piece of fresh ginger about 2 – 3 inches long
4 cloves of garlic
10 – 12 green onions
3 tbls of tomato paste
4 tbls of brown sugar
2 tbls of fresh lime juice
2 tbls of lemon zest
The first thing we want to do is to trim the excess fat off of the chicken and slice it into bite size pieces. Keep in mind what is bite size for you may not be for others.
Once the chicken is diced put it in a bowl with 4 tbls of the soy sauce, the corn starch and the lemon zest this is also the time you want to add the lime juice. This is also when you want to add the ginger. Peel off the skin of the ginger with a vegtable pealer then grate it or chop it finely.
Prepare your vegetables by chopping them into bite sized pieces remember you want them big enough to be picked up by chop sticks. Your green onions you will want of slice the long way so that they resemble grass.
Mix the brown sugar, garlic, tomato paste and the cashew in with the chicken and add to a preheated wok or large fry pan. You should have 2 tbl spoons of sesame or peanut oil in the pan and a drop of water should dance in the pan before adding the chicken.
Your chicken should be starting to turn white and cook at this point. You need to constantly stir the chicken at this point stay on top of it so that it cooks evenly. Add the remaining ingredients and add another tsp of corn starch but this time mix it with a cup or water before adding it
Now let it simmer stirring occasionally until the onions just start to get transparent. Can you smell that?
It is go time serve this with some jasmine rice or some rice noodles and your Michelob Pale Ale and you are good to go.