Beer isn't just for drinking, you know – it makes a great addition to recipes too. Be inspired by these ideas from Mexico, Germany and England
Mexico: Duck carnitas nachos
In this game-changing rendition of a brewpub staple, duck legs, rather than the typical pork shoulder, are given the carnitas treatment. The duck is braised with orange peel in malty Mexican beer (a Vienna Lager style, technically speaking) until tender, then the cooking liquid is reduced until almost nothing is left but the rendered fat used to fry the moist duck meat.
The real art of nachos is in the assembly. We like to put them on a large rimmed baking sheet in two layers so that every single chip gets coated in the toppings. This makes for one wickedly large pile of nachos to share with friends – wow them on game day with this decadent upgrade. Serves 8 to 12 1 dried new mexico chile
3 lb/1.4 kg duck legs, rinsed
2 pieces fresh orange peel, each about ¾ in/2 cm wide and 2 in/5 cm long
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1½ tsp kosher or sea salt
One 12-oz/360-ml bottle vienna lager
1 lb/455 g thick corn tortilla chips
One 15-oz/425-g can black beans, drained and rinsed
1½ lb/680 g shredded mexican-style four-cheese blend
2 jalapeño chiles, thinly sliced
4 green onions, white and green parts, thinly sliced
2 cups/60 g loosely packed fresh cilantro leaves
6 thinly sliced radishes
Salsa, mexican crema or sour cream, and lime wedges for serving
1. Heat a small, heavy, dry skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chile and toast, turning occasionally, until puffy and deep brownish-red but not black, 2 to 3 minutes. Stem and halve the chile, discard the seeds, and chop finely. Set aside.
2. Nestle the duck legs in a heavy pot just large enough to fit them snugly in a single, slightly overlapping layer. Add the toasted chile, orange peel, garlic, and salt. Pour in the lager, then add enough water to barely cover (it’s okay if a few points protrude). Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then turn the heat to medium-low and partially cover the pot. Simmer gently until the meat is tender enough to shred with a fork, about 1½ hours. Transfer the duck legs to a cutting board using tongs.
3. Discard the orange peels from the braising liquid. Raise the heat to high and boil until the liquid is almost completely evaporated and about all that’s left is the duck fat, about 10 minutes. (First the bubbles will become large and foamy, and then the foam will begin to subside.)
4. Meanwhile, shred the meat into bite-size chunks and finely chop the skin. Discard any excess fat and the bones. Return the duck meat and skin to the pot and fry over medium heat until the meat is browned and crisp on the outside but still moist and tender inside, about 20 minutes. Stir often, being sure to scrape the bottom of the pot.
5. Drain the meat in a colander (or lift it from the fat with a slotted spoon). (The carnitas can be made up to 1 week in advance and stored in the refrigerator, covered in the fat. When you are ready to assemble the nachos, reheat the meat in a small saucepan, and then drain off the fat.)
6. Preheat the oven to 350°F/180°C. Spread about half of the tortilla chips in an even layer on a large rimmed baking sheet. Top with about half each of the duck, the beans, and the cheese. Repeat to create a second layer. Scatter the jalapeños on top.
7. Bake the nachos until the cheese is melted and just beginning to brown in spots, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and top with the green onions, then the cilantro, and then the radishes. Serve immediately with the salsa, crema, and lime wedges on the side.
Get ready for real German soft pretzels: the iconic knot; the leathery, deep mahogany crusts showered with crunchy salt; and that je ne sais quoi flavor that can only be described as “pretzely.” It’s that texture, color, and flavor that sets pretzels apart from other yeasted breads, and it’s traditionally derived from a rather peculiar source: lye. But in this home-cook-friendly version, we spare you the hazardous chemical cookery and offer up a suitable alternative: baked baking soda. Makes 8 pretzels 2¼ tsp active dry yeast
½ cup/120 ml warm water (between 100° and 115°f/38° and 45°c)
1 tbsp barley malt syrup or dark brown sugar
3¼ cups/390 g unbleached bread flour, plus more as needed
½ cup/120 ml cold märzen beer
2 tbsp unsalted butter, cut into small cubes, at room temperature
2 tsp fine sea salt
¼ cup/70 g baking soda
1 egg yolk beaten with 1 tbsp water, for an egg wash
Coarse sea salt for sprinkling
1. Sprinkle the yeast over the warm water in a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer. Stir in the barley malt syrup until dissolved. Let the mixture stand until the yeast blooms and is a little foamy, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the flour, beer, butter, and fine salt to the yeast mixture and stir to form a shaggy mass.
