SCIENCE of beer. Bit of a cold term to describe the transformation of hops, malt and barley into such an amazing drink. I like to think of it as alchemy – and that means magic. But science is involved when you cook with beer too:

*Don’t use a highly hopped beer to make a casserole, stew or soup; heating concentrates the hop flavour and the result will be unpleasantly bitter. But malty beers, and dark beers like stout or porter, are much better than red wine for cooking red meats.

*Conversely, a golden, hoppy beer is excellent in all sorts of batter – a crispy coating batter for fish with hop hint in the flavour; pancakes; and to make Yorkshire pud rise even higher.

*Marinades – beer has tenderising properties in a marinade as well as adding flavour to stewing beef and lamb. And macerating dried fruit in barley wine produces a 3-star fruitcake.

*Caramelizing and basting – use beer to get a glossy coating and more flavour to roast/fried meats and vegetables. A gammon joint, in particular, just cries out for a beer and mustard coating.

*Neat – alcohol evaporates during cooking but you can use beer neat in a salad dressing or aspic. Wonderful desserts include beer icecream; and one of my faves – cover red jelly cubes with just enough boiling water to melt them, cool a little, then use sparkling cherry or raspberry beer instead of water for the rest of the liquor – I swear you’ll still feel the fizz on your tongue when the jelly has set!

*Preserving – alcohol is a preservative; you can use beer in pickles and preserves; I’ll be making this year’s mincepies with mincemeat I’ve mixed with Old Tom barley wine. Equally, hops are a preservative – add a few to vinegar or pickled onions.

*Stock – simmer meat and poultry bones or mollusc shells in real ale. When cool drain stock and freeze so you have an instant flavouring to enrich casseroles etc.

*Last, but possibly most importantly, bread, because it is scientifically a solid form of beer involving mainly the same ingredients, malt, yeast and water, and with a fermentation process. I like to think that beer bread rises more because it contains extra yeast from the beer – but that is unproven, if you’ll pardon the pun!

You might like to try this recipe which is my version of Indian parathas made with beer. Not only is the flavour great but the beer adds elasticity to the dough, and the layered preparation process brings in air and creates this multi-layered unleavened bread:

Tip around 300g plain white (or wholemeal) flour into a mixing bowl (makes around 4 depending on size, but add extra if you want more). Add a pinch of salt then mix in your real ale of choice a little at a time until you get a soft dough. Turn onto a floured board and knead (not too robustly) until it is quite elastic. Form into a ball, cover, and leave in the fridge a couple of hours.

When you’re ready to cook divide the pastry into small pieces rolling each into a ball about the sizes of a golf ball. Gently melt unsalted butter or ghee, ensuring it doesn’t go brown. Roll out each pastry ball into a thin round and spread with ghee or butter, then (with fingers) roll each round into a long, thin cylinder; starting at one end fold over and over until it can form a small ball again; roll that out carefully, so that the butter stays inside, to give you a thickish pancake.

Heat a griddle or heavy frying pan to quite hot, add a little oil then butter, and when almost sizzling put in a paratha, fry for a couple of minutes, turn with a spatula and fry the other side. It will rise with little pockets of air (science!) so keep pressing down with the spatula. You may have to turn it over a couple of times to get both sides crisp and golden. Never have a curry without one!

Susan Nowak

Susan Nowak, pictures by Fran Nowak

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