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Beer and Food: Estrella Taqueria

“Try it with Mexican Food.”

This was the food pairing recommendation on a press release for a bottle of beer I got last year. I can’t remember which bottle exactly and it doesn’t matter very much. One of the things that many beer companies are guilty of when it comes to food pairing suggestions is inspecificity.

This is Mexico

It is the 14th largest country in the world at about 2 million square kilometers. It’s got about 120 million residents. It is big enough that the different regions all have their own cuisines. The cuisines are mostly derived from Aztec and Mayan traditions with a good deal of Spanish influence.

“Try it with Mexican Food.”

If you, as a brewer, are convinced that your beer is good enough that it will heighten the sensory experience of a meal, you owe it to the person buying your beer not to make them use a dartboard to narrow it down. Did you mean tamales or mole sauce or barbacoa or chalupas or what? Be specific. If you put “Try it with French Food” on your label, Escoffier’s spectre would come back to haunt you with a ghostly whisk. You can’t adopt the airs of gourmet sophistication and then just wave vaguely in the direction of Latin America.

For heaven’s sake, if you mean tacos, just write tacos. That narrows it down a little bit. More than likely, what you mean specifically is the Old El Paso taco kit with the luminescent neon ground beef seasoning packet. It’s the standardized ersatz version of the experience.

That’s fine if it’s Thursday and you’re in grade 11. This is Toronto and we’re adults, more or less.

I kept meaning to look for Glottis

I kept meaning to look for Glottis

You’ve got some options for tacos in Toronto at the moment and the newest one is Estrella Taqueria up at Yonge and Sheppard. That may sound like an odd place to open a Taqueria, but it makes sense when you consider that it’s at a junction of two subway lines and that the population at Yonge and Sheppard is young and multicultural. This is a good thing to remember if you’re a beer rep. The city does not end at Bloor.344

It makes more sense when you realize that the place is going to clean up as a bar. The feel is Dia de Muertos with vibrant colours scattered throughout. The owners are taking the thing seriously, having hired set designers and graffiti artists to instill a sense of occasion. They’ve got a rooftop patio that should be fantastic during the summer. They’ve got fifty varieties of Tequila and twenty five varieties of Bourbon. Most interestingly to me, they’ve got a pretty eclectic selection of beer available on draught and in bottles.343

Essentially, what this means is that there’s a place with punchy, flavourful tacos and a wide number of beers to choose from. If you’re interested in pairing beer with food, this is an excellent playground and a pretty good place to go with a group of people who want to try a bunch of different things.

When you break the taco down to its core components, it’s pretty clear that it’s simply a format. There are conventions for fillings, but it’s a good place to get a little creative. You could go authentic and use lingua as a cheap cut. You could go Baja and go with lightly battered fish. You could do just about anything with the filling. At Estrella, they’re running the gamut and it’s pretty clear that the menu is going to be in flux while the chef follows his inspiration and they develop some house favorites.

I suspect that when Harvey Keitel said "I'm hungry, let's get a taco." he didn't have oysters in mind. Still...

I suspect that when Harvey Keitel said “I’m hungry, let’s get a taco.” he didn’t have oysters in mind. Still…

Take the Oyster Taco, for instance. Cornmeal battered oysters with miso/celeriac remoulade and green tomato salsa. The miso complements the light briny flavour of the oyster and there’s a tartly sweet hit from the salsa that’s brightened up by a squeeze of lime and a sprig of cilantro. As near as I can tell, the celeriac is mostly there for texture, but there’s a slight starchiness in it that ties into a wheat beer. The Krombacher Weizen is a good choice for pairing here, but it seems a little too easy to just say “wheat beer and seafood.” The authentic choice would probably be a Vienna Lager here, since that’s mostly what there is other than Pale Lager in Mexico. King could do worse than try to get on tap at Estrella, since they’ve already got the Vienna Lager in bottles. It’s a contrasting pairing, given that the malty lager would provide a background for the highlights in those few bites to pop against.335

The Baja Fish Taco is heavier than I would have assumed, both in flavour and in terms of its sheer wet nap required physicality. The really interesting thing here is the combination of two kinds of heat. The chipotle aioli brings smoke while the pickled chilis are more directly assertive. For a single taco, you might want an IPA with some citrus character to let the acids battle it out. Oddly, despite the trend, the hoppiest beer on tap is Flying Monkey Hoptical Illusion. If you ordered a plate, you might need something a little lighter as the heat built. Let Hogtown and Beau’s respective Kolsches duke it out for your affection.339

Perhaps the most successful offering at Estrella is the Short Rib Taco, which is “braised with cola and cinnamon, served with chimichuri, caramelized onion, chipotle aioli with BBQ yucca chips.” The thing that I like most about this treatment is the braising method which seems to go incredibly well with the Krombacher Dunkel that they have on tap. The slight smoke from the chipotle and the peppery chimichurri really seem to work with the hefeweizen yeast. The yucca chips provide a much needed contrapuntal textural element. I am put in mind of the fact that the Germans do a type of shandy that is half hefeweizen and half cola. I don’t know why cola braise works so well here, but I’m sure there’s a scientific explanation lurking in the wings.337

There are many other items on the menu and given an afternoon and a group of people, you could make your way through a number of them at a leisurely pace, stopping periodically to play ping pong. I think they need an IPA on tap. In San Diego, one of the places I went for Tacos had Stone IPA. I think that the vibrant citrus character and acidity plays really well against some kinds of heat.

 

 

 

Flights and Bites @ Fanny Chadwick’s – 2013

It’s no secret that one of the things I look forward to every year during Ontario Craft Beer Week is the comparatively larger number of people thinking seriously about beer and food. Beer dinners, for instance, abound. The version of beer and food pairing that I think is probably most illustrative is not a beer dinner, however.