2. Begin kneading with the dough hook on medium-low speed or on a lightly floured countertop with your hands. After about 1 minute, the dough will form a smooth ball. It should be quite firm and may be slightly tacky but not sticky. If it is sticky, add a little more flour, about 1 Tbsp at a time, and knead in until the dough is smooth. If the dough is too dry to come together, add more water, 1 tsp at a time.
3. Continue kneading the dough on medium-low speed or by hand until smooth and elastic, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer the dough to a large, lightly greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 8 hours, or up to 24 hours, for optimal flavor.
4. Preheat the oven to 250°F/120°C. Spread the baking soda in a small baking dish and bake for about 1 hour. Remove from the oven and let cool. Store the baking soda in an airtight container until ready to use.
5. When you are ready to shape the pretzels, line two large baking sheets with aluminum foil and coat them well with nonstick cooking spray. Turn the dough out onto an unfloured work surface and firmly press it down to deflate.
6. To form the classic pretzel shape, cut the dough into eight equal portions. Working with one piece of dough at a time and keeping the rest covered, pat the dough down into a rough rectangle, then tightly roll it up lengthwise, forming it into a little loaf. Pinch the seam. Shape the dough into a rope by rolling it against the work surface, applying mild pressure and working from the center of the dough out. If you need more friction, spray the counter with a little water from a squirt bottle or drizzle with a few drops of water and spread it with your hand. Once you can feel that the dough rope doesn’t want to stretch any farther (usually when it is between 12 to 16 in/ 30.5 to 40.5 cm long) set it aside to rest and begin shaping another piece in the same manner. Repeat this process with the remaining pieces of dough.
7. Return to the first dough rope and continue rolling it out to a length of 24 to 28 in/60 to 70 cm, leaving the center about 1 in/2.5 cm in diameter and thinly tapering the ends by applying a little more pressure as you work your way out. Position the dough rope into a “U” shape with the ends pointing away from you. Holding one of the ends in each hand, cross the dough and then cross it again. Fold the ends down and press them into the U at about four and eight o’clock, letting about ¼ in/ 6 mm of the ends overhang.
8. Place the pretzel on one of the prepared baking sheets and cover with a damp kitchen towel. Repeat this process with the remaining dough pieces, spacing the pretzels out on the baking sheets at least 1 in/2.5 cm apart. Let the pretzels rise at warm room temperature until increased in size by about half, 20 to 30 minutes. (The pretzels can be covered tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerated for up to 8 hours at this point.)
9. Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 500°F/260°C. Select a large, stainless-steel pot that is at least 2 in/5 cm wider than the diameter of the pretzels and tall enough so that the water will come up no more than 3 in/7.5 cm from the rim. (Avoid nonstick and other metal surfaces, such as aluminum and copper, which may react with the baking soda.) Turn the hood vent on high and put on a pair of rubber dishwashing gloves, and avoid splashing the soda water you are about to make on your skin or in your eyes.
10. Put the baked baking soda in the pot and pour in 6 cups/1.4 L water. Bring the water to a low simmer over high heat, stirring gently to dissolve. Lower the heat to maintain a very gentle simmer. Using a large skimmer, gently dip the pretzels in the simmering liquid, one or two at a time. Leave them in the solution for about 20 seconds, carefully turning once after about 10 seconds. Lift and strain them from the liquid using a skimmer, allowing the excess to drip off, and return the pretzels to the baking sheets, again spacing them at least 1 in/2.5 cm apart as you work. If the ends detach, simply reposition them. Repeat with the remaining pretzels.
