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Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014 12:01 am

Cooking with beer


It’s one of the oldest beverages in the world – almost certainly the oldest alcoholic beverage. There are references to it in some of the earliest writings discovered in ancient Sumeria and Mesopotamia. In its modern forms, beer has a range of flavors and complexities that can match and often even exceed wine. So why is it that throughout recent history, beer, to quote comedian Rodney Dangerfield, “don’t get no respect?”

Says beer authority Michael Jackson (no relation to the singer), “Wine and beer are companions of honor: the world’s two great fermented drinks, derived from grape and grain, respectively. Thus conjoined by the force of language, they are too often rent asunder by social snobbery.” He’s right; there has long been a degree of snobbery associated with wine that looks down on beer as “common or lowbrow.”

How did that come to be?

In the U.S., at least, it may have been because beer was commonplace. Beer was fresh, made locally, and even in cities such as Springfield, there was often more than one brewery. Wine – other than homemade or commercial plonk – was more exotic, for special occasions.

During the last half of the 20th century, beer became even more commonplace as local breweries folded one after another, drowned by a tidal wave of mega-breweries whose oceans of bland, characterless beers were (and are) barely distinguishable from each other. And most, if not all, of those mega-breweries’ advertising was (and still is) lowbrow.

All that sameness, however, gave birth to rebellion. At first there were a just few upstart microbreweries – San Franciso’s Anchor Steam on the West Coast and Boston’s Sam Adams in the East. Americans also began discovering beers from outside the U.S., including rice-based brews from Japan and Asia and the astonishing array of European beers.

Today breweries and brewpubs are springing up all over America; so many in fact, that it’s hard to keep track of them all. And Springfield is back in the brewing business, with brewpubs Obed and Isaac’s and Engrained (with at least one other opening in the near future) to the excellent beers being made by Rolling Meadows Brewery.

Beer has at least as many and maybe even more uses in the kitchen, from batters for frying, to soups, to sauces, and even desserts. This recipe for shrimp in the shell calls for the crustaceans to be briefly marinated in aromatics and spices before being steamed, along with the marinade ingredients, over a mixture of beer and cider vinegar. The result adds a layer of flavor that complements the shrimp flavor without overwhelming it in the least. You can certainly serve the shrimp cold, but for maximum flavor, serve them slightly still warm, or at room temperature. Especially if feeding a crowd, deveining but not shelling the shrimp not only saves time for the cook, but having to shell their own keeps diners from scarfing them down too quickly.

The accompanying rémoulade is not only fantastic with the shrimp, it’s also wonderful on sandwiches or to use for tuna or lettuce salads.

Beer steamed shrimp with remoulade
For the shrimp:

  • 2 lb. shrimp in the shell
  • 1 lemon, unpeeled and thinly sliced
  • 1 small onion (1/2-3/4 c.) thinly sliced
  • 2 stalks celery, thinly sliced
  • 3-4 bay leaves
  • 1 heaping T. Old Bay seasoning
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 12 oz. lager or other fairly light beer
  • 1/2 c. cider vinegar

Cut the shrimp down the back with a pair of sharp scissors and remove the black vein, but do not shell. Combine the shrimp in a large resealable plastic bag with the lemon, onion, celery, bay leaves, Old Bay seasoning and salt. Seal the bag, and toss to combine well. Let the shrimp marinate at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Bring the beer and vinegar to a boil in a nonreactive pan with a steamer or colander insert. Put the shrimp with the marinade in the steamer, cover and steam for 2 minutes. Uncover, stir the shrimp, cover the pan again and steam just until opaque and cooked through. Cooking time will depend on the size of the shrimp – from 3 to 7 minutes. Stir once more if needed. Place the shrimp on a platter and drizzle with about 1/4 cup of the steaming liquid. Serve warm or at room temperature.

For the rémoulade:

  • 1 c. good quality mayonnaise, such as Hellmann’s
  • 1 T. minced pickled jalapenos
  • 1 T. Dijon-type or stone-ground mustard
  • 1 T. tomato paste
  • 1 tsp. minced shallot (preferred) or onion
  • 4 T. minced dill pickle
  • 2 T. minced scallion
  • 1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tsp. Old Bay seasoning
  • 1 T. minced fresh parsley, preferably flat leaf
  • 1 1/2 T. sugar
  • 1 tsp. red wine vinegar

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix well. Let stand, refrigerated, for at least 1/2 hour before serving. Keeps for about 2 weeks. Makes about 1-1/2 cups.

This wonderful concoction seems like a chili, but doesn’t contain chiles, chili powder or cumin. A vegetarian version can be made by substituting an extra can of black beans for the meat. Use half the bacon fat or oil to sauté the onions and continue the recipe as written. Drain the second can of beans, adding them at the same point as the other beans.

Tomatillo and black bean “chili”

  • 1/4 c. bacon fat or vegetable oil
  • 2 lb. pork butt, or skinless boneless chicken, preferably dark meat, or turkey, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 2 c. chopped onions, not super sweet
  • 8 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 12 oz. bottle dark beer, preferably Mexican such as Negro Modelo
  • 1 1/2 c. orange juice
  • 1 lb. tomatillos, husked, washed and quartered
  • 2 c. peeled chopped tomatoes, fresh or canned
  • 1 30 oz. can black beans, undrained
  • 1 bunch cilantro, stems finely chopped, leaves chopped separately and reserved
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

To serve:

  • Cooked rice
  • 1 c. sour cream mixed with the juice of 1 lime

In a heavy bottomed large pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the meat and brown. You will probably need to do this in batches so as to not overcrowd. Remove the meat as it is browned and reserve.

Pour off any excess fat and add the onions and garlic to the pan. Sauté until softened and golden brown, about 10 minutes. Add the beer, orange juice, tomatillos, chopped tomatoes, the liquid from the black beans and the cilantro stems and bring to a boil.

Reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered for about 30 minutes, or until the mixture has reduced and thickened somewhat. Add the meat, beans and half the remaining cilantro and simmer an additional 15 minutes.

Let stand for about 15 minutes before serving. Place a small scoop of rice in a soup bowl, and ladle the “chili” over it. Sprinkle some of the remaining cilantro leaves over the top as a garnish. Pass the sour cream/lime juice at the table as a topping.

Contact Julianne Glatz at

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