Culinary traditions from around the world are one of the principal inspirations for the beer at Intrepid Sojourner Beer Project, and to that end I am always trying to better understand the art of pairing beer and food. I love to cook, and so a big portion of my ‘research’ into pairing involves cooking. The most recent recipe I’ve tried comes from The Best of American Beer and Food by Lucy Saunders. If you aren’t aware of this book, I highly recommend it. It’s a great jumping off point.
The recipe consists of three parts. First, the roasted shallots. This is the easiest part. Toss 18 shallots, skins and all, in a healthy dose of olive oil, salt, and pepper and roast them in the oven for half an hour at 350. The second part, tomato couscous, is also fairly straightforward. The crucial part is just to ensure that you get the right type of couscous. You want pearl aka Israeli couscous. It’s a much bigger piece of pasta, and the process of making it is different. All couscous is a combination of semolina and wheat flour, but Isreali couscous is toasted rather than dried, giving it a chewier texture and nuttier flavor, which is going to go much better with the mushrooms.
The third and most important part is the scallops and sauce. The recipe calls for heating a grill, I prefer to use a cast iron skillet. It’s a little less labor intensive, and I love the flavor the skillet imparts. Get it hot and grease it well, you do not want the scallops sticking to the pan! Once the scallops are seared on both sides, it’s time for the sauce. Remove the scallops and add the mushrooms and another shallot. Once it’s browned, add the vermouth. I used Noilly Prat Rouge, but any sweet vermouth will do. Remember red vermouth and sweet vermouth are the same thing! Then you’re going to reduce the vermouth over medium heat by about two-thirds. Shiitake mushrooms are an extremely meaty mushroom as a result of numerous amines and their high protein content, this combined with the ample serving of sweet vermouth makes for a powerful flavor profile. The double whammy of the alcohol and the heat provides for great extraction of those familiar umami flavors for which mushrooms are so famous. The reduction process that concentrates these flavors is similar to distilling. By simmering the liquid without a lid, any impurities and compounds with lower evaporation points will be driven off, while the heavier proteins, amines, phytosterols, and sugars will remain.
When the vermouth is reduced, add in your butter and cream to thicken it up. Place the scallops back in the pan to keep them warm. Then plate. Start with the tomato couscous, then two to three scallops, then a healthy serving of the sauce, and garnish with fresh parsley. The recipe, as written, should serve 4. Once you’ve got this wonderfully aromatic dish plated, it’s time to pour the beer. What beer should you pour? We’ll you’ve got a couple of options.
I paired this dish with our Ginger and Lemongrass Kolsch, currently available in the taproom. Kolsch is a hybrid beer style, fermenting in the low 50’s but without the subsequent lagering time. The yeast gives it a slightly fruity nose which complements the sweet meatiness of the sauce and has a moderately-high level of carbonation. This meal is heavy, warm and soft, and the effervescence really helps pull the flavors off the tongue and refresh your palate for another bite.
The cookbook recommends pairing this meal with a Belgian Witbier for the effervescence, but also because the sharpness of the coriander and the yeast phenolics contrast the demulcent quality of the dish. The ginger and lemongrass in the Kolsch serve the same function. The slight bitterness of the base beer is accentuated by the lemongrass, and together with the tomatoes in the couscous provide a nice cutting acidity. The ginger serves to exaggerate the cleansing quality of the carbonation and helps push that palate reset button inbetween bites.
Another option from the cookbook is Sam Adams’ Utopias. This huge, uncarbonated 28% ‘beer’ is incredibly sweet, and I would only recommend this pairing if you enjoy flavors that can only be defined as cloying. If you do go this route, I recommend treating it like a cognac or brandy and keeping your serving small. This might be a good pairing in December, but in late May/early June I want something that’s going to contrast the dish. Look for a beer that’s clean, crisp, effervescent, with low levels, if any, of fruit. I’d be interested to try it with one of the Brut IPA’s I’ve been hearing about.