Beer (Recipe: oven-barbecued brisket)
For a few years around the very early 1980s, Ted and I became inadvertent landlords when the person with whom we'd bought our Boston house went bankrupt, leaving us with an empty apartment and a large mortgage to manage on our small salaries.
Our first tenants were not so great (one was a weekend DJ, and it was the '80s), but then the fates smiled upon us, and sent us for many years a series of tenants who worked for one company.
Our home was home to the brewer, the graphic artist, the bookkeeper, and the administrative assistant. They all had one thing in common, in those early days of the company: access to free beer. All the beer they wanted, for friends (and landlords), too.
The world's most widely consumed alcoholic beverage, beer is a fermentation of a few ingredients you probably eat in other forms -- barley (or corn or rice), yeast and water -- with hops added (for flavoring and a bitterness that tempers the sweetness of the grain). The fermentation and processing results in an alcohol content by volume of 4-6 percent, though in some beers it can be much higher.
Beer is a tenderizer, which makes it great for marinades in dishes like beer-marinated chicken tacos. Thanks to the presence of yeast, it's also a leavening agent, which makes it great for whole wheat beer bread, Guinness stout brownies, chocolate whiskey and beer cupcakes, and beer-battered fish.
For cooking, follow the same rules you use when cooking with wine. Don't cook with a beer you wouldn't drink. A more well-rounded, flavorful beer will add more richness (remember, the alcohol cooks out). You can substitute a non-alcoholic beer for cooking, though the flavor might not be as robust; don't use non-alcoholic or "lite" beer for baking.
When I asked on Twitter about favorite beers for cooking, several people mentioned Guinness, specifically, as well as Negro Modelo, Belgian blond ale, Shiner Bock and Boddington's -- all full-flavored ales or dark beers. And more than a few said, "Whatever's in the house," which, today, means Mexican beer for me.
What's the difference between beer and ale? According to Wisegeek, ale is fermented at a higher temperature, and matures more quickly. The yeast rises to the top as the beer ferments, creating a yeasty froth on the top of the beer cask. Ale (which includes porters and stouts) has a brighter, rich, more aggressive, hoppy flavor, and often has a higher alcohol content.
Lager is fermented at a lower temperature, and the yeast settles to the bottom as the beer matures. Lager has a smooth and mild flavor with a clear, clean finish. Lagers include pilsners, dopplebocks, and Oktoberfests.
If you have any left in the bottle, you can try using it to wash the freckles off your face (an old folk remedy, not personally tested by me).
And if that doesn't work... go ahead and drink it.
This recipe came to me from my friend Mary's sister Peg a decade ago. I think it's based on a Lee Bailey recipe, but to me it's always been Peggy's incredibly delicious, crowd-pleasing, never-fail, knock-your-socks-off brisket. My friend Bob took it one step further, making this in his smoker, but the recipe here is for oven cooking. Serves 12, in theory, though everyone always eats more than they think possible.
9 lbs flat-cut beef brisket, in two pieces, most fat removed
1 tsp minced garlic (good quality from a jar is fine)
1 tsp celery seeds
3 Tbsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp ground ginger
4 large bay leaves, crumbled
12 oz tomato paste
1 cup dark soy sauce
1/2 cup Worcestershire sauce
1 cup tightly packed dark brown sugar
2 medium onion thinly sliced
1 bottle beer
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Trim brisket and rub all over with the garlic. Combine celery seeds, pepper, ginger and bay leaves, then rub into all sides of the brisket. Mix the tomato paste, soy, Worcestershire and sugar, and smear this all over the meat. Score the fat side of the brisket and place the onions on top, and place the meat in a heavy nonstick high-sided roasting pan. Cover tightly with aluminum foil. Cook for 4 hours.
Open the foil to expose the onion-covered top, and cook for another hour. Remove meat to a heated plate and keep warm. Place the roasting pan on the stovetop over medium-high heat, and degrease sauce with the bottle of beer until the sauce has reduced to a pleasant consistency. [Note: Though it's truly delicious right out of the oven, the flavor improves if cooked a day ahead; refrigerate in the sauce, and slice cold.] Serve at room temperature, or reheat.