Garrett Oliver’s Simple Four-Course Beer Dinner
This summer, while hanging out at the beach, lounging in the sunshine and hurling Frisbees across parks, you have to admit that you didn’t think much about the kitchen. Sure, the morning coffee came from the kitchen and the fridge was in there too, keeping your beer cold and the salad crisp, but that was about it. Now that the weather’s turning colder, most of us will give up the grill and re-embrace the kitchen, the stove, big iron pans and the things they can do.
At Brooklyn Brewery, we love the outdoor grill, but we’re totally down with the kitchen too. In fact, we’ve developed a brewhouse cooking team—myself and two of our brewhouse crew, Tom Price and Dan Moss. We cook five-course dinners for 25 people at a time, from scratch, in an open kitchen in front of our guests. It’s great fun for all of us, and I can promise you that we’re not just frying up sausages—we’re doing some pretty serious cooking.
But it’s also stuff that you can easily do at home. In fact, it’s based on recipes I serve to guests at home all the time, which is why I can cook them in front of a crowd while talking, chopping and still keeping my fingertips. Here I’m going to show you some of my favorites that will make a simple and very delicious four-course beer dinner.
First, though, a few principles. Your first obligation, as a host of a dinner party, is to have a good time yourself while showing your guests a great time. If you’re in the kitchen the entire evening, that’s not going to be easy to do. So I always make sure to do the vast majority of the work in advance. That way, you’re sitting at the table while the conversation happens. Organization is the key. This is a pretty elaborate dinner, but I promise you that you can easily pull it off without breaking a sweat. The recipes below are for four servings.
For the first course, I manage to get over my natural tendency to be a “kitchen tyrant”, and I let everyone hang out in the kitchen while I’m cooking. While we’re all enjoying a beer, I do my magic trick…carbonara!
First Course: Linguine Carbonara Paired with a Belgian-style Dark Abbey Ale
Durum linguine 1 egg, large ½ cup of heavy cream ½ cup of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, freshly grated (fine) ½ stick of cold butter, cut into small pea-sized chunks ½ lb of thick-cut slab pancetta or bacon A few shallots, finely minced 1 tsp coarsely ground black pepper
Cut your pancetta or bacon into little chunks (lardons). They should be about the size and shape of a one-inch piece off the end of a McDonald’s French fry (don’t pretend you’ve never seen one).
In a heavy pan, fry the pancetta gently. When it starts to turn golden, add the shallots and stir them in. Being careful not to burn the pancetta or shallots, cook them until they reach a nice mahogany brown color. Drain off the fat, put the pancetta into a bowl, set it aside.
To a large plastic bowl, add the cheese, the butter next to it, and pour in the cream next to that. Now add the yolk (only) of the egg. If you don’t know how to separate an egg yolk, it’s easy—check out this one-minute video.
Put everything in the fridge, covered; you can do all this hours before dinnertime. When your guests arrive, get the pasta pot going and put the pasta bowls in the oven, “warm” setting.
When you’re ready, take the big bowl out of the fridge, put it on the counter and stick the bowl of pancetta mixture into the microwave.
At the boil, with plenty of salt in the water, add your pasta, stirring occasionally until it floats free. Have a beer with your guests, but start checking the pasta at about seven minutes. Break up the egg yolk in the bowl. Microwave your bowl of pancetta mixture for 30 seconds to re-heat it, then set it next to the bowl of other ingredients. Have a cup of hot water standing by.
When the pasta is ready (still slightly stiff, but not crunchy—al dente), strain it in a colander and, without rinsing it, add it immediately to the big bowl full of sauce ingredients. With two big spoons (wood is best), start aggressively mixing it all together with a tossing motion as if you were tossing a salad. The butter, cream, and egg yolk will meld together and become a rich cream sauce (ta-daaa!).
Add in the pancetta mix and keep mixing. If the sauce seems stiff, add a little water until it hits a nice consistency. Add salt to taste if necessary. Get your bowls out of the oven, and use tongs to put the pasta into the bowls. It’s a rich dish, so let’s not over-do it; a “small fist” of pasta is plenty.
Serve immediately with a Belgian-style Dark Abbey Ale. The flavors of the dark malts and candi sugar meld perfectly with the flavors of the pancetta and cheese. People are always astounded by how good this pairing is. Then again, it does have bacon in it, so they shouldn’t be surprised.
