Brew Up A

Pot of Gumbo

Beer — just like wine or water — makes a noble addition to your cooking stock.

Food is all about flavor, so the reduction of a compatible liquid is a welcome taste enhancer to any recipe.

Because of the great variety of types to choose from — lager, ale, stout, popular brands, home brew — beer offers great versatility. Lower in alcohol content and lighter in flavor than some wines, it has ingredients that can give your recipe a boost.

Just like white and red wine, light and dark beers have distinct flavors and aromas, and you need to consider which kind is the right type for your dish. Unless you have a really good reason, avoid the novelty flavored beers for cooking — but of course, if it’s for your own pleasure as you cook, go right ahead. This range of flavor makes beer extremely fun to play with in the kitchen. As with wine, a poor beer will not improve your recipe, so a good rule of thumb is, if you wouldn’t drink it, don’t use it in a recipe.

The making of family gumbo was the first time I saw beer used as part of the stock, and it made perfect sense. Just as when cooking with wine or spirits, the alcohol cooks off, leaving the subtle benefits of the beer’s flavor profile.

Soups, stews and braising liquids, such as for pot roasts, are all recipes that beer can enhance. Unfortunately, using it in a slow cooker doesn’t allow the alcohol to burn off, which leaves a bitter taste, so don’t use it when cooking by that method.

Beer-can chicken is a popular bachelor dodge used to avoid the kitchen and undue preparation, plus use the barbecue grill instead. The first half of the beer is for the cook, and then the chicken is inverted with the cavity shoved down over the open end of the can, which acts as the stand. The grill is kept covered so it heats the beer, and the resulting steam helps cook the chicken.

Try adding half a can of a light lager to a skillet of pre-browned Italian sausage, then add sliced onions and apples. When the apples are tender and the onions are translucent, incorporate the rest of the beer and cover the skillet, allowing the dish to simmer another few minutes until the sausage is cooked through and the liquid has reduced to a nice sauce.

There’s not a lot that can go wrong, so feel free to experiment. If a recipe calls for wine or another spirit, consider using beer for a change, but keep in mind that there is not enough alcohol in beer to flambé, so Beer Bananas Foster just isn’t going to happen.

Family Gumbo

Every family needs a chef, and ours was a man named Robert Barker. He called this recipe “family gumbo” because he made it after holiday meals when turkey and other poultry carcasses were abundant. Following the cleanup after the feast, making the gumbo was a special event, eagerly anticipated by everyone. These carcasses are used as the base for a flavorful, rich stock. Any leftover meat, like duck or chicken — in addition to turkey from the feast —may be added.

If you want to get ahead of the rush, roast a turkey a couple of weeks in advance, strip off the meat and freeze it for another use. Prepare the stock from the carcass, and freeze that for use in gravy and family gumbo, saving time and effort on a busy day. If you were clever enough to do this, freeze the new carcasses, and make more poultry stock to use at a later date. As a shortcut, Rouses has excellent poultry stock available.