11. Quickly brush the tops of the pretzels lightly with the egg wash and sprinkle with coarse salt. Bake the pretzels immediately until deep mahogany in color, 9 to 12 minutes, rotating the baking sheets from front to back and top to bottom halfway through the baking time. Transfer the pretzels to a wire rack to cool for about 10 minutes before serving.
England: Bitter ale fish and chips Serves 4 to 6 4 large russet potatoes, about 2 lb/910g total weight
1½ cups/180 g all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp fine sea salt
1½ cups/360 ml cold english bitter ale, plus more as needed
About 2 qt/2 l peanut oil or vegetable oil
Fine sea salt
1½ lb/680 g cod, pollock, haddock, halibut,
Or other white flaky fish fillets, cut into
¾ cup/85 g cornstarch
4 to 6 fresh parsley sprigs
Lemon wedges, malt vinegar, and tartar sauce for serving
1. Peel the potatoes, but leave the skin intact on each end. Cut the potatoes lengthwise into 3/8-in/ 1-cm batons using a sharp chef’s knife or a mandoline. Put the potatoes in a large bowl of cold water as you cut them. Refrigerate for at least 15 minutes, or up to 24 hours. Drain the potatoes and transfer to a clean kitchen towel. Blot very dry. Set aside for about 10 minutes to dry further.
2. To make the beer batter: whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Pour in the ale, whisking constantly to prevent lumps. Refrigerate the batter for at least 15 minutes, or up to 1 hour.
3. Pour peanut oil into a large Dutch oven or other heavy-bottomed pot to a depth of 2 in/5 cm. Make sure there is at least 3 in/7.5 cm of space between the top of the oil and the top of the pot, to prevent boiling over when the potatoes are added (they cause the oil to bubble up quite a bit). Heat the oil over medium heat to 320°F/160°C. Have ready a baking sheet lined with paper towels.
4. Add the potatoes to the hot oil in handful-size batches. It’s very important not to overcrowd the pot so that the chips fry evenly and the oil doesn’t boil over. Fry until the edges are just starting to color, 2 to 3 minutes, adjusting the heat as needed to maintain the oil temperature. Transfer the chips to the prepared baking sheet to drain, using a slotted spoon or skimmer. Repeat to fry the remaining potatoes. Set the chips aside at room temperature.
5. Preheat the oven to 200°F/95°C, and set a wire rack on a large rimmed baking sheet to hold the finished chips. Raise the heat to bring the oil temperature to 375°F/190°C. Again working in batches, re-fry the potatoes until crisp and lightly browned, 2 to 4 minutes per batch. (Since much of the water has been drawn out during the first fry, you can now fry them in slightly larger batches without overflowing the oil.)
6. Transfer the chips to the wire rack as they come out of the oil and sprinkle them generously with salt. When all of the chips are done, transfer the baking sheet to the oven to keep them warm while you fry the fish. Keep the oil at 375°F/190°C.
7. Set up another baking sheet lined with paper towels. Season the fish generously with salt. Stir the batter. (If it seems a little thick after resting, stir in another splash of beer. A slightly thinner batter yields a crisper crust, while a thicker batter yields a more doughy crust.) Put the cornstarch in a medium bowl. Toss a few of the fish pieces in the cornstarch to coat lightly and shake off the excess, then dip them in the batter to coat well.
8. Slowly lower the coated fish pieces one at a time into the hot oil, still being careful not to overcrowd the pot. Fry, turning once or twice, until golden brown and crisp, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer each batch of fried fish to the paper towels to drain as they are finished. Repeat to fry the remaining fillets. Transfer the baking sheet to the oven to keep warm with the chips. Keep the oil hot for the garnish.
8. Dip the parsley sprigs in the leftover batter and fry them in the hot oil until crisp, about 2 minutes.
9. Pile the chips on a large platter and top with the fried fish. Garnish with the fried parsley sprigs and the lemon wedges and serve immediately, with the malt vinegar and tartar sauce on the side. These recipes are taken from Beer Bites by Christian DeBenedetti and Andrea Slonecker, foreword by Eric Asimov. Published by Chronicle Books (£15.99)
All images © 2015 by John Lee Main image: Chips & beer (Shutterstock)