Late January isn’t the most inspiring time to cook with local ingredients. Sure, I have a few Bridgehampton potatoes left in the cellar, and there is always the possibility of scoring some Peconic Bay scallops, although this year’s harvest has been spotty. But recently my meals have been missing that special Long Island something that makes me proud. I wondered if there was a fresh and local item that I had overlooked.
Lightning struck when a friend told me about his weekly habit of filling up a half-gallon glass jug called a growler at his local brewpub. Suddenly I had a burning desire to possess one of these giant containers filled with the freshest beer. So I jumped in the car and drove to the Southampton Publick House for one of my very own.
I can’t say I drink beer in large quantities. Years ago, I bought a ¼-keg from my friends at Sag Harbor Beverage for a beach party, and they are still laughing at me for returning it half-full. A growler holds four or five pints, and although the beer will stay fresh for several weeks unopened, it should be consumed within 24 hours once it is opened. But I wasn’t worried about any of my beer going to waste this time around.
I was planning on sharing the contents of the growler with my husband, of course, and anyone else who happened to be around when I opened it. But I also had big plans to cook with my beer. The possibilities were making me hungry. When used as a braising liquid, beer tenderizes and flavors meat, so it’s a natural for a Belgian-style beef stew. Simmering bratwurst or keilbasa in beer keeps the sausages moist and enhances their flavor. Mussels steamed in beer produce a delicious liquid, great for soaking up with bread. Cheese fondue is often made with beer. Why not use it in risotto in place of wine? The children suggested beer-battered vegetables, intuiting perhaps that carbonation is the secret to a light and crisp crust.
And if I had leftovers, I could use the extra beer at breakfast. Yes, breakfast! Beer, with its bubbles, is a natural leavening agent. In the past, I’ve used beer to make extra-tall biscuits and fluffy cheddar cheese scones. I’ve also had success with waffles, which have a bubbly texture and yeasty flavor when made with beer.
With these dishes in mind, I bellied up to the bar in Southampton. From a wide selection of beers on tap, I chose the Imperial Porter, which was described as having, “notes of chocolate, toffee and caramel as well as the warming effect of a higher alcohol content.” It would add depth to spicy beef and bean chili, I decided then and there, and would pair well with the chili at the table.
Did I mention that malty beer such as porter is a good match for chocolate? Think about the deliciousness of malted milk balls and it makes sense. In addition to drinking my porter with dessert, I decided to actually incorporate it into a favorite recipe. The result was a batch of Imperial Porter Brownies, and an empty growler ready to be refilled soon.
Imperial Porter Brownies
Makes 16 brownies
If you can’t find porter, another malty, slightly sweet beer such as stout, brown ale, red ale, or bock are good substitutes. ??1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter?4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 cup packed light brown sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon instant espresso powder
1/3 cup malty beer such as stout or porter
3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8-inch square baking pan with heavy-duty aluminum foil, making sure that the foil is tucked into all the corners and that there is at least 1 inch overhanging the top of the pan on all sides. Spray with nonstick cooking spray.
2. Combine butter and chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave on high until chocolate is almost melted. Whisk until completely smooth and set aside to cool to lukewarm.
3. Whisk in brown sugar until smooth, eggs, vanilla, and espresso powder into chocolate. Gently stir in stout. Fold in flour mixture until just incorporated.
4. Scrape batter into the prepared pan. Bake until just set, 35 to 40 minutes. Let cool completely in the pan on a wire rack.
5. Grasping the overhanging foil on either side of the pan, lift out the brownies and place them on a cutting board. Use a sharp chef’s knife, cut into 16 squares.