Cooking with beer

Hit the sauce: When you pick a beer to cook with, taste it first and identify which flavors stand out. (Tribune Co. photo)

Next time you crack open a beer to have with dinner, you might think about pouring a little into your saucepan as well. Beer is bursting with flavors that can range from citrus to deep chocolate. And, like wine, in small doses it can add subtle nuances to your favorite dishes.

Beer intensifies during cooking; its boldest flavors emerge strongly while its subtler flavors recede. When you pick a beer to cook with, taste it first and identify which flavors stand out. This will give you an idea of how it will taste in your dish.

A splash of beer can be used to deglaze a pan or replace the liquid in a baking recipe. Think of how the coffee flavors in a good stout would deepen the sauce going on your steak, or how a bottle of your favorite lager would perk up your next batch of soup!

White bean and sausage soup

Ingredients:
4 links (about 1 pound) of your favorite sausage, sliced into thin rounds
1 large onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons marjoram, minced
3 cups (two 12-ounce bottles) amber lager beer
3 cups vegetable broth
6 ounces kale, stems removed and leaves roughly chopped
2 (16-ounce) cans cannelloni beans, drained and rinsed
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
Salt and pepper
Freshly grated Parmesan

Set a large pot over medium-high heat and film the bottom with a little olive oil. Add the sausage. Cook until the sausage is golden brown, then remove with a slotted spoon and let it drain on a paper towel. Pour off the excess fat in the pot, leaving a teaspoon behind.

Lower the heat to medium, and cook the onions with a pinch of salt until they are completely translucent and begin to caramelize, 15 minutes. Add the garlic and the marjoram, and cook until both become fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Pour in the beer and broth, and bring the soup to a boil. Add the kale and three teaspoons of salt, and cook until the kale is bright green and tender. Stir in the beans, the reserved sausage and the Worcestershire sauce. Bring to a boil and taste to adjust the seasonings.