Sunday, October 2, 2011

Pork meets bitch, they fall in love, live happily ever after

Yesterday's culinary event featured some fascinating beer tasting after I'd finished working a table.

We talked about food and beer pairings, notably the question of which beer, exactly, goes better with cassoulet (lamb/duck/white bean stew). Nobody at the event seemed to know, but there was a beer expert who gave a talk last year and said that such a beer does indeed exist. And once you've had it, he claimed, you'll never go back to Cahors (a Malbec-based wine from France).

Another thing I found was that a chef's uniform gets you a lot of very generous pours. Wine and beer. You also get to skip the "this is a Cabernet Sauvignon and it goes with..." type of conversation and jump right into the style of the wine, its terroir, and the things you really want to know if you're going pair it well with food.

So, inspired by some intriguing flavors brewed in Belgium, I decided to head down to the big liquor store, buy a few intriguing bottles, and experiment.

My first idea was to make a Flemish Carbonnade, basically beef stewed in beer and brown stock. It has onions and herbs, but the main flavor comes from the beef, stock and beer slowly simmering together. Once I'd bought the ingredients, I realized that it was already 4:00 pm. That would put dinner around midnight since I'm out of brown stock. Something for tomorrow, then.

I bought a bottle of Mc Chouffe, my favorite from last night's tastings, to pair with the carbonnade. Expensive, but then it comes in generous 750 ml bottles, all the way from the Ardennes region of Belgium. Too expensive to pour into a stew. So I bought a six pack of Bitch Creek ESB Ale for the cooking end of things.

I suppose I should back up a minute here. I thought the bottle said, "Birch Creek" until my wife pointed out the actual spelling. A bit of research, and yes, there is a Bitch Creek, it is in Idaho and I would not want to try piloting a kayak down that maelstrom of water crashing over rocks. It's rated Class 4+. Dangerous.

Hmm. This ESB Ale looks pretty tasty. What if, I thought... So, my first foray into beer-food parings matched the ESB with well-spiced country style pork ribs, marinated with some deep, toasty chili urfa, a bit of brown sugar, some salt, some balsamic vinegar, a bit of garlic and... stop. That would do it. That would throw grilled pork, roasty, toasty, coffee deep chili flavors, salt and cilantro at the ale.

Into the fridge for a couple of hours to get the flavor into the meat (longer would be better, but we were both starving).

The meat would sit atop some Isreali couscous, made with a vegetable base: sautéd mirepoix with a bit of finely diced bell pepper and a bit of minced garlic. A bit of dry Vermouth to deglaze the pan, then enough water to cook everything to al dente.

Finally ready for  plating: mound some couscous in the plate, fan the meat over it and garnish with a bit of cilantro. Time to put ale to food and see if they get along.

Yes! They're not hissing and spitting on my tongue like alley cats eager for a rumble. They're actually purring, rubbing against each other, and acting like friends.  The spices and some red Hawaiian finishing salt paired well with the beer where a wine might have struggled. So did the cilantro garnish. My conclusion: a successful pairing, and something to consider proposing if I ever work in a beer pub.

This ale would probably go well with beef, too. Maybe a perfect hamburger ale, assuming that the hamburger in question was heavy on beefiness and maybe mushrooms, too.

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