For long, wine has been tipped into cooking pans for a dash of flavour. But beer is slowly cosying up to non-vegetarian kitchens in India and the new alliance promises to get the gastronomic juices flowing.
Beer as a component in food has traditionally been a European concept, but the culture is beginning to seep into Indian platters. So, welcome to the world of beer batter squids, beer steamed shrimp and beer cheese soup, where a splash of the barley drink adds that extra zing to the meal.
"The concept of cooking food with beer is fairly young in India. It requires a lot of caution and a delicate hand - overheat a little and the beer will lose its property and ruin your dish," Anurudh Khanna, executive chef at Park Hotel, told IANS on the sidelines of a Sunday brunch organised by beer brand Carlsberg.
Each ingredient of beer - barley, hop and yeast - works in its own way to enhance the flavour of the food. While the bitter hops and vegetables containing natural sugar like corn and carrot are a marriage made in heaven, barley with its sweet mellow ways easily blends with other ingredients. And yeast, with its tendering properties, helps take on tougher cuts of meat.
Unlike the sophisticated wine, which changes its food companion in accordance with its colour, beer gets along fine with most food types. The key here is to experiment, go by instinct.
Bake, batter-fry, marinate and simmer to let the delicate aroma of beer alter the character of the dish - but in a harmonious way.
There are a few words of caution though. According to Khanna, the partnership of beer and spices is a recipe for disaster. The intensity of beer can't cope up with the overpowering nature of spices, and their union can be a bitter messy affair.
So the verdict is - enjoy your chicken tikkas with beer, and not in beer.
Gourmet specialist Karen Anand, who has many cook books under her sleeve, swears by the marinating abilities of beer. "Marinating chicken in beer makes it very tender and gives it a nice tangy flavour," Anand says.
Her most recommended dish, kadi patta chicken, bordering on a south Indian flavour, is a tantalising assortment of jaggery, tamarind, and beer-marinated chicken with a dash of fried kadi patta. The sourness of beer complements that of tamarind and together they make for an edgy palatable fusion.
Khanna, on the other hand, is all for beer batter squids and believes the beverage brings out the best in seafood. Unfortunately, the frothy drink doesn't have much to offer to herbivores.
"Also, as far as possible, use light beer in cooking. A strong beer can produce disastrous results," he adds.
Here are a few recipes by the chef himself:
1) Beer poached soft shell crabs
No of portions: 1
Preparation time: 20 min
Garnish: Celery leaves
Soft shell crabs 250 gm
Leeks 50 gm
Lemon grass 20 gm
Fennel roots 50 gm
Light beer 330 ml
Soya sauce 20 ml
Cherry compote 100 gm
Chopped onions 50 gm
Asparagus 100 gm
Butter 20 gm
Salt, Pepper To taste
Method: Clean the shells. Make poaching liquor with beer, sliced leeks, sliced fennel, lemon juice and lemon grass. Poach the crabs in the liquor for five minutes on a light flame. Melt butter and saute chopped onions, add cherry compote and finish to cook with dark soya sauce. Serve poached crabs with the cherry blaze on a bed of steamed asparagus.
2) Beer Baked Puffs
No of portions: 5
preparation: 20 min
Garnish: Mint leaves
Refined Flour 1,000 gm
Salt 20 gm
Sugar 50 gm
Beer 650 ml
Butter 500 gm
Vanilla bean 1
Strawberry compote 50 gm
Castor sugar 50 gm
Method: Make hard dough of refined flour, salt, sugar and beer. Refrigerate for one hour. Beat butter to form a sheet and allow it to set in freezer. Roll out the dough, place the butter sheet inside and seal it, then give three book folds. Roll the dough again and cut into stripes and deep fry over slow flame. Mix vanilla bean and strawberry compote to form a sauce. Coat the puff in sugar and serve with sauce.