A beer dinner comes with certain problems. There has to be a flow through the menu. The fact that you’re trying these plates sequentially with whichever beers are provided by the featured brewery can end up being somewhat limiting from a conceptual perspective. I should mention briefly that I’ve heard some lovely things about the beer dinner at The Auld Spot which featured beers by Michael Hancock and Matt O’Hara from Beau’s. If you look at bits of the menu, there’s a framework at play. It’s going to be pork heavy, given the name and nature of the restaurant (If your sign features a pig, you’d better be serving a very large amount of pig.) and the styles of beer on offer and the fact that the brewers are doing German styles of Ale for the most part.

A great deal of planning goes into a framework like that, and when it comes together it’s something to be proud of. It ties together cultural heritage, a restaurant concept, course progression and the taste of two individual brewers and a chef.

Personally, as an experience, I like smaller, encapsulated attempts at beer and food. I like it when the concepts behind dishes are defined mostly by a sense of play. The reason Fanny Chadwick’s excels at this is because they’re doing comfort food in a culturally indistinct sort of way. The menu incorporates the strengths of whomever happens to be working in the kitchen at the time and more often than not it comes together beautifully.

This year for Ontario Craft Beer Week, they’re again doing their Flights and Bites event, which allows the kitchen to cook with a number of the beers on tap and allows you to choose a certain number of beers to try with the dishes they’ve prepared. Compared to a five course beer dinner, it’s affordable and customizable, allowing you to choose from the 12 beers they have on tap (some of which, and don’t tell anyone up high in the organization at the OCB, are not even members).

Here’s the menu for this year. I’ve done something incredibly dull and decided not to play around with beer pairings too much. If the beer is used in the preparation of the dish, I’ve tasted that beer with the dish. It seemed like the thing to do at the time.

Popcorn glazed with a Lake of Bays Riverwalker Reduction

This would actually be a pretty variable bar snack. Someone should steal this idea.

This would actually be a pretty variable bar snack. Someone should steal this idea.

This is an interesting idea. The Lake of Bays Riverwalker is a lemon and ginger summer ale. While the citrus is present on the aroma, the finish of the beer is dominated fairly heavily by gingery bitterness. It’s not a subtle attempt at a summer ale, but it does what it says it’s going to. The question of what to with that is a slightly difficult one. You have to balance out the bitterness slightly and you want to play with the ginger without reinforcing it since it’s already pretty dominant.

In the case of this pairing, the reduction on the popcorn has been sweetened slightly and the popcorn has been garnished with a small amount of cilantro, scallion and lime. It’s a little like a thai cracker jack that never existed. It manages the bitterness in the Riverwalker pleasantly, and the salt perks up the entire experience. It is slightly difficult to eat. You will want a wet-nap.

Sprout Salad with Muskoka Mad Tom Braised Carrots tossed in IPA Vinaigrette

I don't have a clever caption for salad.

I don’t have a clever caption for salad.

This is clever. Mad Tom is a pretty big, brash IPA that I seem to recall weighs in at 64 IBUs. There’s a nice balance of malt sweetness and caramel, and the hop character is dominated by citrus and pineapple. The decision to use it in two different ways in this plate didn’t go quite the way I was expecting. Braising carrots in IPA is, I suppose, similar to a Vichy preparation, but since it’s an IPA I guess maybe Raj would be the more appropriate term. When you concentrate an IPA like that, the hop character increases and in this case the hop bitterness comes through in the braised carrots (which is good because they could have been overly sweet). With the vinaigrette the malt sweetness of the IPA comes through, I’m guessing because of the slightly spiky acidity. These two flavours balance out on the creamy mini bocconcini.

Crostini with Cream Cheese and Beau’s Lug-Tread Fig Jam topped with Housemade Lonzino

Ridges of Lonzino: Plating option or little known Ennio Morricone soundtrack?

Ridges of Lonzino: Plating option or little known Ennio Morricone soundtrack?

As a single plate, this is probably the most successful thing on this year’s menu. I like the vaguely Frank Lloyd Wright construction. I like the fact that it’s the kind of thing you might come up with at home as an hors d’oeuvre on a lazy Sunday. The difference is that at home, you’re not curing your own Lonzino with a small amount of lavender; You’re not making a rustically textured fig jam with a Kolsch. I tend not to think of Lug Tread as a bitter beer, but if you’re using it in a jam the bitterness will concentrate and here it provides some significant interest. This is mostly about four different textures coming together in the same bite. Paired with the Lug Tread, it draws more fruit ester out of the beer, enhancing a quality which is usually in the background.

Mussels and Steam Whistle Fritters with Vietnamese Dipping Sauce

I like the mussel shells as a bed for service. Better than what the Romans used them for.

I like the mussel shells as a bed for service. Better than what the Romans used them for.

I like this mostly because it’s a novelty for me. Usually when mussels are on a beer related menu, they’re simply steamed in the beer with some shallot and garlic. There are entire restaurants predicated on variations of the steamed mussel. What’s happened here is that it has been steamed in Steam Whistle, removed from the shell (probably pretty painstaking prep work there) and incorporated into a sort of cormeal breaded fritter with cilantro. You will remember I was talking the other week about Maillard reaction in malt and in dry heat cooking preparations. The deep fried fritter balances the Pilsner malt Steam Whistle is made with pretty marvellously. That specific sweetness is mirrored in the beer and the crust of the fritter. The fish sauce and tamarind provide salt, sweet, sour and umami. The fritter is actually three textures with the chew from the mussel, light filling and crusty exterior. Deceptively simple. Nice plating.

