Wednesday Dinner: Chicken with Tomato and Brown Ale

So, why cook with beer?

I suppose it’s a good question. I would reply with one of my own. Why cook with wine?

“It’s great for adding acidity to rich dishes,” says celeb chef Alex Guarnaschelli. “It’s a lot like adding vinegar to olive oil when you’re making a vinaigrette. In my mind, if I’m making a beef stew, I imagine the beef is the olive oil and the wine is the vinegar, and I try to strike a balance between the two ingredients.”

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That’s nice. But, let’s be honest. The primary reason for any ingredient is how it adds to the cumulative flavor of the dish. The alcohol cooks off and leaves behind the underlying flavors of the wine. For a red, it’s dark and red fruits, and spice. For whites, you will likely catch oaks, sweet flavors and lighter fruits. Wine can also add body to a sauce, complementing tomatoes or lemons, amongst other things.

Beer can do the same thing, if you use the right kind of beer. Much in the same way you would not cook with Arbor Mist, you should stay away from the heavily fruited beers. And since you wouldn’t cook with a apertif, I would stay away from novelty beers like Rogue’s Voodoo Doughnut series. Too sweet for the average everyday application. You want a versatile, full-bodied beer that is going to stand up to the heat and not breakdown: porters, stouts, and dark ales do nicely here.

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Brown ales, in particular, are my preference. They offer a nutty, bready flavor profile, thanks to the use of malt and barley in the brewing process, and are often higher in alcohol content so it will not fall apart over a hot flame.

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My choice for The Beeroness’ roasted tomato and brown ale sauce was Good Nature Brewing’s American Brown Ale. It’s full-bodied and well-balanced with hints of chocolate and coffee. GNB is readily available around these parts in 22 oz. bottles and I happened to have one in my basement.

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WHAT WORKED: The cherry tomatoes brought an unexpected sweetness to this dish, which contrasts the malty flavor from the beer nicely.

WHAT DIDN’T: Balsamic vinegar, used by The Beeroness in her original recipe, doesn’t actually add anything here. I skipped it.

EASE OF PREPARATION: Medium.

BEST FOR: A quick, semi-elegant midweek dinner or if you are looking to win an argument with a wine snob about cooking with beer.

SERVE WITH: More beer. And some fettuccine with some of that tomato sauce.

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Chicken with Tomato and Brown Ale
  • 3 tbsp. olive oil, divided
  • 1 shallot, chopped fine
  • 2 cups cherry tomatoes
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 tbsp. tomato paste
  • 12 oz. brown ale
  • 3 tsp. herbes de provence
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • 1 lb. fettuccine

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees.

Preheat a cast iron skillet over high heat on your stovetop. Reduce to medium and add 2 tbsp. of oil. Add the shallots and tomatoes, cooking until they brown and adjusting the heat if necessary. Add the garlic, tomato paste, beer and herbs, stirring together. Add a pinch of salt and a twist of your black pepper grinder. Simmer 2 to 3 minutes on the stove top. Transfer to the oven and cook 15 minutes.

Add the remaining olive oil to a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chicken thighs and cook until well browned on both sides and cooked through. Set aside.

In the meantime, bring a pot of water to boil and cook your pasta per the package's directions for al dente.

Remove the tomato sauce from the oven and breakdown any whole tomatoes with a wooden spoon. Stir to combine. Plate the chicken and top with a soupspoonful of tomato sauce.

Drain the pasta and toss with the remaining sauce. Serve with the chicken on the side.

Adapted from The Beeroness

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