Good pies and strong beer. --Poor Robin's Almanack, 1695 (but don't leave out good beef and strong beer, good fish and strong beer, good cheese and strong beer, good ... well, you get the picture.)
Maybe I'm just projecting, but it seems that beer is getting a bit more respect these days. With all due respect to my colleagues at Pairing Off, I say a good beer can go just as well, if not better, with a gourmet meal--or an order of General Tsao's chicken--as a much pricier wine.
Oceanaire Seafood Room Dallas Executive Chef Chad Kelley and Sous Chef Kyle Thompson agree. Their restaurant is offering a five-course beer dinner 7 p.m. January 29. Each course of the meal, plus dessert, will be matched to an offering from San Francisco's highly respected Anchor Brewing.
I called the chefs to learn their thoughts on pairing...and the suds mates for next week's event.
Thompson, by the way, is a home brewer. When deciding on pairings he looks at many aspects, of course, but keeps one thing always in mind: it shouldn't be very complicated.
"To me, it follows some of the same guidelines as wine," he says. "You know, lighter food with the lighter wine, or lighter beer. A bigger, stronger, darker beer will hold up to a more flavorful dish, like something with a red wine sauce. It's really that simple."
Kelley elaborates: "A lot of these craft beers are similar to wine, where they have these flavor profiles as well that lend themselves to pairing with food."
They also point out the importance of progressing in a meal from lighter to darker beers. Start out with something heavy and flavorful and you risk missing out on a subsequent lighter beer's subtle flavors.
Maryland-Style Jumbo Lump Crab Cake, Creamy Mustard Mayonnaise
with Anchor Steam
"When we were tasting beers, the Anchor Steam was the first thing we tried, and it was just screaming these crab cakes [an Oceanaire signature dish]," Thompson says. "Light, mild yeasty flavor, some nice citrus notes to it. And the mustard mayonnaise is just a nice complement."
Salmon "Toro," Watercress, Quail Egg and Liberty Ale Vinaigrette
with Liberty Ale
"Super clean beer," Thompson says. "It's not overly malty or hoppy, so it won't try to overpower any of that stuff. To me, if you're drinking beer with food, especially if it's something raw, sashimi, sushi, anything like that, I think ale is the way to go. And then something fatty to go along with it."
Calotte de Boeuf, Roasted Cipollini Onion, Foie Gras Whipped Fingerlings, Chocolate Malt Demi Glace
with Anchor Porter
Thompson acquired dark roasted malt from a home-brewing supply store for the demi glace sauce. "The porter will really stand up to the grilled meats, the stronger, more hearty flavors," Thompson says. "The mixture of the grilled meat and that sauce, which has that nice, dark, roasty element to it, will complement that porter really well."
Maytag Blue Cheese Tart, Smoked Walnuts, Spanish Onion Confit, Pumpernickel Puree
with Anchor Christmas Ale
"We wanted to get a cheese course involved as well," says Kelley. "Cheese and beer is starting to become a little more popular. Also, Fritz Maytag is the one that owns Anchor, so it's only natural to put his cheese with his beer." Adds Thompson: "That nice, sharp blue cheese that Maytag is famous for will stand up to the nice, dark beer that is their Christmas ale, as well as the smoky element of the walnuts. All of those things tie really well with a darker beer without being too stout, like a Guinness. It's full-flavored without being too heavy."
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Bread Pudding, Ale Spiked Caramel and Imperial Stout Ice Cream
with Anchor "Old Foghorn" Barleywine
This is a rare chance to enjoy Anchor's barleywine, Kelley says, as it disappeared quickly this year. Barleywine is traditionally an after-dinner drink, being a stronger, malt-forward beer, Thompson says. "It's got a lot of caramel notes as well," adds Kelley. "Caramel notes and citrus. That one is going to be very tasty."
Kelley and Thompson believe that better marketing and distribution of craft and microbrewed beers combined with the crappy economic situation have renewed interest in good beers. "For $8 or $10, you can get a six-pack of a really well-made beer," Thompson points out.
Reason enough to celebrate distribution chains and short-sighted folks in the corner office.