Summer Grilling and the Imperial Beer

By Lucy Saunders

It’s a style of cooking that requires open fire, sharp knives and fast reflexes—grilling is America’s favorite kind of cookery, indoors or out. To match it, look for a beer style that’s almost as extreme, the Imperial…pilsner???

Most beer drinkers know about Russian Imperial Stouts, rich stouts originally brewed for export to the royal Russian court. Extra malt and hops worked as preservatives for the long voyage from Britain to Russia. Brands such as Samuel Smiths Imperial Stout inspired many American craft brewers.

With such a rich history, Imperial beers are more than just an extension of the extreme beer trend. But, recently, the Imperial moniker has been found crowning many other styles: India Pale Ales, Porters, and now Pilsners.

Yes, even Pilsners, those golden lagers that so many beer drinkers know as mild and unassuming, have taken on a new edge, heightened hops character, higher gravity, and bolder malt profiles.

Rogue Brewing Co. launched an Imperial Pilsner under the Morimoto imprimatur of specialty beers in 2003. The Boston Beer Company rolled out their Hallertau Imperial Pilsner as a seasonal release in 2005, promising an intense hop experience (italics are theirs).

Since then, other brewers have followed, such as Boulevard Brewing’s Collaboration No. 1 Imperial Pilsner, brewed with Orval’s Master Brewer Jean-Marie Rock. Flossmoor Brewing Co.’s .357 Imperial Pilsner and Point Brewing Co.’s Whole Hog Imperial Pilsner are also great examples of the style.

Not many mainstream drinkers would recognize the Imperial versions of Pilsner, for example, Flossmoor’s version weighs in at 12% ABV (alcohol by volume), brewed with three malts, five different hops, including Magnum, and seven weeks of lagering time (stored at cooler temperatures usually below 40°F).

Bigger flavors translate into a better match for seared and spicy grilled foods. The higher gravity craft beers deserve presentation by the glass to better appreciate the peppery aromatics from the higher alcohol content.

Here are three Imperial matches to dine like royalty: first, a curried chickpea and grilled onion salad, matched with an Imperial Stout. Who says all that richness has to be reserved for dessert? Next, a grilled chicken and orange salad to present with an Imperial Pilsner that is rich in citrus hop flavors. Finally, a bison burger crumbled and stuffed into grilled zucchini and topped with melted Cheddar, wonderful with a malty Imperial Pilsner.

Curried Chick Pea SaladCurried Chickpeas with Grilled Onion
Paired with an Imperial Stout

The onions in this salad benefit from a bath in olive oil and cooking in foil to caramelize—if you find the onion cups too fussy for serving, just chop the onions to add to the salad, saving some for topping steak or burgers.

1 large white onion, cut in half and skin removed, grilled whole and centers used below
1/4 cup olive oil, divided
2 tsp malt vinegar
2 tsp curry powder
1 tsp turmeric
1/8 tsp ground cayenne or to taste
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp minced rosemary
1 (15-ounce) can cooked chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1/3 cup red bell pepper, cored, seeded and minced
2 tbsp minced zucchini or minced parsley
1/2 cup minced grilled onion

Method
Preheat grill to 350F.

Prepare onions for grilling: slice in half and remove skin, place on foil sheet and cover with 1 tbsp olive oil. Crimp edges of foil to make a packet, and place on preheated grill to cook, about 10 minutes.

In a large bowl, whisk together vinegar, remaining olive oil, curry powder, turmeric, cayenne, salt and minced rosemary. Add chickpeas, bell pepper, and zucchini or minced parsley, and toss to combine.

Remove onion packet from grill. Let cool 5 minutes before opening packet, using caution to avoid steam on face or hands. When cool enough to handle, slide “cups” from cooked onion centers. Chop the grilled onion centers and add to the salad, stirring well to blend. Spoon chickpea salad into prepared onion cups and serve with grilled chicken or steak.

Makes 4-6 servings

Bison Stuffed ZucciniBison-stuffed Zucchini
Paired with an Imperial Pilsner

This recipe calls for cooking the bison burgers, and instead of serving between bread, it’s stuffed into grilled and hollowed-out zucchini shells and topped with melted Cheddar.

1/2 pound ground bison
1 tbsp coarse seed mustard
1 tsp dried tarragon
1 tbsp minced garlic
1 tsp olive oil
2 zucchinis, about 4 inches in diameter
3 ounces Cheddar cheese
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Method

Preheat grill to 350°F.

Mix ground bison with mustard, tarragon, and garlic, and form into two patties. Grill over preheated grill until medium rare. Set aside.

While burgers cook, clean and slice zucchini in half lengthwise, brush with olive oil and place on grill. Grill 5 minutes, or until just tender. Remove from grill and when cool enough to handle, scoop out the seedy centers. (Reserve the grilled zucchini centers for other salads or add to minestrone soup).

Crumble the bison burgers and stuff into prepared zucchini shells. Add salt and pepper to taste, and top with Cheddar cheese. Place in crimped foil and return to grill to cook until zucchini is completely tender and the cheese melts, about 7-10 minutes.

Makes 2-4 servings

Grilled Chicken and Citrus Salad
Paired with an Imperial Pilsner

Fresh orange sections add citrus flavor to meld with an Imperial Pilsner brewed with Cascade, Amarillo or Centennial hops, in this Mediterranean-inspired salad with Nicoise olives and minced chives. If you can’t find fresh oranges, you may substitute canned mandarin oranges. Serve it over chopped romaine lettuce or endive, or as presented, over tendrils of green pea shoots.

4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed clean of fat and gristle
1 tsp olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 cup fresh orange sections, pith and membrane removed
3 tbsp Nicoise olives, pits removed
2 tbsp minced fresh chives
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 tsp hot pepper sauce or more to taste
2 tbsp toasted sesame oil or walnut oil
1/2 tsp salt
Lettuce, endive or green pea shoots, about 2 cups
Optional garnish: toasted almond slices or chopped walnuts

Method:

Preheat grill to medium.

Clean and trim the chicken thighs, toss with olive oil and ground black pepper to taste, and grill until done, about 20 minutes, turning often.

Prepare oranges and olives. Toss with minced chives, vinegar, pepper sauce, sesame or walnut oil, and salt. Chop chicken into bite-sized strips and toss with dressing. Divide greens or pea shoots evenly between 4 serving plates. Divide chicken mixture evenly between 4 plates. Garnish, if desired, with toasted almonds or chopped walnuts.

Makes 4 servings

Photos © 2010 istockphoto.com and Lucy Saunders


Lucy SaundersLucy Saunders is the author of The Best of American Beer & Food, and explores craft beer and cuisine from her home in Milwaukee, WI.