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Photo © iStockphoto.com/Jill Chen
By Joshua M. Bernstein
The next time you're planning a dinner party and looking for something delicious to pair with your food, don't be afraid to make beer your beverage of choice. From lagers to stouts, beer can be an ideal companion to an array of foods; here, homebrewer and chef Sean Paxton shares his tips for putting together a perfect beer dinner every time.
1. Beer is an ingredient. “You can use beer just like you would oregano or thyme, to add flavor,” Paxton says. “Bitter IPAs and sweet barleywines can be vital to any recipe.”
2. Tweak the standards. “Sake and sushi is an amazing combination, but so is sushi with a crisp pilsner or lager,” Paxton says. “Don’t be afraid to deviate from the norm.”
3. Eat and drink seasonally. “Use seasonal ingredients and match them to seasonal beers,” Paxton urges. “Dark, rich beers work well with stews and braised meats for a reason.”
4. Complement and contrast. “With beer pairings, you either want to complement the flavor (like a mango salsa over fish with hefeweizen) or contrast it by serving a super-hoppy IPA with spicy Thai.”
5. Make a scene. “When you design a dinner, think about how you can make it interesting,” Paxton says. “Make a quirky appetizer or use cool stemware or keep the menu secret. The point of the dinner is to learn, have fun and inspire people.”
6. The more the merrier. Invite as many people as you can feed, Paxton suggests. “Our society has gotten so used to eating in front of a TV. A beer-pairing dinner is an organic way to gather a likeminded community.”
7. Begin mild, end big. “Start with lighter, simpler beers and move up to stronger, more complex beers,” Paxton says. “If you kick off dinner with an imperial stout, you’ll blow out people’s palates.”
8. Have a theme. “Organize your beer dinner around a single brewery or perhaps a country. It serves as a unifying principle you can build around.”
9. Steady the course. “A three-course dinner can be just as rewarding as a 10-course dinner,” Paxton says. “Don’t bite off more than you can chew, and feel free to keep the recipes simple.”
10. Pour lightly. “Resist the urge to serve an entire beer for each course. Four or five ounces will do. You don’t want people to drink too much, too quickly.”
Read more about beer and food pairing in "Look Who's Coming to Dinner" from the March/April 09 issue.