Also, there's a pretty excellent peanut butter banana ice cream sandwich. It was after this I decided to walk home.

Also, there’s a pretty excellent peanut butter banana ice cream sandwich. It was after this I decided to walk home.

I know that OCB week is sometimes about the big marquee events, but the Flights and Bites menu at Fanny Chadwick’s is worth your time. They seem to have knack for beer and food pairing. If you don’t make it during OCB week, it’s still a good choice year round. There are even rumors of a patio going in.

In Which I Plug The Brewer’s Plate

I’m sitting here and I’m trying to come up with an interesting and insightful way to plug The Brewer’s Plate.

I mean, you could go with “It’s one of the premiere events of the Toronto beer scene!” or “It just keeps getting bigger and better!” or “I know $125.00 seems like a bit of a spend, but it’s a better value than last year since there’s even more stuff!” or “They support a marvelous charity called Not Far From The Tree that you should look at!” or “Jamie Kennedy’s going to be there, and he’s a pretty nice guy” or “Hey, wanna learn about beer and food?! This is the place to do it!”

Any or all of these things would be accurate things to say about it. I could plug previous editions that I’ve written about, like the one from two years ago at the Wychwood Artscape Barns. That was a nice day, except for the rather startling man on stilts trying to navigate through an increasingly compact throng.

But the truth is that just about everyone has already done it.  I was asked if I’d get the word out about the event, and unfortunately, I just couldn’t figure out a way to make it play nationally in the newspaper, because I suspect there’s nothing worse than reading about an event you really want to go to in another province that you can’t possibly get to. I mean, there’s some disgruntled foodie in Edmonton who’s looking at that if it’s an article and thinking “Curse your eyes, Jordan St. Whatsit, you slightly tipsy scribbler! This is not relevant to my interests in an immediate way although possibly we could steal the idea!”

I mean, I can’t even give it the Craft Beer Advent Calendar treatment with the bad doggerel. What am I going to do, rhyme it in Homeric couplets? It would be a challenge to try that with some of the chefs’ last names. Karen Vaz for instance could only merit Hudibrastic poetry given that she works at the Rebel House (and even then only if you’re a cockney). There was a brief appeal in that Barbara Frum and Atrium seem like a natural.

The brewer’s plate is going to be excellent. I don’t know exactly what the highlights are going to be. There are celebrity chefs in addition to the regular chefs this year.  There are more regular chefs than there were last year! One of them is Howard Dubrovsky, who cooked what was possibly the best beer and food pairing event I’ve ever been to! His seafood chowder was so good I considered offering him an involuntary unpaid internship at St.John’s Wort.

There’s so much stuff that you’ll never get through all of it. There’s just no chance. You could be three people and you’d still never manage it. There’s a silent auction! You might win stuff! It’s going to be exciting. There’s going to be music and people and entertainment and slightly drunken revelry and people are going to have a really, really good time.

So buy a ticket already and send a shirt to the dry cleaners. It’s going to be awesome!

Beer and Food Tuesday: Temple Bar, Cambridge

Recently, I was flown to Boston to visit the Sam Adams Brewery. While we’ll no doubt get to the brewery tour itself later in the week once the experience has had some time to percolate through the ol’ grey matter, I wanted to talk about something that Sam Adams is doing right.

Once a month, or thereabouts, Sam Adams hosts a beer dinner at Temple Bar in Cambridge, just a couple of blocks up from Harvard. Coming from Toronto, where beer and food pairing is something that happens at a rotating series of restaurants and comprises great effort on the part of individuals like Greg Clow or of brewery reps, it’s somewhat surprising to see an attempt at continuity between a brewery and a restaurant.

Temple Bar does an upscale bistro take on what I suppose you would call Yankee cuisine, with a focus on seasonal ingredients. They have a wide selection of beers on tap, including small brewers like Jack’s Abby, and Pretty Things in addition to larger properties like Harpoon and Sam Adams. The beer menu is nearly as long as the wine menu. That’s an encouraging sign in and of itself.

Todd, shrouded in darkness, spends a contemplative moment with his beer.

Our host for the evening was Todd Bellomy, who is the Consumer Relations Representative for Sam Adams. He is one of the biggest beer nerds that ever sighted a refractometer. He makes Sake in his spare time. He’s all about beer and food, having spent years working in kitchens as an undergrad. This is a man who held forth eloquently for nearly ten minutes on “Beer Cheese” at one point in the evening, going so far as to highlight the advantages of various types of cheddar that might profitably be employed for this application.

Clearly, we were going to get along just fine.

The novel thing about the relationship between Temple Bar and Sam Adams is the way that it works. Before there were beer dinners, Todd showed up at Temple Bar and gave executive chef Greg Boschetti and his staff a bunch of beer to play with. The cases included a few bottles of everything that Sam Adams makes. The goal wasn’t to come up with a focused menu that would persist as a feature, but rather to see what a talented group of people could come up with if they were given license to play with the pairings. It has been over a year since this program started and so far they have repeated a total of one dish, but Todd was quick to point out that the beer pairing was different so that may not really count.

Before we get into the beer dinner proper, I have an observation about Sam Adams and regionalism. In the bread basket, there was a delicious Boston Brown Bread. I noticed, over the couple of days that I was in Boston, that most of the Sam Adams core lineup seems to have crystal 60 malt as part of its DNA. It seems like you get some of that malt character in the Boston Lager, Winter Lager and Oktoberfest. It goes extremely well with the molasses heavy brown bread, and I find myself wondering whether there was some intentional mirroring of a traditional cuisine or whether it was a subconscious thing on the part of the brewers, who may have been influenced by what was around. It’s possible I’m imagining it. Either way, it’s worth replicating at home as an experiment. I’m hoping I can shake the recipe for the bread out of them with a polite email.