Second Course: Indian-spiced Crab Cakes Paired with an India Pale Ale
1 medium red onion, peeled and sliced 1 jalapeno pepper, stemmed 1 red bell pepper, cored ½ lb lump crab meat, cooked 1 lightly beaten egg 1 tablespoon mayonnaise 1/8 cup grated fresh ginger 1 heaping tablespoon curry powder 1 teaspoon cumin Juice of one big lemon Small handful of cilantro, with stems 1 ½ cups of Japanese panko bread crumbs
Okay, it looks like a lot of work, but this literally takes less than 15 minutes. Mince together, as finely as you have patience for, the onion, jalapeno, the bell pepper and the cilantro. When you’re done, it shouldn’t look chunky anymore.
In a bowl, combine the mixture with the crab meat, egg, mayo, ginger, curry powder, cumin and lemon juice. Add in ½ cup of panko bread crumbs, mix thoroughly. Taste the mixture, then salt to taste. If you want them spicier, you can add some of your favorite hot sauce and blend it in.
With your hands, form your crab cakes into small patties, then press more bread crumbs onto the surfaces of the patties. Put them on a plate, cover them and put them into the refrigerator.
When it’s time to cook them, all you’re going to do is fry them until they turn golden brown on one side, then flip them over and brown the other side. This will take you maybe 10 minutes. Serve with a snappy India Pale Ale; they work wonders with Indian and Thai spices. Before you sit down to eat, turn on the oven to 475˚F (very hot) to prepare for your third course.
Third Course: Roast Rack of Lamb Paired with a Brown Ale or Porter
8-Rib Rack of Lamb, denuded and Frenched (fat removed, and bones stripped clean); make sure your butcher preps the rack for slicing. If your butcher doesn’t have lamb racks, you might purchase them online from D’Artagnan; their lamb is excellent. 2 – 3 sprigs of fresh rosemary Olive oil 3 tablespoons coarsely ground black pepper Sea salt
Pull all the leaves off of the rosemary sprigs. This part is a little tedious, but it’s literally all the work you’ll be doing. The smaller the leaf clusters, the better they’ll stick to the meat. Slather the lamb rack with olive oil. Press the rosemary onto the surface of the meat until it’s covered.
Drizzle more olive oil, press the cracked pepper onto the meat evenly, and then salt generously. Wrap it in cellophane, and put it in the fridge. Again, this is best done hours before dinner.
When the oven reaches full temperature, take the lamb rack out of the fridge, put it in a roasting pan, preferably with a rack at the bottom, press the meat down into a standing position, with the bones pointing straight up, and put it in the oven. Set a timer for 19 minutes. Take the roasting pan out of the oven, let the meat rest for at least five minutes to 10 minutes.
Once the meat is cooked and rested, put it on a cutting board, and using a pair of tongs to hold the meat, slice it into rib chops. The timing is close to foolproof, but you can always put it back in if you think it’s too rare—keep in mind that lamb often looks rare even when it’s cooked at medium. When you’re slicing, be careful of the bone at the base of the chops; the butcher should have cut through that for you.
Drizzle the pan drippings onto the chops. If you’ve got a big dinner, two chops per person is usually enough, but you can always make more (and they taste awesome the next day, served cold for lunch). Serve with a Brown Ale or Porter, and a side of vegetables; I like stir-fried French green beans (haricot vert).
Fourth Course: Imperial Stout Float
2 bottles of Imperial Stout 1 pint of ice cream, preferably vanilla Spiced Mexican chocolate bar, such as Taza, or any dark chocolate Glasses, teaspoons, and straws
Finally, there’s dessert. This one always blows people’s minds, and it couldn’t be easier. You may have already done it yourself. It’s exactly what it sounds like. Here’s the important part—the beer goes in the glass first. Always. If you try to pour the beer into the ice cream, you’re going to end up with a mess. Pour the beer into the glasses, then carefully add a big scoop of ice cream into the beer. Using a grater, grate some chocolate on top of the foam, stick in the straws, and serve.
That was a four-course beer dinner right there. Most of the actual work happened before your guests arrived—you don’t spend your evening actually in front of the stove; you spend it at the table with your family and friends. Maybe cold weather’s not so bad after all!
Garrett Oliver is the brewmaster of The Brooklyn Brewery and the Editor-in-Chief of The Oxford Companion to Beer.