Honey, There's Beer in My Batter

As home cooks, we're told to cook with the same wine we like to drink. Why not apply the same argument to beer? In the spirit of beer-food pairing in today's Food section, I set out to put this theory to the test.


Beer-battered veggies, with a glass of red rice ale to wash it all down. (Kim O'Donnel)

Earlier this year, I shared my love for the line of Hitachino Nest beers, particularly the Red Rice Ale, one of the few things I've found to marry well with spicy noodles and curries.

But I wondered: Would my favorite pinky-rose ale work as well in my mixing bowl as it does on my tongue? When Food section editor Joe Yonan challenged me to think about how I'd cook with my favorite beer, I immediately leaped to the idea of onion rings.

The free association quickly followed: Beer batter. Red rice. Japanese. Yes, tempura! That was it. My day dream included visions of sweet potatoes and broccoli, with some kind of piquant soy dipping sauce.

As I researched recipes for tempura batter, many called for all-purpose wheat-based flour, but I wanted more of an ingredient symbiosis. Whenever I eat tempura in a Japanese restaurant, I drink sake, which is also made from rice. Rice wine, rice beer -- well, of course, I needed to use rice flour in the batter.

On my first batter attempt, I used rice flour only, which yielded a crunchy exterior that bordered on brittle. I also noticed that the batter was slipping from the vegetables. Although I could have added an egg wash for extra batter support, I wanted to tinker with the very batter itself.

I decided to go 50-50 and do a mix of rice flour and wheat-based flour, but instead of all-purpose, I chose the finer, more delicate pastry flour. The first batch revealed that the rice flour had the potential for a delicate crunch, and that's what I was shooting for.

The new batter was definitely improved; it clung to the vegetables throughout frying, and it yielded the right amount of light crunch without fear of breaking a tooth. The recipe details are below.

A few notes:

If you use the red rice ale, you'll notice that the batter turns pinky rose. Don't worry; your final dish will be golden brown, just as you remember.

I used nearly an entire bottle of beer, which runs about 8 bucks a pop. This beer ain't cheap. But you get what you pay for, and wine drinkers will tell you that life is too short to drink bad wine.

Make sure the beer is cold; every single recipe I looked at called for cold liquid, be it water, club soda or beer. Although I don't know the science behind this argument, I say, "Monkey read, Monkey do."

As much as I love the decadence of thin rounds of fried onions, I adored the battered sweet potatoes. What a flavor kick in the pants. If sliced thin enough, the sweet potatoes will get tender, but still with a little tooth that I think is key for this kind of dish. I was also surprised by the broccoli, and am thinking next time, I'll do green beans.

The dipping sauce is a take on the classic soy sauce offering (details below). I urge you to play around and see what you like, but keep in mind you probably want a cross-section of salty, sweet, spicy and sour/pungent.

The pairing was seamless, which means the beer and the tempura equally carried its flavor weight, without one dominating the other. You could taste the sweetness of the beer in the batter, which was my other concern.

I know many of you will argue that I could have used a cheap can of Bud and call it a wok wrap, and maybe you're right. I didn't have time to test other beers in this batter (although I did work with another beer in another dish -- stay tuned for those details in tomorrow's blog post), but that's where you come in.

If you're a beer-batter veteran, share your favorite brew and flour flavor combination. Come on, I wanna hear from you!


Vegetable Beer-Batter Tempura

Ingredients
Batter:
1 cup white rice flour
1 cup pastry flour
2 cups (16 ounces) of very cold beer that you really enjoy drinking -- I used Hitachino Red Rice Ale for the purposes of this experiment.

For vegetables:
1 quart vegetable oil -- Peanut, canola, sunflower
1 medium onion, peeled and sliced into rings, about ½ inch thick
1 sweet potato, peeled, halved and sliced into half moons, about ½ inch thick
1/2 bunch broccoli florets
Other veggie possibilities: asparagus tips, carrot slices, mushroom caps, eggplant rounds
Salt to taste

Useful tools: Instant-read thermometer, tongs, skimmer, wok

Method
In a large mixing bowl, combine both flours and beer, which will foam. With a rubber spatula, gently stir to integrate the flour into the liquid; it's okay for lumps to remain. Set aside while you prepare vegetables.