FEZZIWIG STEAMED PEI MUSSELS: Chorizo, Jalapeno, Cumin-Cilantro Butter, Grilled Baguette. Paired with Winter Lager

Mussels are pretty much beer food. I know people who cook them with wine, but those people are wrong and should feel bad.

This is an interesting combination, because the Chorizo leeches a smoky paprika into the broth that compliments the heat from the jalapeno and the earthiness from the compound butter. It is probably déclassé to sop up broth with sourdough at a place like Temple Bar. I did so unapologetically. Winter Lager showed up in Ontario without much fanfare and it was never really advertised that it contains orange peel, ginger and cinnamon. It’s subtle, so that I’m not sure the mixture is immediately obvious if you drink it by itself. As a pairing, the orange played off the cilantro and the malt from the Fezziwig matched the Winter Lager.

The speed with which this bucket filled with shells is an indicator of how wrong the wine people are.

BOSTON LAGER POACHED PEAR & CRISPY DUCK RILLETTE: Caramelized Blue Cheese, Baby Greens, Balsamic-Lager Reduction. Paired with Latitude 48 IPA

Not only customizable, but pretty.

This is designed as a plate where you can combine different flavours in order to discover what works with the beer pairing. Each of the individual components would work with the IPA. The rillette and blue cheese, with their fat and salt, play with the mouthfeel and carbonation of the beer and also with the malt sweetness from the crystal 60 (those dudes love some crystal 60) and Gambrinus Honey malt. Because Latitude 48 uses hops from different regions, the individual character of the hops is highlighted by different components. The baby greens are peppery enough to bring out some of the Hallertauer Mittelfruh and East Kent Goldings.

BEEF TWO WAYS: Grilled Brandt Bavette Steak, Holiday Porter Braised Short Rib Cannelloni, Fingerling Potatoes. Paired with Boston Lager

Steak doesn’t need a caption. Steak needs only potatoes.

Typically, at beer dinners, when I see beef on a menu, it’s with a darker beer than a Vienna Lager. Todd was of the opinion that sometimes you just want to let steak stand on its own, that the beer balances the maillard reaction in the steak while more or less staying out of the way. I’m not sure it’s a great pairing, but in context, it’s a welcome relief between the intensity of the bookending courses. That said, in any other context steak and beer is nothing to whine about.

CHOCOLATE BOCK CAKE: Chocolate Bock Ganache, Salted Caramel, Chantilly. Paired with Utopias 2011

I’ll talk about Utopias more in another post, but I have to say that Graham Duncan made an excellent observation about the pairing here. Utopias takes on a minerally character from the barrels it ages in and that means that, oddly, the dessert component that complements it best is the salted caramel. At this point in its life, it seems to me that the barrel character coming through on the 2011 Utopias is port heavy, and that certainly works with the chocolate.

It may be wonderful, but there is only so much Utopias that even journalists can drink.

I think that the ongoing collaboration between Temple Bar and Sam Adams has some benefits. First of all, I can say that this is one of the most considered beer dinner menus I’ve seen. I think that results from the removal of one-time planning from the equation. Greg Boschetti has been thinking about this for more than a year and he’s had the opportunity to try different things. I suspect that means that there’s no impetus to do something really wild and crazy with the pairings in order to make a short term impression. That’s a good thing, especially since Sam Adams uses these monthly dinners for training new employees.

This is the kind of thing we should be looking into in Ontario. It’s one thing to have talented chefs doing one off beer dinners. It’s a joy when it works out. A longstanding arrangement, on the other hand, builds consistency and builds fluency on the part of the chef doing the pairing. I don’t know that there are any individual craft breweries in Ontario with the wherewithal to make something like this happen, but if I’m the Ontario Craft Brewers, I might look at this post as a suggestion of something being done right that can be shamelessly pilfered.

Beer And Food: Jamaican Curry Chicken and Nightmare on Mill Street

A large number of people like Pumpkin beer, and this is very largely because it tastes like fall. It has those pumpkin pies spices in it that make it reminiscent of coming in from raking leaves before Sunday dinner. That being said, it can be a little difficult to find something to do with Pumpkin beer, since it already tastes like dessert. They’re typically fairly sweet and they contain a mixture of allspice, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg and any number of other things depending on the brewery.

The obvious thing to do is to serve it alongside pumpkin pie. If you’re particularly adventurous, you might even want to try it alongside another dessert like ginger cake that has a selection of the same spices. This might be alright for home consumption, but if you’re at a beer dinner, that sort of double barreled approach might not really be welcome after about five courses. At that point, it’s a whipped cream topped overload.

Since I’m always looking for something interesting to do with beer and food, I googled the ingredients that go into pumpkin pie. Sure enough, if you throw those ingredients in to google, you come up with jerk chicken.

Initially, this seemed like an ideal solution. I checked through a bunch of online recipes and then dug through The World Cookbook for Students in order to find something that would give me a reasonably effective version that I could try at home. I failed pretty badly, but mostly on the basis of equipment. I don’t have a grill that I can use for this kind of thing.

That’s when I realized that I know a professional cook who might be able to furnish some insight into my problem. I’m lucky enough to know La-Toya Fagon from Twist Catering from another life. At the time, I had no idea that I would end up writing about beer, but she had already managed to secure some pretty promising weekend gigs as a cook. After I left that job, I lost track of her, but cut to three years later and she’s on Marilyn Denis’s show doing a cooking demo. It turns out she’s doing Mediterranean inspired Carribean food.

Talk about a stroke of luck.

