Cooking with Beer: Farmhouse Flavors

Let’s get rustic: Justin Wright and Justin Kruger, a.k.a. "Two Fat Justins," show how French and Belgian country ales can lighten and brighten savory main dishes, while a splash of cherry lambic adds complex juiciness to a simple berry crumble.

Justin Wright , Justin Kruger Jul 1, 2020 - 12 min read

Cooking with Beer: Farmhouse Flavors Primary Image

Turkish Meatballs with Bière de Garde

Serves: 4–6

1⅔ lb (756 g) ground lamb (may substitute ground beef or pork)
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
1 tsp chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 tsp chopped fresh garlic
¾ tsp ground allspice
¾ tsp ground cinnamon
1 large egg
3 Tbs vegetable oil
8 oz (237 ml) bière de garde
6 oz (170 g) shallots, peeled
1–2 sprigs of thyme
1–2 bay leaves
5 oz (142 g) dried figs or raisins
2 tsp sugar
2 cups (480 ml) chicken stock

In a large bowl, mix by hand the ground meat, onion, parsley, garlic, spices, and the egg. Once combined, form into 1½-inch (3.8 cm) balls, about the size of golf balls. In a large cast-iron skillet or steep-sided sauté pan, heat oil over medium-high heat. Working in batches, sear the meatballs on all sides until golden brown. Change oil if needed.

Once all meatballs are seared, drain the oil from the pan and add the biére de garde. Scrape up any bits with a wooden spatula and reduce heat to low. Arrange the meatballs and peeled shallots in the pan. Add thyme, bay leaves, figs, sugar, and chicken stock, until meatballs are covered, and bring to a simmer. Cover the pan with foil and simmer on low for 1 hour. (Use the foil instead of a lid, as some liquid evaporation is good for this recipe.)
Remove the meatballs to a plate. The liquid should be reduced to nearly a sauce, so add salt and pepper as needed. Serve the meatballs with herbed Greek yogurt (see below) and steamed basmati rice.


Herbed Greek Yogurt

1 Tbs diced dill
1 Tbs diced chive
1 Tbs diced parsley
1 Tbs diced basil
1 Tbs diced green onion
1 tsp of lemon juice and sherry vinegar
Dash of salt and pepper
1 cup (240 ml) plain Greek yogurt

Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and mix well.

Beer Sensory Notes: A bière de garde (aka “beer for keeping”) is a classic farmhouse style from the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region of France. Typically, it has less of the spicy yeast character than traditional saisons. Traditionally, this is a strong pale ale, but it can use amber or brown malt, causing a darker, more malt-forward profile. Generally, this beer pours clear to mildly hazy, with foam that ranges from white to slightly tan, depending on the color of the beer. Aroma should be more malt-forward, with a lot of toasted-bread character, and subdued hops, with some spicy or peppery notes on the nose. The taste should be a bit of biscuit, caramel, and a touch of toffee, with minimal hop character, balancing toward the malt. The finish should be nearly dry to dry, with just a touch of sweet malt character and perhaps a bit of light alcohol warmth with higher-ABV versions. If you’re fortunate enough to find a Jenlain from Brasserie Duyck or a Brasserie Castelain Bière de Garde, those are classic examples of the style. Otherwise try to find Lost Abbey Gift of the Magi or Avant Garde, Ommegang Grains of Truth or Bière de Mars, or Jolly Pumpkin Oro De Calabaza or Bière De Mars.

What the Beer Does for the Dish: For this recipe, we substitute bière de garde for the traditional stock. Instead of a rich vegetable flavor, we get a much deeper caramel and toast character, which enhances the browned flavor of the meatballs. Allspice and cinnamon are enhanced by extra bit of sugars from the beer and stock. While the hops are subdued in this style, they’re present enough to complement the herbs, leaving a slight touch of grassiness to go with the parsley and thyme. Overall, the beer enhances the meatballs with its clean malt and subtle hop character by accentuating, not overpowering, the flavors in the dish.


Ricotta Gnocchi with Saison Lemon Brodo and Spring Vegetables

Serves: 4

12 oz (340 g) ricotta cheese
3 eggs
2 Tbs (or as needed) all-purpose flour
⅛ tsp nutmeg
Pinch of black pepper
Olive oil
3 Tbs butter, cubed
1 shallot, peeled and thinly sliced
12 oz (340 g) wild mushrooms, picked and cleaned
4 oz (113 g) asparagus, sliced in half-inch pieces
1 lb (454 g) sweet peas*
Zest and juice, separated, from 2 lemons
12 oz (355 ml) saison
1 Tbs fresh herb, chopped*
2 Tbs Parmesan cheese, grated
Choose whatever fresh/frozen sweet pea you enjoy or that may be in season. We prefer parsley or chives for the herb, but any soft green herb works well.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Season the water with salt—the water should taste salty, but not quite ocean-level salty. Mix the ricotta, eggs, flour, nutmeg, and pepper together in a stand mixer and whip for 15 minutes using the wire whip attachment. Roll out into ropes, dusted with flour around the outside. Cut ½-inch (1.27 cm) lengths and place onto a parchment-lined baking sheet.

