Beer, the alternative to a Wine Pairing
When my sister and I get together, we are always talking about food, what restaurants we ate at, what recipes we have seen, etc. but when we add our friend Greg into the mix, wine becomes an addition to the conversation. Recently we were having one of those conversations and Greg suggested we throw together a beer pairing menu for friends. Greg loved the beer at his local craft brewer called Strange Fellows. Both my sister Ruth and myself love to entertain at the drop of a hat so we all meet at the brewery and we created a menu showcasing as many of their craft beers with some great local produce while sampling their fare.
I love it when the three of us get together as the creative juices sometimes go wild. Armed with a pen, a couple of sheets of paper and a flight of beer, we started to bubble. How should we tackle this? Everyone agreed that we would treat it like a wine tasting using the 5 "S's" (see, swirl,sniff, sip,savour), then we would compare notes marking down the 2 -3 key aromas and tastes. We also included the first memory we each had when we sniffed or tasted the beer as well.
The first course beer was Roxanne (a small batch named after one of the brewer's partner). It was a pinkish slightly bubbly, acidic beer with raspberry notes, very reminiscent of Champagne. It was almost comical that we all said raw oysters together, but which oysters? As we were on the West Coast, the only choice was Kusshi from Keith Reid's Fanny Bay Oyster Farm on Vancouver Island. These oysters are small but meaty, the perfect oyster for raw oyster virgins. Although we had a mignonette available, the the bubbly beer was the only thing you needed.
The second course beer was Bayard, (close to a Belgian style wit) with some forest notes in particular spruce. Game would be great but how would we put it into an appetizer. Whatever we were going to use needed to be related to the wild outdoors and Greg had collected some fresh spruce tips on a recent hike that he wanted to incorporate. I had never used spruce tips before but found a mayo recipe that intrigued me. The final decision.......dried smoked buffalo with fresh spruce tip mayo accompanied with two day old pickled tomatoes and cucumbers.
I have to tell you about my love for fresh pickles. It started when I was little with my mom and grandma making amazing fresh pickles, a little sweet, a lot sour and crunchy is how the Russians made it. We lived in Moscow for 6 years and that is where I was able to relive these pickle memories from my childhood.
Third course beer was a stout (mocha, smokey, chocolate, BBQ). This was one of my favourites and I wanted to use is for both an amuse and a dessert. You would need something that was pretty bold to stand up to a stout. Stout goes good with fried food and I know that my English friends love it with Indian food so why not combine the two. Greg came up with a dish he really loves, deep fried tandoori onion rings. You are thinking...."what about the dessert?" I'll tell you all about it at the end.
Fourth course beer was a sour grisette (slightly sour, herbal, dry and floral). We started thinking that we are almost half way through the menu so a palate cleanser might be suited here. We had a few more courses to go so a light and savoury course was the best option. I remembered that about 20 years ago I had made a gazpacho and froze the leftovers. When I went to retrieve it, I tasted it frozen to see if it was still useable. It was delicious! I ran it through my food processor to break it down and tried it again..... outstanding!!!!! This beer was the ideal compliment to the intermezzo of frozen gazpacho.
Fifth course was with a beer called Cyclops (slight bitter, earthy notes, mustard greens). This dish was the biggest hit. Ruth had taught me to make fresh creamy ricotta which is so easy that I stopped buying it and make my own. All it is is whole milk, cream, salt and lemon juice. I had also just bought some exquisite dried mushrooms and porcini powder from my friend Caren at the Gourmet Warehouse in Vancouver and knew that they would be brilliant with the ricotta for a filling in a creamy egg roviolo. We had a gluten free person coming to dinner so the pasta had to be from strictly semolina which produced a stiffer dough. Egg Roviolo can be tricky as you want the pasta to be cooked but the egg still creamy. The plate looked stunning with the Sage and Garlic burnt butter sauce and deep fried enoki mushrooms to garnish
The main course was a Belgian wit similar to the second course beer. This was pared with venison tenderloin, roasted root veg and a micro green salad on top. I have fallen in love with sous vide method as the protein alway turns out perfect. The only protein I wouldn't sous vide is a pork tenderloin as it can sometimes change the texture of the meat to feel mushy. I flash fried the venison in rosemary, thyme and lots of garlic cloves and butter. To stay with the earthiness we added a port demi glaze.
Number seven beer was a pale ale that complimented the cheese tray we put together. All the cheeses were pretty stand out in flavour so the beer just provided a lightening effect on the creamy cheeses.
We closed out the evening with a repeat of the stout. Right from the time I first tasted the stout I knew we had to end with it a traditional English sticky toffee pudding. Visually the two complimented each other with the date cake oozing with the leggy caramel toffee sauce and a scoop of vanilla ice cream playing the head. I made the stout sticky toffee pudding that was amazingly complex but dead easy while the stout was the perfect compliment to the sweet dessert.
What a fabulous evening with some amazing old and new friend. Our dinner was pretty elaborate but so so fun. If you want to try something like this, pick 3 craft beer and make up a simple pairing for your beer loving friends.Strange