The Beer

The beer I’m working with in this case is Mill Street’s Nightmare on Mill Street. It’s a good candidate for pairing as a pumpkin beer for the reason that it is restrained. First of all, the base recipe is a wheat beer, so it’s not a high alcohol beer. It clocks in at an even 5% and is brewed with actual pumpkin. The orange colour and head retention are good. Plus, the spice blend is nicely balanced. Some of the pumpkin beers out in the LCBO overbalance in favour of cinnamon or ginger. That’s fine if it’s to your taste, but if you want to talk about a prototypical pumpkin beer, this is it. The spice blend was inspired by brewmaster Joel Manning’s wife’s recipe for pie, which is a nice thing. Well done, Mrs. Manning.

They sent over some sample bottles for me to play with, and on my recommendation sent some to La-Toya.

The Recipe

I got in touch with La-Toya about jerk chicken, but she played around with a couple of recipes and had a better idea. The problem with jerk chicken is that because the spice blend is so similar, you’d be pairing it with beer on a complimentary basis. That was more or less what I wanted to avoid by skipping the pumpkin pie and dessert angles. I’m sure it would work, but she came up with a pairing that’s a great deal more interesting.

JAMAICAN CURRY CHICKEN

1lb boneless skinless thighs

4 tbsp. vegetable oil

4 tbsp curry powder

1 tbsp garlic powder

Salt and pepper to taste

6-7 pimento seeds crushed

1 medium onion diced

1 bell pepper diced

1/2 Scotch bonnet pepper

6 spring’s fresh thyme

4 medium size potatoes

2 c. water

 

Heat oil in pan till smoking level. Cut up chicken in bite size pieces, place in a bowl. Add in all ingredients except potatoes and water. Place chicken mixture in pot, stir, and cook on high add water. Cook, till it comes to a boil, stir, lower heat until chicken is almost cooked. Add in potatoes. Cook until water is thickened.

 

Serve over steamed white rice or with roti.

 

The Pairing

This is what your food looks like if your professional cook friend takes the pictures and sends them to you.

Now, this is a vastly different flavour profile than what I started out with, and in terms of cooking curry at home, I’m lost at sea. What better way to learn than by doing?

The reason that this works is because of the pimento seeds (which I discovered are allspice after 10 minutes of standing in the spice aisle) and the thyme. The thyme plays with whatever earthiness is in the beer as a result of the hopping as an aroma, while the allspice comes through in the heat at the back of the palate. Now this makes a great deal of sense as a pairing because the heat from the Scotch Bonnet is just enough to make you want a mouthful of a cold beer. The spice mix from the Pumpkin beer chases the heat with the carbonation, but from a sensory standpoint it lends even more depth to the curry by suggesting spices that it doesn’t necessarily contain. Salting slightly higher than normal is not a bad idea because of the steamed rice and the constrasting sugars in the beer.

Now, when I mentioned I might be doing this on facebook, Garrett Oliver from Brooklyn suggested that you’d probably want quite a sweet pumpkin beer if you were going to pair with Jamaican food. I can certainly see how he would have been right if we’d gone with jerk chicken. Because we went with curry, I think that the slightly wheaty finish on the Nightmare on Mill Street works pretty well. Also, from the standpoint of personal preference, I have to suggest that you really want a lighter alcohol pumpkin beer than some of the monsters out there. The dish is spicy enough that you are likely to want more than one beer with it. Safety first.

And this is what it looks like when you do it at home and are not interested in plating. Still tasty.

WHAT DID WE LEARN

1)      The proper soundtrack for this dish is Jimmy Cliff’s The Harder They Come

2)      La-Toya Fagon knows what she’s doing, which is not exactly a surprise since she always struck me as extremely competent. She managed to steer me to a more complex pairing from a less complex one. Good eye, and I think a good appreciation of what I’m trying to do.

3)      If it says ½ scotch bonnet, don’t go adding a whole one, especially if you’re new to the flavour profile.  I know you probably won’t have anything you can use the other half in, so just discard it. I mean, it cost you 10 cents, so this is no time to be miserly.

Beer and Food Tuesday: National Capital Craft Beer Week

On Friday night, I got to go to a beer dinner hosted by Stephen Beaumont at the Capital Dining Room at the National Suites Hotel in Ottawa. You know Stephen Beaumont. He doesn’t really need any introduction. He’s been writing about beer for 23 years. He has a book coming out soon. It’s the World Atlas of Beer. If you’re reading this blog, there’s a good chance you will get a copy for Christmas. I say go buy it now and make life difficult for your relatives. They’ll probably be forced to buy you beer if you already have a copy.

Stephen Beaumont would later go on to reveal that he cannot do the moonwalk, proving that no one is perfect.

He’s been writing about beer and food for a long time, so let’s see what we can learn from his beer dinner.

FIRST COURSE – Tasting of Duck Prosciutto with caramelized onion and peppers, sausage, cured ham, grilled asparagus with marinated buffalo mozzarella, warm olive and black plum relish

PAIRING–Black Oak Pale Ale

I quite like the creative shape of the flatbread as a plating element. Dynamic.

This is a fun plate because of the contrasting components. It’s a playful first course because you get to match flavours. Black Oak Pale Ale is balanced enough that some element of it stands up to just about everything on the plate. The earthy hops stand up nicely to the ham and asparagus bundle. The carbonation is enough to lift the fat from the sausage and prosciutto off the palate before the next bite. The crystal malt sweetness works double duty here as it matches the sweetness of the onion and peppers and also provides a nutty character that works with black olives. I was not expecting that last part. Discussion around the table on a dish like this is fun, because people begin to suggest combinations. Lets you get to know your dining companions a bit.

