Ganesh Subramanya thinks diners are ready to move beyond beer-battered fish and beer-can chicken. Once thought better for pub grub than fancier foods, the beverage has entered a new era of culinary sophistication that Subramanya (Chef de Cuisine Certificate ’09) was happy to highlight at the first-ever beer dinner at Ernest's, NAIT's on-campus restaurant.
“We’re taking a different approach as compared to what beer would normally be served with," says the Culinary Arts instructor, who designed the four-course menu.
“It doesn’t have any limitations," he adds. Mostly, beer can be used in cooking like wine. Rather than accounting for tannins, however, a cook needs to consider how the grains in brews, from light to dark, will interact with food.
A few days before serving his meal this November, Subramanya explains how he matched his food with offerings from Edmonton's Alley Kat Brewing and also incorporated them into the dishes themselves. His dedication to elevating the drink might surprise. “I’m not a big fan of beer. But do I like pairing it with food? Yes.”
First course: Scona Gold braised pork belly
Subramanya likes the versatility of Scona Gold, a kolsch (German-style ale) that earned two awards at the 2015 Canadian Brewing Awards: best kolsch and beer of the year.
“Scona Gold is more on the lighter side. Very neutral in flavour, it goes well with anything and everything.” In this case, it complements the subtlety of the pork belly. Crisp and clean, it also matches the sweetness and slight acidity of the accompanying Granny Smith apple purée.
Red meat called for the richness of the Amber brown ale.
Second course: Artisan greens with trio of beets
Beer does double duty with Subramanya's salad as well. Mixed with herbs, oil and vinegar, Alley Kat’s Aprikat will “bring in the sweetness [as well as] the sharpness and tartness we need for the dressing.” (Check out his recipe below.)
In addition to adding fruity notes to match the beets, the beer will enhance the flavour of their roasted skins and of the house-made, lightly smoked ricotta thanks to the grains.
Palate cleanser: Main Squeeze grapefruit ale sorbet
Third course: Coffee crusted AAA striploin of Alberta beef
Subramanya might have opted for a lighter beer had he chosen poultry as an entrée, but he feels the event’s red meat called for the richness of the Amber brown ale. “It’s a dark beer, a sharper beer, slightly more bitter and strong compared to the others.” Added to the sauce for the beef, it helps bring out the meat’s natural flavours.
Dessert: Guittard chocolate mousse
Newly released, Alley Kat’s Coffee Porter found a place in the raspberry melba sauce Subramanya uses to top his mousse. To him, the combination was obvious. “Coffee and chocolate usually blend well.” Apparently, as the chef points out, so does beer.
Recipe: Aprikat beer salad dressing
- 90 ml (6 tbsp) Alley Kat Aprikat beer
- 15 g (1 tbsp or 15 ml) finely chopped shallots
- 5 g (1 tsp or 5 ml) orange zest
- 10 g (2 tsp or 10 ml) chopped apricots
- 15 g (1 tbsp or 15 ml) honey
- 5 g (1 tsp or 5 ml) Dijon mustard
- 75 ml (5 tbsp) extra-virgin olive oil
- To taste kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
In a small bowl, whisk the beer with the shallot, chopped apricots, orange zest, honey and mustard. Gradually add the oil in a thin stream, whisking constantly. Season the vinaigrette with salt and pepper and serve.