The ongoing joke made when cooking with beer typically goes something like this - "Yeah, I cook with beer; I drink it while I am cooking...hahaha". Yes, while funny and sometimes true, we are talking about physically taking a beer of your choosing and using it as an ingredient in a dish. Glad we are on the same page :). Now, there are many uses for beer including cooking it down to extract or enhance flavors, adding it to your marinade, or substituting it for the water you are using in your recipe (the one for one substitution ratio makes this an easy choice). Beer goes great with various meats and pairs well with stronger flavors, like onions and some cheeses.
At the Central Market cooking class, cleverly named "99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall", we had the opportunity to make six dishes and beer was the primary focus. Scheduled during Brewniverse, a two-week beer event that focused on all things beer, this class was hosted by Chef Kathy Tauber, owner of Ez*Eatz!, and a team of Central Market cooking pros. There was going to be more cooking with beer than drinking the beer, since Central Market has strict rules on this; but that didn't stop the show or the party. Just think of it as a wine tasting minus the swirlin', sniffin' and swishin'. We were seated at tables of four and the class was fairly small; our class turned out no more than 12 people. Sitting across from us was a lovely couple and this was not there first rodeo. They were personal fans of the Central market classes and raved about the class structure and the food. Okay, we were ready to see what all the hype was about.
Each table was fitted with its own portable stove which allowed everyone to truly get a hands on experience. It is always better when you can actually "cook" in these classes. Watching someone behind a stove for more than an hour can be a bit of a bore. On the menu for the evening were Mussels Steamed in Beer with Crème Fraiche & Herbs, Chickpea & Spinach Salad with Cumin Dressing, Asparagus with Lemon & Tarragon, Beer & Coffee Steaks, Garlic Fries, and Stout Floats with Cocoa Syrup. On first look, the menu seemed interesting. Dishes with herbs, the strong flavor of coffee, and garlic all blend quite nicely with a good beer. We were equally excited about the beer choices: Hoegaarden, Negra Modelo, and Stout; as you should never cook with a beer that you wouldn't drink, right? Our thoughts exactly.
The mussels were first up. Luckily the "beard" that typically comes fixated to fresh mussels had already been removed for us. This takes a while to get the hang of, so we were glad this was done ahead of time. We steamed them in a pan, with beer of course, and once they started to open they were pulled and tossed with crème fraiche and sprinkled with an herb mixture. The chickpea and spinach salad was a treat. Light and easy to make, it was a great appetizer to nibble on before we got to the heavy stuff. Now on to the main course...
After the grilled asparagus hit the grill, you could smell the scents of lemon and tarragon. Grilling vegetables is a must and always enhances the flavor while maintaining the perfect texture. Unfortunately, the beer and coffee steaks were hit and miss. We could have gone for more spice and the idea of going half brown sugar and half coffee crossed of minds. A bit more balance of flavors in the dish would have really set this off as the coffee was a bit overpowering. However, it was cooked perfectly and we really enjoyed the crusting that formed from the coffee rub. The garlic fries were a no brainer...they were so good and that garlic...need we say more? The floats were interesting but too much of that stout beer could make a sweet dessert too bitter. Adding more ice cream and syrup did the trick.
The highlight of the evening was taking the New York Strips out to the grill. There is nothing more enjoyable than the smell of beef on a pit. With a small taste of beer in hand (they could only serve a few ounces at a time); it really felt like a backyard BBQ with a few of your closest friends. While hanging on the patio, we received a quick lesson on grilling, including the few minutes we spent on the "don'ts" like over-flipping your meat, and learning how to gauge the temperature of meat using the inside of your palm. That was way cool. If we gained nothing else from the class, our grilling 101 was well worth the visit. Good stuff.
At the end of the day cooking with beer is just cool and we had a great time meeting new people and learning new and exciting ways to bring beer to the table. This was our first Central Market cooking class and we are sure to return. The food was good, the company was great, and the cooking staff at Central Market really know how to make sure you are having a great time. It really shines through when you enjoy what you do! This goes to create the experience that people come back again and again for...the type of experiences that create memories.
Here are 2 recipes from that evening:
Chickpea & Spinach Salad with Cumin Dressing
* 1 (15.5 .oz.) can of Chickpeas , drained and rinsed
* 2 Tablespoons chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
* ¼ Cup diced red onion
* 2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
* ¼ Teaspoon finely grated Lemon Zest
* ¾ Teaspoon toast ground cumin
* Pinch of Cayenne Pepper
* Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
* 2 cups lightly packed baby spinach leaves
In a medium bowl, combine the chickpeas, parsley and onion. Set aside
In another small bowl, whisk together the oil, lemon juice, lemon zest, cumin, and cayenne. Add to the chickpeas and mix to coat thoroughly. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
On serving plates divide the spinach leaves. Spoon chickpeas on top.
If there is any dressing left, drizzle over salad.
Beer & Coffee Steaks
12 oz. Dark beer, Negra Modelo (or any dark beer)
¼ Cup Worcestershire Sauce
1 Tablespoon Tabasco or other red liquid hot sauce
4 Boneless strip steaks (1- 2 pounds) trimmed of fat
3 Tablespoons finely ground espresso or dark roast coffee
1 Tablespoon pure chili powder (such as ancho)
1 Teaspoon toasted ground cumin
1 Teaspoon sugar
½ Teaspoon cayenne or more to taste
½ Teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Mix Beer, Worcestershire and Tabasco in a non-reactive casserole pan; add meat and cover with plastic wrap. Place in refrigerator at least 4 hours or overnight.
Mix coffee, chili powder, cumin, sugar, cayenne and black pepper in a small bowl.
Remove steaks from marinade and discard marinade. Pat dry the meant with paper towels and then season the steaks with dry rub mixture. Pat it into the meat with fingers.
With steaks at room temperature, heat a grill to high. Brush grill with oil and add steaks. Grill until steaks are darkly crusted and cooked to medium rare, about 3 minutes per side. Only turn once. Remove from grill, tent with foil and let rest at least 10 minutes.
Urban Swank did receive complimentary passes to attend this cooking class, but the opinions expressed are our own.