SECOND COURSE – Pulled Pork Ravioli with roasted pepper fennel sauce and crumbled goat cheese

PAIRING– Spearhead Hawaiian Style Pale Ale

Never having had pulled pork in ravioli format, I am now curious as to the potential of a pierogi and zywiec application.

Spearhead works well here because the pineapple aroma is evocative of Luau, so it’s a natural for a pork dish. The body is full enough to stand up to the combination of the pulled pork and sauce and there’s some pleasant interaction before the bitterness cuts through the richness of the goat cheese. One element that isn’t listed are the watercress microgreens, which added a mild, bitter, peppery note that helped with the transition between each bite and sip. It’s a minor touch, but because it reduces the fullness of the goat cheese on the palate, an important one.

THIRD COURSE – Spiced Potato Broth with clams, mussels, shrimp, spinach, double smoked bacon in beer broth

PAIRING – Green Flash West Coast IPA

Stephen warned us in advance that this pairing might not work. Mostly he wanted to be able to launch the Green Flash West Coast IPA in Ontario. This is fair because if I’d been given the option I probably would have too. I’m unused to the progression here from hoppy to hoppier to hoppiest.

It’s a good dish, but difficult to pair because I feel like the IPA is there to cut the sweetness of the shellfish in combination with the smoky, salty broth. The natural inclination of a diner presented with a bowl of shellfish is to eat the shellfish first, leaving a pool of broth. It’s tasty, certainly, but the pairing sort of falls apart at that point. Possibly you could trick the diner into making it work with a deeper bowl, but then it wouldn’t plate as nicely. Good separately, not a great pairing.

FOURTH COURSE – Stuffed Squid with Chorizo Sausage and Rice cooked in tomato beer broth

PAIRING– Beau’s Venskab

For a relatively small dish the squid packed a lot of flavour.

I’ll let Steve Beauchesne explain the Venskab.

This is a pretty complex beer. There’s some citrus from the yuzu, and some earthy mint from the bog myrtle and perle hops. The sweetness from the cane sugar and ice wine chips plods down the centre of the palate, but the whole thing results in a dry, oaky finish as a combination of the barrel aging and champagne yeast. Maybe Anders Kissmeyer is a genius. I don’t necessarily get it.

I feel like no single dish is going to stand up to all of the flavours in the beer. I think the best you can do is attempt to accentuate a few characteristics. The earthy combination of chorizo and rice plays with the bog myrtle. The dish is fairly salty, right down to the tomato broth, which works well with the drying finish.

I saved some for dessert, because it seemed like a dessert beer to me.

FIFTH COURSE – AAA Strip Loin marinated with beer-soy-honey, Yukon mash in Yorkshire pudding

PAIRING– Marston Pedigree

Yes, it’s beef. Yes, it’s served with English pale ale. Sometimes these things are classics for a reason.

This is a combination that you’d be happy to see on the groaning board of any English pub. In that respect it’s a classic pairing. Pedigree has enough malt character to stand up to beef with its grainy nuttiness. The thing that elevates this is that the beer is used in the marinade and also in the saucing on the plate. With the honey and soy in the reduction, there’s a more intense version of the nutty character that is bolstered by the soy and sweetened by the honey. This means that the two versions of the same flavour range complement the beef during either bite or sip. The Yorkshire pudding is mostly there to mop up the rest of the sauce, as is traditional.

DESSERT, ALREADY – Chocolate Pot de Crème, blueberry scone with fresh cream and mini chocolate soufflé

PAIRING– Sinha Stout

Sometimes, despite your best efforts, you can’t finish dessert. This was one of those times. Delicious, though.

Well, Sinha is going to work with Chocolate. It just is. There’s chocolate and coffee and practically a crème brulee burnt sugar character in amongst the roast character. It’s syrupy, which just reinforces the Pot de Crème and soufflé by causing a lingering sensation of melting chocolate. The odd thing is I’m not sure I’d had it previously.

The Venskab went fairly well with the blueberry scone, which had a mild lemon element to it. I think that’s the interplay of the yuzu. I practically want to try a plum galette with a citrus cream to try and match the Venskab. Maybe someday.

WHAT DID WE LEARN

1)      We learned that when faced with the phrase “I’m going to steal that honey soy reduction idea,” Stephen Beaumont is unfazed.

2)      Anders Kissmeyer is probably a misunderstood genius (by me, anyway).

3)      Beaumont’s dinner menu illustrates a good balance of classic pairings and slightly riskier ones. This is actually a good tack to take as beer dinners will always have standout courses that will probably be different for each diner. You may as well try out a complex pairing next to a classic one. It provides some refreshing contrast for the guests and encourages conversation about each course. That’s important. No one likes eating in grim silence.

Beer and Food Tuesday: Nua Pad Prik with Miranda

Sometimes, Beer and Food Tuesday just falls in your lap and today was one of those days. I got a call from Troy Burtch at Great Lakes Brewery this morning. Shockingly, he wasn’t called to yell at me for the outcome of the Ontario Brewmaster’s Cup. I would have been yelling, but Troy is a laid back fellow who understands that sometimes the rules just don’t work in your favour.

The reason they didn’t work in the favour of Great Lakes is that, while they make many beers that range towards exceptional, they’re seasonal. One of the best things they’re doing this year is taking advantage of the R&D that Mike Lackey has been doing over the last couple of years and releasing fairly large batches of what would have been pilot brews. The first one was the Robust Porter, which was well received by just about everyone. Hell, even Alan liked it and he’s a hard man to impress.

The one that they’ve got out now is the one that I’m excited about. It’s the 25th Anniversary Belgian Saison. Lackey has been working on a number of Saison variants for a while, and I’ve been following the process relatively loosely from point when he started experimenting with fermentation temperatures. It was a while back. Probably a year and a half. I figure that’s no time at all in craft brewing. This is how good Lackey’s experiments have been: Other people have followed suit. There are a bunch of breweries experimenting with this now. Nevermind whether it’s commercially viable on the large scale; they like it and they’re doing it. That’s awesome.

