Monday, 02 October 2017 10:33

Out of the Bottle, Into the Frying Pan: Cooking with Beer

Written by  Maureen Di Virgilio
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The Sovengard's sour beer fries The Sovengard's sour beer fries Courtesy photo

Beer for mussels! Beer for mussels, please!” 

Above the din of busy service at The Green Well Gastropub on Cherry Street in Grand Rapids, this particular phrase is a common refrain throughout the evening. An apron-clad food runner waits by the end of the bar, having emerged from the kitchen with a large container in hand for the bartender to fill with a light lager. Michigan Beer Steamed Mussels, one of the most popular appetizers on Green Well’s menu, uses beer in place of wine in the familiar seafood dish (though wine-steamed mussels are still an option for gluten-free diners).

“Traditionally, with mussels, you use white wine to deglaze the pan,” explained Chef de Cuisine Ana Randall. “But, we are in Beer City. This recipe has been around since before I started here — it was actually the first dish that I had when I came to eat at the Green Well. … Using beer just adds a different depth of flavor than wine. And you get a certain bitterness, as opposed to sweetness, that really complements the mussels themselves.”

The chefs at Green Well are no strangers to experimenting with local beers. The restaurant runs an ever-changing features menu in addition to its regular lunch and dinner menus, and it’s there you’ll often find beer-infused cuisine. Randall cites the annual release of Bell’s Oberon as an example: “Every Oberon season, I like to use Oberon in desserts. … You get a nice floral note from it.  You get the orange flavor. I prefer to use it in a sabayon (a light, custard-esque Italian sauce). My particular dessert style is a combination of sweet and savory, so the beer lends bitterness, but you still get the orange and floral notes with it.”

Over at The Sovengard, a West Side restaurant known for its adventurous Scandinavian cuisine and beautiful outdoor biergarten, it’s no surprise that one of the most ordered share plates on the menu is a beer-infused dish. In the less than two years that Sovengard has been open, its diverse draft and bottle list has already made this establishment a destination for craft beer nerds. The sour beer fries are an ideal complement to many of these Belgian and European-style offerings. 

“Potatoes and vinegar are pretty ubiquitous to European/Scandinavian cooking,” said Chef Patrick Conrade, citing the popularity of fries and the ease of sharing as two other incentives to run the simple but addictive dish. The kitchen makes its own vinegar with Brewery Vivant’s Søvengård House Sour Foeder Aged Sour Ale — more commonly referred to as “the house sour” — and the kennebec potato fries are tossed with this beer vinegar and served with dijonnaise. 

Beer samplers, or flights, are usually something one expects to find in breweries and beer bars — not chocolate shops. But on Wealthy Street, Mokaya is providing a different sort of experience: a flight of chocolates made with local beers.

The inspiration behind the project was simple for father-son team Charles and Max Golcyzynski. 

“It seemed pretty straightforward, being in Grand Rapids,” Max said. 

For a newly opened chocolate shop in Beer City, it was a “no-brainer.” But while the project was easy to conceive, the chocolatiers were hesitant. Unlike wine or liquor, ingredients more commonly used in chocolate creations, “beer will change everything. The flavor combinations are just exponential,” Max said. “The flavors don’t just enhance each other, they make something new.” 

Not even sure if the experiment would yield results up to Mokaya’s high standards of quality, the Golcyzynskis nevertheless began what would be a months-long process of testing and tasting. 

“We basically took three types of chocolate, and we picked six breweries, and then went and just got flights of all their year-round beers,” Max said. “We did each chocolate with each beer, and weeded it out. … I have a list somewhere that’s like 50 or 60 beers with all the chocolate combinations. … We had to really whittle it down.”

Needless to say, the endeavor was a success. The original beer flight is a regular offering at Mokaya’s retail store and has inspired additional beer and chocolate concoctions, including a limited release all-Founders flight. Surprisingly, “All Day makes a killer truffle,” Max said. 

Asked if Mokaya may one day expand its selection of beer truffles, he said it isn’t out of the question. For now, the shop is focused on a number of other new projects, including collaborations with Long Road Distillers and neighboring bar Donkey Taqueria, together creating a Prickly Pear Margarita ice cream sandwich. 

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