Hello, and welcome to Delectatus!
Let us, for a moment, think in black and white. Let us consider that there are two kinds of people in the world…those who drink beer and those who drink wine. Now, invariably, there are many who enjoy both, or neither, or spirits, or iced tea, thank you very much. But, for now, do not let them complicate my glorious oversimplification. The fruit of the vine is voluptuous, tannic, and acidic. Beer (the “fruit” of the field) is bitter, earthy, and yeasty. Is one better than the other? For me, the answer comes down to whether it’s in the glass or in the cook pot… I myself do not like beer in any form in the glass—I have tried many times and either my fortitude or my desire was simply lacking. Wine, I could drink all day (except that would make me a lush).
“…wine [is] a constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy.”
In the kitchen, however, I am far more democratic as I love to cook with both. I am just as likely to pour a stout into my stew as a Zinfandel. And is there anyone who hasn’t yet been won over by the combination of Guinness and chocolate? (If this is indeed the case, see below!) The decision to use beer or wine as a cooking liquid comes down to your desired level of richness and refinement. Each will elevate your dish above plain water or stock. But where the richness of beer is earthy and primal, wine is deep and refined. Both should be used in dishes that cook for some time in order to cook off most of their alcohol content.
Let’s have some examples, shall we?
Below are two recipes that I think showcase both beer and wine to excellent effect. The beef stew is in some ways quite basic, but I promise it is more than the sum of its parts. The red wine provides the depth, white wine gives extra acidity and added complexity and the stock “beefs” up the stew with its meaty backbone of flavor. Carrots and parsnips both have a sweetness that plays nicely off the slight bitterness of reduced wine. And since the ending thickness of the stew has much to do with the gelatin content of your stock (and this will vary with the brand you use or whether you’ve used homemade), I give an optional step of adding more gelatin at the end. You could also thicken it with cornstarch, if that’s what you favor.
The Chocolate Stout Cake is everything you want a chocolate cake to be: rich, velvety and not-too-sweet. You cannot taste the beer in this cake. Rather, sharing the same slightly bitter edge on the palate, the stout makes the chocolate taste even more of itself. One significant change I made to this recipe was to replace the whole eggs with egg whites…not to make it “healthier,” (it is chocolate cake, after all) but to use up the seemingly never-ending supply of whites that I always seem to have. And since the doyenne of cakes herself, Rose Levy Berenbaum, assures us that using all whites makes a cake more tender, I suffered no twinge of conscience in doing so. I also added a silky, vanilla-scented cream topping, you know, because it’s such a very small cake. Plus, it dresses up nicely for the holidays!
A Refined Beef Stew
2 lb. bone-in beef chuck
2 c. red wine
1 c. white wine
1 c. chicken stock, plus more as needed
1 sprig each of fresh rosemary, thyme, and sage
6 cloves garlic, peeled
salt and pepper
4 slices bacon
2 carrots, peeled and sliced into chunks
2 parsnips, peeled and sliced into chunks
1 rather large onion, chopped
1 Tbls. tomato paste
1 bay leaf
1 to 2 Tbls. butter
1 Tbls. unflavored beef gelatin plus 1/2 c. water or broth
1. Carefully cut the meat away from the bone, and cut into 1 1/2” chunks. Reserve the bone. Place in a shallow baking dish, cover with 1 c. red wine, the sprigs of herbs, and the garlic. Sprinkle with 1/2 t. (?) salt and several grindings of pepper. Cover well, and let stand an hour or two. If marinading longer, pop it into the fridge, but be sure to bring it out an hour before proceeding.
2. Preheat oven to 350°. Heat a Dutch oven over medium heat, add the bacon, and let it cook till the fat renders and the bacon is crisp. Drain the bacon, and reserve. Return a tablespoon or two of fat back to the pan. Pluck the meat and the bone out of the marinade (reserve marinade), and dry well. Brown the meat and the bone well in batches in the Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Remove to a bowl or platter when browned.
3. Raise the heat to high, and add a 1/4 c. water or broth to deglaze the pan. Add the root vegetables, and stir well. Toss over high heat several minutes till browned and caramelized. Remove the vegetables to a bowl and reserve. Add onions and tomato paste and cook till tomato paste begins to dry out and onions begin to soften, about 12 minutes.
4. Return the meat, the bone, the reserved marinade along with the herbs and garlic, bacon, and bay leaf to the pot. Pour in the remaining liquid, which should nearly cover the ingredients. Cover with a sheet of aluminum foil, then a lid, and place in the oven for 1 1/2 hours. At this point, add the root vegetables plus any additional stock needed to keep the ingredients nearly covered. Bake for 1 1/2 hours more for a total of 3 hours, till meat and vegetables are extremely tender.
5. Remove from oven, strain out the solids. Pluck out the herb sprigs, bay leaf and the bone, and discard. Bring the liquid to a simmer on top of the stove to thicken. This sauce will remain on the thin side, not like a full-on gravy. But if desired, increase the gelatin content by sprinkling 1 T. gelatin over 1/4 cup water till it swells and turns clear. Plop the gelatin into the stew and stir till it melts. Continue simmering till sauce is shiny and coats the spoon, anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes. Return meat and vegetables to the sauce, and simmer several minutes to reheat. Finish by swirling in the butter. [I urge you to not withhold the butter…you will thank me!]
A Stout Chocolate Cake
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen, who in turn adapted it from the Barrington Brewery in Great Barrington, MA. I reduced its size to fit into a 6” Bundt cake pan, because I just love little cakes; plus it’s just me and my husband, so a huge cake is a bit of a trial to get through. Needless to say, if you need the larger version, this doubles perfectly.
1/2 c. stout beer
1/2 c. (1 stick) unsalted butter plus 1 t.
1/4 c. plus 2 T. Dutch-process cocoa powder
1 c. flour
1 c. sugar
3/4 tsp. baking soda
scant 1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 c. egg whites (or 1 whole egg)
1/3. c. sour cream
1 c. cream
2 Tbls. confectioners’ sugar
1 tsp. vanilla, or the seeds scraped from 1/2 vanilla bean
Heat the oven to 350°. Butter and flour your pan, or use an oil and flour spray. Melt the stout and butter together over low heat. Whisk in the cocoa powder till smooth. Let cool for a bit.
Mix flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt together in a large bowl. In a medium-sized bowl, beat together egg whites and sour cream with a fork or a whisk. Add the stout mixture to this, and mix till well combined. Add to flour and mix gently, but well. Pour into prepared pan. Bake 30 to 35 minutes, till a tester stuck into the center comes out clean. Cool completely on a rack.
For the vanilla cream, pour chilled cream and vanilla into bowl of a mixer, and mix on low speed till foamy. Increase speed to medium and add the sugar. When soft peaks droop from the beaters when they’re lifted, you’re done!