Troy Burtch wants me to tell you some things: It’s going into the LCBO real soon. There are about 3000 bottles total. It’s going to cost $9.95. It will be in bars starting later this week. There is no wax on the bottle this time around because the folks at Great Lakes figure people will want to dive in and drink the thing. You could probably age it, but why would you? It’s a refreshing summer beverage.

Troy Burtch does not want me to tell you some things: His street name is “T-Bu”, even though that’s not very forceful. He is thought of as the gentlest and most respectful hustla.

THE RECIPE:

If you’re hungry when you’re making a stir fry, it’s hard not to snack on the veggies as you wait for your electric element to reheat the faux wok.

The release for the Saison suggests that you pair this beer with seafood. I can tell you that this is something that definitely works. It’s an extremely complimentary pairing that reinforces the sweetness in shellfish and lobster. It’s actually strong enough to stand up to Salmon because of the peppery character of the Dupont yeast strain they’re using and the spices they’ve added. The body is light and relatively highly carbonated.

The release also says, “or go in a different direction with… Thai Food.” Groovy.

THE RUNDOWN:

I’ve been wanting to experiment with Thai Food and beer. To be honest with you, people send me beer. Sometimes, it’s the good stuff. Sometimes, I nod politely. Either way, I’m generally happy about it. Thai Food, people only bring me if I dial up Just-Eat.ca in Google Chrome. Learning how to cook Thai Food with a sort of faux wok on an electric element is, I can guarantee you, some foodie’s version of hell. Sisyphus ain’t got nothing on a faux wok on an electric element. Your temperature control is basically zilch.

Not bad for a faux wokkin’ mook.

I’m not necessarily that worried about the technique. The flavours are important here. I suspect they’d be even better if you had the proper equipment.

Nua Pad Prik is, as far as I can tell, something no one agrees on. The only concrete elements seem to be Beef, chilies and bell peppers. The sauce changes from recipe to recipe, but I’ve used this one, partially because I remember the episode of the show the blog is talking about and I’m thinking about going to see Jamie Oliver at Massey Hall. He is a well intentioned man with a silly accent.

The recipe calls for fish sauce, oyster sauce and chilies. I had those kicking around. I was lucky enough to discover that there’s a Farmer’s Market on Tuesdays near my apartment. I went over and got some beautiful bell peppers, garlic, onion and some grass-fed round steak. Also, I got some Oaxacan Coffee from Chocosol. 12 bucks a pound. I love beer, but without coffee I start freaking out.

I’ve been playing with the recipe with various proteins over the last week, and I’ve left out the cornflour, which is really only there to act as a thickening agent to coat the beef. I’ve changed it so that the garlic goes in the marinade for the beef. The farmer’s market garlic was incredibly pungent, so I liked that component at that point. I had the beef sliced thinly enough that the garlic would never have had the chance to char. Also, I substituted half of the chilies for Sambal Oelek. It’s hard to predict how hot a chili will be. Sambal never changes.

Nua Prik with Miranda, which I think was the gist of the beer’s original name anyway.

THE VERDICT:

This is pretty complex, when you take the component ingredients into account. The beef, probably because I’ve used good beef, is relatively mildly flavoured. The bell peppers shine through with a sweetness and a slight bitterness of their own. The difficulty is that because it’s a stir fry and my julienning skills are … uh… rusticated… it’s hard to get a composed mouthful that brings everything into focus.

What you end up with, then, are the impressions of two separate pairings that are reinforced by the sauce. Both the peppers and the beef seem to take on the fermented tang and salt of the fish sauce and the subtle sweetness of the oyster sauce. This means that as an underpinning you’ve got that sort of shellfish sweetness pairing that they actually suggested 500 words ago. If you get a bite with enough bell pepper, it’s a race between the sweetness of the saison and the sweetness of the pepper on to the palate, and as those cascade (or rather Columbus, I suspect) into the mid-palate, you get the pop of citrus from whatever hop is being used here before a mild spice finish. If you get a bite with the beef, which seems to take on the more of the heat, you end up with a really exaggerated sensation of carbonation, but instead of the hops it’s an exaggerated kick of coriander and white pepper with a sort of lifting sensation on the swallow.

This is a really interesting pairing, food wise, and probably worth trying. You either need better knife skills than I’ve got or the willingness to accept that this one is a thinker. The different textures combine to make it even more interesting. Plus, the beer seems to relieve the heat completely.

WHAT DID WE LEARN:

1)      Even if you’re surprised by the effect of a pairing, that’s going to be a useful lesson down the road. Plus, at least you ate. There are Children starving in Freedonia.

2)      My knife skills, while not bad, ain’t chef level and I should probably take that into account.

3)      “T-Bu” is indeed the gentlest hustla.

OCB Week Beer and Food: Fanny Chadwick’s

As Ontario Craft Beer Week continues on its merry, slightly lumbering way, I find that the events that I’m most interested in are the ones that deal with pairing food and beer. I suspect that this has to do with the fact that we don’t get enough of this in Toronto at the moment. There are, of course, any number of restaurants that serve good beer and good food, but there’s not always that much in terms of designed pairings.

Even beerbistro, whose menu exists for that purpose, theoretically, has beers sequestered into various groups based on their properties: robust, sociable, assertive, extroverted, yielding and, of course, manic. It’s a little like a Meyers-Briggs chart. That works relatively well as a baseline for pairing, but what I really want to see is a specific dish paired with a specific beer. I want to see someone play with a specific set of flavours.