Heat a wok or deep, heavy-bottomed skillet until nearly smoking, and add oil. Heat oil until it reaches 350 degrees. While oil heats, submerge one type of vegetable into batter.

With tongs, extract vegetables, one at a time, out of the batter, shaking to remove excess. Dip in hot oil and allow to cook until golden brown on both sides, about 2 minutes. With skimmer, remove from wok and allow to drain on paper towels. Lightly salt, if desired.

Between batches, use skimmer to remove flour droppings and allow oil to return to 350 degrees.

Eat immediately and serve with dipping sauce.

Dipping sauce:
1/3 cup soy sauce of choice
1 inch hunk of fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped or grated
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon sugar
At least 2 teaspoons rice wine
1/4 teaspoon chili flakes or 1 teaspoon of your favorite hot sauce

Mix all ingredients together in a small bowl and stir to combine. Taste and add accordingly; you want a mixture of salty, sweet, spicy and pungent/sour.

By Kim ODonnel |  April 11, 2007; 9:33 AM ET Vegetarian/Vegan , Wine and Spirits
Previous: Delicious -- And Vegetarian | Next: The Noblest Beans

Comments

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Hm... must try this (despite a general aversion to deep frying)... we are talking the general, big plastic containers of peanut (or other) oil, right? Not the cold pressed stuff in the small bottles?

Anyhow... beer/flour/veg combos that I think I should try:
- Stout (imperial?) or porter with buckwheat flour

- A german style wheat beer (with those classic clove/banana/bubblegum aroma and flavors) with the rice/wheat flour combo. Will the heat kill the clove/banana/bubblegum?

- Rich maltly doppelbock and AP flour. I think the trick here is the vegetables this is used with. Mushrooms? Sweet potatos? Onions?

- An american IPA and AP flour. Also affected by the vegetables used? Good for the green ones I think.

Mm... how will I get the fry smell out of the house. :)

Posted by: Arlington, VA | April 11, 2007 11:54 AM

I have been known to plug in the deep fryer outside, in the carport or on the patio, to keep the house from smelling like a diner. Open up a lawn chair so you can stay next to the fryer and open a beer to enjoy while you fry up the other one (in the batter). Given shelter and/or fair weather, it's the only way. The recipe sounds yummy and as soon as I can buy a bucketful of oil I am going to try it!

Posted by: Meg in PA | April 11, 2007 12:24 PM

I used a QUART of oil, not a bucket. 32 ounces. If you've got the space to shelter a gallon bucket, go for it! But it's unnecessary for this recipe. Cheers.

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | April 11, 2007 12:57 PM

Kim,

While it's commonly called "rice wine" because of its alcohol content (like the strong beers known as barley wines), sake actually is a style of beer.

At the most basic level of definition, a drink made by fermenting grain is a beer while a drink made by fermenting fruit is a wine.

Now, do you consider rice a fruit or a grain?

Posted by: Sake Clarification | April 11, 2007 3:13 PM

Sake Clarification, I was kind of wondering that myself.

Posted by: Monkey | April 11, 2007 8:33 PM

To get the frying smell out of the house, try a small dish of clear ammonia on the counter after you fry. Might try one upstairs or in another room, too. I've not had the gumption to try deep frying yet, but this technique has worked for us for years to remove smells such as bacon and other frying, even fish. It is, in fact, the only reason I keep ammonia in the house . I don't know how it works, but the ammonia fumes help remove the odors, but don't leave the house smelling like ammonia.
Worth a try.

Posted by: Clearing the air | April 12, 2007 9:57 AM

I'm the guy with the first post...

My mom's technique for getting rid of fry (or any cooking smell) in the house is to place a couple of bay leaves in simmering water for awhile (15 minutes?). Not perfect, but it does help.

Posted by: Arlington, VA | April 12, 2007 12:02 PM

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