Have a large bowl of ice water ready. In small batches, toss the gnocchi in the boiling water, and time them for 2–3 minutes after they start floating. Remove them from the water and place in the ice-water bath to chill for 1 minute. Remove from the ice water and allow to dry on paper towels. Tossed with 1 tsp of olive oil, the gnocchi will keep covered in the fridge for a week or in the freezer for much longer.


For the broth, melt 1 Tbs of butter in a skillet. Add the shallot and cook over medium heat for 2–3 minutes. Add mushrooms and season with a pinch of salt. Cook for 3–4 minutes more. When the mushrooms are soft, add the asparagus and peas. Season lightly with a bit more salt. Cook until the peas are bright green. Add lemon zest and saison and bring to a light simmer.

Once broth is simmering, add gnocchi and heat through. Finish with the remaining butter and chopped herbs. Serve with the Parmesan cheese.

Beer Sensory Notes: Saisons are amazing food-pairing beers and make great additions to dishes as well. The archetype is Saison DuPont from Brasserie Dupont, and it should be widely available. This beer has a beautiful nose of clove, bananas, and similar flavors from the unique yeast strain and a whiff of fresh-cut grass from Saaz hops. It should be poured into a tulip glass and will appear pale golden in color with a 1–2-inch (2.5–5 cm) head of white foam that should linger the entire drink. The mouthfeel is lively, and there is a mild, grassy bitterness. The finish should be dry, with no lingering sweetness. What makes saisons pair so well is their unique yeast character, high effervescence, and dry finish. Other fantastic options are Ommegang Hennepin, Funkwerks Saison, and Boulevard Tank 7.

What the Beer Does for the Dish: Beer is inherently acidic, and the unique character of saisons adds brightness to the dish. Instead of stock, which has onion, garlic, and other rich vegetable flavors, this beer adds zip from carbonation and effervescence. The spicy yeast flavors enhance the herbal notes of the dish. Overall, this dish should be more acidic, lighter, and more herbal than you get with a traditional stock.


Kriek-Braised Berry Crumble

Serves: 4

Braised Berries

12 oz (355 ml) kriek
½ cup (110 g) sugar
2 lb (907 g) fresh berries (blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, etc.)
1 tsp cornstarch
⅛ tsp salt

In a large nonreactive pot, combine the kriek and sugar, bring to a gentle simmer, and cook until reduced by one-third or one-half (about 30 minutes). Add the berries, sprinkle the cornstarch and salt over top, and lightly simmer until the berries begin to break down. If too acidic, add 1 tsp of sugar at a time until the acidity is to your liking. If too watery, sprinkle 1 tsp cornstarch at a time until the mixture is like a thin jam or jelly.


2 cups (440 g) all-purpose flour
½ tsp salt
1¼ cups (275 g) brown sugar
3/4 lb (340 g) butter (cold and cut into small pieces)


Mix everything in a stand mixer with a paddle attachment until combined and about the size of peas. Preheat the oven to 400°F (204°C). On the stove top, heat a cast-iron pan over medium heat. Add the fruit to the pan and sprinkle the crumble on top. Immediately put in 400°F (204°C) oven for 15–20 minutes, until the top is golden brown and the filling is bubbling. Serve with vanilla whipped cream or ice cream.

Beer Sensory Notes: Simply put, kriek (Flemish for cherry) is a lambic beer with sour cherries steeped in it for several months. What you should get from this type of beer is a very strong sour-cherry note that dominates the aroma and flavors. Pour into a tumbler or snifter, and you will get a beautiful dark red or pink color, with a pinkish-white head. The aroma can range from slightly funky, like barnyard, to almond or marzipan, or just simply sour cherries. The mouthfeel should be lively, acidic, with a strong flavor of sour cherries. The sour character should linger, but there should be no sugary “cough syrup” character at all. It should finish dry, with a touch of lingering sour-cherry character. If you’re fortunate enough to find Cantillon, Boon, or 3 Fonteinen krieks, buy them; they are among the pinnacles. Others that may be available include Van Honsebrouck St. Louis Fond Tradition Kriek and Lindemans Oude Kriek Cuvée René.

What the Beer Does for the Dish: Since this beer is pretty acidic, you won’t need the traditional lemon juice/zest to bring out the acidity. In addition, the sour cherries add a variable fruit character to the other berries, complementing their natural sugars and acidity—who doesn’t love a mixed-berry crumble? The crumble on top will have a rich buttery note, offset by the subtle minerality and phenolic notes of the beer. For some other fun variations, try a framboise (raspberry lambic) with the same mixed berries, or a pêche lambic with stone fruits such as peaches and apricots in the crumble.

Photo: Matt Graves/