I admit that it’s not the kind of thing that can often be done outside a beer dinner.

On Monday night, Harbord House had their third OCB Week beer dinner with Great Lakes. Since I’ve been covering this event for the last couple of years during OCB Week, I figure that at this point, it’s just become tradition. Harbord House always surprises me a little bit, mostly because I hear about it less often that I feel like I ought to. I get there maybe twice a year, but I’m never disappointed.

As per usual, the Great Lakes beer dinner at Harbord House was hosted by David Bieman and featured a wide assortment of their beers. At $50 a seat, I feel like it was the most affordable of the beer dinners on offer this week and it proves to be good value for money year after year.

Some of the pairings worked better than others, as is always the case during a four course dinner. The starter beer was the OCB Farmhouse Ale, which is a collaboration between Amsterdam and Great Lakes. It’s a very tasty beer. The difficulty is that it was served before the first course, which was a Poached Pear Salad with spiced pistachios, chevre, baby arugula and a maple balsamic vinaigrette. The pear salad was served with Great Lakes Green Tea Ale, but I feel as though the better pairing would have been the starter beer, if only because the lingering bitterness of the arugula would have worked with the sting of the Farmhouse yeast.

Poached Pear Salad.

While some pairings are obviously going to work (strawberry chocolate cheesecake and Harry Porter and the Bourbon Soaked Vanilla Beans), others surprised with their quality. Cooking mussels in beer is not a new concept, but the Moules Frites served as a second course were surprising because I usually see mussels cooked with wheat beer. Cooking them with a Saison, No Chance With Miranda in this case, is sort of revelatory because the flavour is more complex. If you serve them with the same beer, you get two versions of the same flavour, experienced slightly differently.

The other venue I visited for beer and food pairing was Fanny Chadwick’s. I’ve only been to Fanny Chadwick’s once before, but the impression I got was that it somehow eludes being on the radar as a destination in Toronto. I don’t know how that’s possible, because I’m convinced that they serve the best burger I’ve ever eaten. It might be the house made pickles that make it, or possibly the general high quality of the ingredients. I’ve been to BQM and Holy Chuck. I think Fanny Chadwick’s blows them out of the water.

One of the reasons I like Fanny Chadwicks is that it manages a retro diner kind of feel without being kitschy.

The event that they’re hosting for Ontario Craft Beer Week is simple: Flights and bites.

Fanny Chadwick’s usually have 12 Ontario Craft Beers on tap, which is a huge number for a restaurant that might seat 40. For the purposes of the Flights and Bites event, they have come up with unique food pairings in appetizer sizes that work with, and are made with, a specific beer on the menu. Most often, this kind of attention to detail comes with a set menu during a beer dinner. This is a la carte beer and food pairing at a very high level for an extraordinarily good value.

It’s like chess in beer terms.

Flying Monkeys Stereo Vision is paired with Deep Fried Asparagus. Stereo Vision is apparently meant to be a hoppy Kristalweiss, although that combination is esoteric enough that I would not have been able to guess the style. The Stereovision is used in the batter for the Asparagus and then again subsequently in a reduction drizzled over the Asparagus consisting of shallot, honey, and citrus zest. The acidity of the reduction picks up the grassiness of the Asparagus and prepares the palate for the hoppy kick of the Stereo Vision.

Great Lakes Orange Peel Ale is paired with Pulled Pork on a Buttermilk Biscuit. I am, generally speaking, just about done with Pulled Pork, as it gets served everywhere. This is an interesting twist on it, however, because it’s not a heavily vinegared Carolina Pulled Pork or a saucy Texas pulled pork. It’s practically a French treatment of the dish, which incorporates the Orange Peel Ale in the braising liquid along with thyme and what I think may have been sage. Sort of a Porc Tiré, if you get my meaning. For all that it isn’t heavily sauced, it retains its moisture and plays off the citrus character of the Orange Peel Ale.

Pulled Pork, seconds prior to demolition by a hungry blogger.

The most successful of the bites is the Wellington Arkell Bitter Chick Pea Patty served with Caper, Olive and Habanero Tapenade. The reason it works as well as it does is that it is extremely subtle. Arkell Bitter has a caramel backbone that persists on the palate as you make your way through a sip. In the case of the Chick Pea Patty, every component plays off this backbone: The slight nuttiness of the chickpeas, the salt from the caper and olive, the heat from the Habanero, even the acidity from the carefully considered slice of tomato. It’s one of those rare pairings that leaves you contented without knowing exactly why. Extremely balanced.

Wellington Arkell Bitter and Chick Pea Patty

There are other bites, of course. There’s the Muskoka Mad Tom IPA Chili Cheese Fries. There’s the Mill Street Organic Beef Liver Pate and Avocado Dip. There are Rainbow Trout Fish Cakes topped with Beau’s Lug-Tread Lagered Ale Air.

10 Point IPA Ice Cream. Odd, because you tend to perceive the hop character as it melts in your mouth, leaving a strangely earthy perfume. Good, though.

Did I mention that a flight of samples is $6.75 and that most of the bites that go with those samples are under $5.00?

Look, I really like beer and food pairing, but my observation is that not everyone has the desire to sit through a beer dinner. Sometimes you want the care and attention that goes into a beer dinner in a much smaller format, and that’s what they’re doing at Fanny Chadwick’s during OCB week. You want a dish that someone has put a lot of thought into that will teach you something about food and beer and won’t cost an arm and a leg? This is the best place to go in the city this week.

In fact, even if you’re reading this after OCB week, you should know one thing. This is the only restaurant I have ever been to where a waiter set down a vegan dish at the table next to mine and I looked at it covetously. It’s that good.