Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Beer Brats, Craft Style

Back in Los Angeles.  It was a good month in the Far East, but I'm pretty happy to be back in SoCal for my favorite time of year: Summer.  2 fridges and a cellar full of delicious craft beers is quite a site to come home to, I wasn't even sure where to begin.  My first brew back was a Dry Hopped St. Rogue Red and I wish I could say I liked it better, but it was still a nice re-entry into a world of brewing where they use copious amounts of hops and grain, rather than corn extract, yeast and water.

This weekend we were throwing a barbeque, and keeping with the tradition of beer dishes, I wanted to find a way of using beer in whatever we made.  Since last December, I've had my eye on doing some beer brats, so it was a clear choice for the weekend.  However, after quite a bit of research online I found very few sources that used anything beyond the crappiest beer in the fridge.  On a side note, I did find a lot of recipes that instructed you to use one can of "ale or lager," as though those were specific styles you could find in the store.  I found it pretty hilarious.  These poor people are so uninformed about brew they don't even understand the basic types of beer.  It'd be the same as if I suggested they cook vegetables or meat... leave's a lot of questions  unanswered.

Anyway, after scouring the internet for the better part of a few hours, I found a handful (literally) of recipes that used something better than bud light.  However, what I didn't expect to find in my research, was some excellent advice about how to cook beer brats from Wisconsin natives.  Despite their lack of good beer knowledge, they had some excellent tips on the do's and don'ts of perfect beer brats.  So using pieces of advice I gleamed from the beer brat veterans and ingredients from some of these recipes, I set out to make the perfect Craft Beer Brat.

In my case, I was making around 12 brats, so this recipe is large, but you could easily cut down the proportions. Credit to Dethroner, for much of the ingredients of this recipe, although I made my own variations based on some reading.

12 brats uncooked.
- You can get the pre-cooked ones, but you're going to have a hard time imparting the beer flavor to them.  Get the raw ones.
1 - 2 Yellow Onions, cut into rings and halved.
2 Tbs Butter
1 Tbs Olive Oil
2 Tsp sugar
2-4 cups of beef broth or stock
12 thick cut buns (the hot dog buns are a little too flimsy for this, get the thick ones)
2 22 oz bottles of brown ale. (Brekle's Brown)
- The beer of course took a lot of thinking. I decided to go with a brown because of their sweetness and toasted malt flavors.  I've used a brown ale once before for cooking meat and had excellent results.  Since I didn't want to spend a fortune on beer that was going to be cooked, I found a reasonably priced $5 Brekle's Brown from Anchor brewing.
2 - 3 extra beers on hand, you could use almost anything, more browns, pale ales, even some pacificos. I chose Sierra Nevada's Kellerweis because it's also a little sweet.

Using a big pot, melt the butter and oil at medium-high heat, add the onions, and pinch or two of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are almost caramelized, about 15 - 20 minutes.  The way to tell is if they're soft and just starting to turn brown.  Towards the end of this cooking add your sugar.  I used regular granulated white sugar, but brown would be good too.

Add your brats, beer, and enough beef broth to cover the the brats and then cook for about 30 - 45 minutes on medium heat.  You don't want to boil the brats.  Boiling will cause the skin on the brats to split which lets out all the flavor you've been cooking in.  Instead keeping at a simmer, so you see little bubbles continually rise.  Meanwhile your house will smell amazing as these babies cook.

After cooking them, transfer the brats with tongs to a grill.  You should have the grill going at about medium to medium high heat.  You can tell the ideal temperature for the grill by putting your hand about 2 inches above it.  You should be able to hold your hand there for about 4 - 5 seconds.  Score both sides of the brats to your liking, but probably about 3 - 5 minutes per side.  Keep your beer and onions mixture on the stove and up the heat.  It should start to thicken and you'll get some great glaze and beer onions.

When the brats are done, transfer them directly into a beer bath with the remaining beer, in my case the Kellerweis.  This last second beer bath will add a little more beer flavor (so you may want to stick with your original beer choice), but also keeps them nice and moist, everyone hates those dried out disgusting hot dogs and sausages at bbqs.

Put the brats in buns and top with the beer glaze and onions and anything else you like.  We offered people a hot pepper relish, sauerkraut, mustard and banana peppers.

They turned out fucking amazing.  Try it out!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Beer in China, Part 3, Homebrew

I find myself in South China, about 10 to 12 hours from the Vietnam border. We're walking down a well lit and touristy street simply called Xie Lue, or West st, in Yangshuo in the Guanxi Province. The reason we're wandering the banks of the Li river is in pursuit of a French Restaurant called Le Votre that supposedly brews its own beer.  A French restaurant in China is definitely an odd concept, but I'm assuming that this close to Vietnam there was probably some overflow during the colonial era. However, that still doesn't explain why a French restaurant would be brewing it's own beer. The French have always been somewhat lukewarm to beer, never letting it surpass their infatuation with wine as the number one drink of choice.  All of these are questions that I would normally expect to find answers to, but the one thing traveling in China has taught me is that there are often no logical or satisfactory answers to the anomolies you encounter.
We find the restaurant located midway down the street, it's a big establishment by Chinese restaurant standards with a large courtyard and steps leading up to the kitchen and more seating.  There's a guy with a keyboard setting up at the top of the stairs and I can't decide if this is another one of young China's inane musical acts, or an homage to the synthesizer demo, which, after all, must be entering its 25th or 30th anniversary by now.
On the front of the menu it advertises two types of beers, available in two sizes. There's no descriptions of the beers, simply pictures, and I don't have the language skills to delve into the finer style details with a waiter in Chinese, and judging by the wait staff I'm not really expecting them to know anyway. But the pictures show light and dark and I'm quickly told that the light beer is not available tonight, making my choice relatively simple.
I suppose to an outsider this type of menu looks pretty cheesy, not the product of an expensive French restaurant. While I can't argue with the menu's resemblance to camembert or brie, such is the common design of menus in China. Menus are more akin to short novellas, complete with pictures and strange Freudian mispellings. One of the first restaurants we stopped at in Beijing had a menu that was 76 pages long!
So left with only one choice, I ordered the "dark" beer. It is, much as I expected, some basic variant on an export version of the Munich Dunkel.  What I don't expect is the fact that it actually tastes homebrewed, true to the name!  There's just enough roast and residual sweetness in the grain to give it some uniqueness before the flood of lagery water takes over. Still it's a nice change from the malt liquor and mass produced lagers that have been otherwise dominating my palate on this trip.
The lighter beer, while I'm unable to try it or get any description of it, I'm guessing is a blonde ale or more than likely since they have lagering capabilities, a Czech style pilsner. Questions such as their production process, ingredients, capacity, all had to be left in the giant chasm of misunderstanding that is the language barrier.
However, still an interesting discovery in the south of China. The journey continues...