Why just drink beer when you can eat it, too? It’s a kitchen philosophy that has worked well for awardwinning chef Robert McGrath. The owner of Roaring Fork restaurant in Scottsdale — where the food is best described as upscale cowboy — pours fermented hops into recipes at home and on the job.
“There’s just so many different flavors of beer anymore,” says McGrath. “I think it’s fun to use some of those, incorporate them in different types of food, different cooking.” Microbreweries offer innovative chefs a new artist’s palate of seasonings for marinades, sauces, salad dressings and even cookies.
“There are things it works really well with,” says McGrath. “It seems to always be complementary with chilies, fresh or dried. I think the darker beers work better with the dried chilies and the lighter beers work better with fresh chilies.”
Much of the alcohol burns off with extended cooking, leaving behind the yeasty, malty, hoppy flavor.
“Obviously, the liquid evaporates as well, so you get the flavor a little more condensed,” says McGrath.
He prefers saving dark beers for colder weather and using lighter beers, such as a summer ale, during the hot months. The formula is simple — he cooks with whatever he would rather be drinking at the time.
“I think if you are going to use beer, though, use something like a nice pale ale that is going to have some flavor to it instead of a light beer that’s going to be mostly water,” says McGrath. “You are not really going to get the flavor from it as you would a darker beer — a little more hops and a little more personality. And certainly each of these microbreweries are very different in terms of their flavors.”
Green Chili Pork — pale ale. Venison — dark beer.
“It depends on the seasons of the year, but I think you are going to get a lot more flavor profiles out of the darker beers,” he says. “A darker beer like Shiner Bock works really well with tomatoes, chili and caramelized onions. And you could use it as a basis for chili.”
McGrath dismisses one long-standing use of beer in the kitchen — the beer batter. There’s no reason for it, he says, because the taste is imperceptible. “If you are going to use beer,” he says, “then use it so you can taste it.” And you might as well taste it while you use it — another advantage of cooking with beer.
“Oh, absolutely. I wasn’t going to bring that up, but that’s the only way to go,” he says. “When you are outside (cooking) on the grill, you need the beer.”