A Little Beer, Dear?

cookbook_junkie[1]By Gini Rainey

If you drink beer, are a connoisseur of beer, or just love beer-batter fried foods, this cookbook is for you!  “A Taste of Texas – Cooking With Beer From ‘The Little Brewery’ in Shiner, Texas” cookbook is yet another souvenir from the wandering husband’s travels to central Texas and his tour of the Spoetzl Brewery in, you guessed it, Shiner, Texas.  Known for a nice selection of great beers, the Spoetzl Brewery still makes their beer one brew at a time with handcrafted care and personal pride.

This cookbook, published in 1986, is small with only 70 pages, but every one of the recipes calls for beer and there is a note to the cook that “the recipes in our cookbook have been tried and tested using only Shiner Blonde and Shiner Bock.” So, if for no other reason, you will need to purchase some of the beer that made Shiner, Texas famous, or the end results might not be what you are expecting. Although, if you are a bit daring, you might want to either cook with, or drink while cooking, Shiner Summer Stock, Shiner Hefeweizen, Shiner Ale, or Shiner Light.  You never know what great dishes you might cook up with a variation on a theme.

From Mexican Chicken Soup to Corn Chowder and Chili, from Spaghetti Sauce to Shiner Beef Roast and Bratwurst in Beer, all the way to Sopapillas, Gingerbread, Steamed Chocolate Pudding, and the Best-Ever Chocolate Cake, all of the recipes – believe it or not – call for at least 1/4 cup to 3 cans of Shiner Beer.  So, if you love beer, and love to drink beer while you’re cooking, you might want to gauge how much beer the recipe you choose calls for and purchase accordingly.  Nothing worse than a sad chef!

In case you were wondering, the editor of the cookbook was kind enough to list a few of the basic principles used in beer cooking.  First, use “stale” beer – that is, beer which has been opened long enough in advance to have lost its carbonation naturally.  Then, remember, hops are added to beer for that tangy zest so shinerdesirable in a beverage.  However, this is masked by adding spices, herbs, onions and garlic, etc., and consequently the delicate malt flavor is emphasized.

Remember, beer has a tenderizing effect on foods, so when you marinate your meats, soak for a few hours, or overnight, turning frequently in the marinade.  Also, never boil beer. Bring the ingredients to the boiling point, then reduce the heat and allow to simmer until done.  Never “swim” a food in a liquid.  This is especially true in beer cookery.  Add just enough beer for good seasoning and then add more as necessary during the cooking process, and finally, never overcook food made with beer, because by overly-concentrating the beer, the delicate malt flavor is lost, thus defeating the whole purpose of beer cooking.

So, with all of these fine points in mind, I can’t help but think something that would be good to eat on a nice fall day like today would be Split Pea Soup.  Start by pour 2 cups of Shiner beer and 4 cups of water into a large kettle and stir in 2 cups of dried green split peas.  Bring this to a boil, cover, reduce heat and simmer for an hour.  Now add 1 ham hock or ham bone (vegan? you know what to do!), 2 diced medium onions, 2 diced stalks of celery, 3 sliced medium carrots, 1/2 teaspoon of pepper and 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt. Stirring occasionally, simmer for three hours and serve.  Gosh this sounds great!