If there's liquid in a recipe, it might as well be beer

So says Paul Mercurio in his new book

By Kerry Scambler
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Cooking with Beer by Paul Mercurio


Beer is good for drinking – we all know that, but that’s not the only use for this liquid. With the ever-increasing range of new beers coming from breweries of all sizes around the country and beyond, and their diverse range of flavours, beer is also good for cooking. And we don’t mean simply cooking with beer in hand.

In his book The Entire Beast, Chris Badenoch took us ‘from ear and beer to ale and tail’, dissecting and reassembling pig, cow, sheep and miscellaneous animals with his own unique style and adding beer somewhere into the process – even into desserts. Now Paul Mercurio takes a different tack, one which is perhaps more inviting for the beer novice and those less adventurous in their cooking, but who is still looking to add a flavour edge.

Known for his love of good food through his TV program Mercurio’s Menu, Paul also has a special place in his heart for beer, not just for imbibing – he knows more than a little about the beverage as well, having judged as well as hosted a number of beer awards in Australia and New Zealand.

He’s now combined these two loves in Cooking with Beer. With considerable help from his eldest daughter, we're given a range of recipes specially developed and well-tested to show off just how the subtle (and sometimes not so subtle flavours) of beer can enhance a dish.


Starting out

The book starts with a quick overview – Beer 101 – which includes beer-making techniques, the various styles and how the way some beers are made might mean they are easily quaffed, but are  not necessarily the best ones to use for culinary flavour. Or as Paul more frankly puts it ‘do not cook with mega-swill or for that matter, light beer.’

And whilst it also might be tempting to use our favourite beer(s) in every dish, Paul believes we’d be missing out on some great flavour combinations – and I agree.  Even experimentation using different beers in the same recipe (eg my favourite tempura-style batter) can throw up some interesting and new combinations.

But fear not, mainstream and our good old favourites aside, there are plenty of other beers to choose from.


The recipes

The first round of recipes are actually snacks that go well with beer – from homemade beef jerky and salsa, simple oven-baked chips and pretzels to spicy chicken wings.

Then it’s on to the body of the book – the dishes with the beer in them. Rule One is that the beer must be a harmonious part of the dish, not the overwhelming flavour. (And don't be tempted to add that extra splosh just for luck, either!)

Firstly it’s Beer bites – starters, tapas or even upsized for mains, and all served with the beer that’s part of the recipe.

Serve up some French Onion and Porter Soup, or perhaps German Beer, Cheese and Sauerkraut soup. Wheat beer batter is good on prawns; batter flathead fillets with a dash of pilsner.

Start or break the day with the One-pot-three-bean Eggs made with Stout,  or snack on Onion, Stout and Goat’s Cheese Tarts.

To the stove next with tagines, pies, risotto and pasta all with their own special dash of lager or ale. For the oven are Beer-braised Osso Bucco, Lamb and Beer Curry, Slow-braised Octopus and many more.

On the grill I fancy the Beer Rub for ribs, made with an American-style pale ale, and the Chicken Satay with Vietnamese Salad made with Coopers Pale Ale. 

And of course, the Beer-can Chicken – surely this must be an Aussie invention! Who else would think of, let’s put it bluntly, inserting a beer can into a chicken’s orifice, impaling the carcass in the process but making sure the legs balance it carefully? It does look like something from a Monty Python film but the taste is worth the jokes along the way.

Beer, either matched with or as part of a dessert, is often foreign to most people but there are some wonderful taste sensations. A favourite of mine was at a beer dinner at Cow in Hobart many years ago – King Island washed rind with brioche, pear and quince jelly matched with a glass of Theakston’s Old Peculiar (Yorkshire ale). The flavours just worked surprisingly well. But back to the Paul's dessert creations...

Wheat Beer Ice Cream is top of this cook’s list as are Caramelised Beer Bananas and Sticky Date Pudding. And perhaps one day a beer dessert cook-off, first trying Paul Mercurio’s Birramisu then Chris Badenach’s Beeramisu!

There is also a range of delicious recipes for baking, from Italian Beer Bread to Trappist Fruit Cake and Scotch Ale and Ricotta Muffins.


So what do we think?

If you’re ready to experiment with the interesting flavours and spice up your cooking life with some hop enhancements, then Cooking with Beer is definitely the place to start. 

There’s a range of recipes from the simple to the more complex and I really like the extra suggestions for beers – not everyone has a great beer bottleshop in their vicinity with friendly, knowledgeable staff. Using brand names and not just the style of beer also makes it easier for people not familiar with styles to ask for a particular brand and get started.

The only suggestion, and this is coming from someone once dubbed the Dot Point Queen, I’d like to see the instructions slightly more structured to make them easier to follow when you’ve got pots and ingredients all over the place. Nevertheless, I do perversely also like the conversational style!

Well worth the asking price and, despite the media release referring to it as a ‘perfect bloke’s cookbook’, this book would make a great present for a woman as well, especially one who enjoys her ales and lagers.

So many recipes, so many beers, it’s time to start cooking with beer…

Cooking with Beer by Paul Mercurio is published by Murdoch Books (August 2011, RRP A$34.99).

VisitVineyards.com and Winepros Archive subscribers can buy Cooking with Beer from our book partners Seekbooks, at 12.5% discount (postage extra), here »

STOP PRESS: Cooking with Beer has been nominated in the Beer Category in the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards 2011.


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October 26th, 2011
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