...sipped from a glass misted with condensation, so the rim is icy against my mouth at each swig
Beer is sometimes seen as an inelegant tipple compared to wine, yet in certain other countries it is regarded as equal to, and produced with as much care as, wine – even to the point where beers can now be found which have specifically been developed to be enjoyed with food.
This is certainly not news in Belgium, where an array of beers with sophisticated palates and complex aromas have been brewed for centuries. Belgian – and now other – restaurants frequently match dishes not with wine but with a glass of beer. Recently, Spanish superstar chef Ferran Adria teamed up with a Barcelona brewery to create a beautiful, slightly cloudy beer designed with food in mind: presented in a champagne-style bottle and sipped from wine glasses. This surely signals beer's revival as worthy of any table.
Beer is not just for drinking with pizza or curry. Its bitterness can be a heavenly match with rich duck or lamb and surprisingly good too with a salad filled with yeasty, crunchy croutons. It's a versatile ingredient too – swapping the ubiquitous wine or pernod for beer in a pot of mussels makes a delicious change. A slug of stout enriches brown bread dough with an irresistible earthiness, while beef simmered in light ale remains a British classic.
Steamed mussels in beer and parsley
2 tbsp olive oil
4 large shallots, peeled and finely diced
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
2kg very fresh mussels, debearded and rinsed in cold water then left to stand in cold water for at least an hour
600ml beer of your choice
Several rounded dsstsp chopped parsley to finish, stalks reserved
A few sprigs of thyme
1. Heat a pan big enough to hold all the mussels. Add the olive oil to the pot and begin to fry the shallots and garlic slowly and gently so they do not colour. After a few minutes add the parsley and thyme stalks and continue the gentle frying.
2. Meanwhile, give the mussels one last rinse in cold water then drain them in a colander, shaking off any excess water. When the shallot has softened, add the mussels to the pot and stir well so the mussels are coated in the shallot and herbs. Now add the beer, cover with a lid and leave to cook for a few minutes. After this time, give everything a good stir and cover again with a lid, leaving for a few more minutes. Have a peek at the shells, which should be starting to open up. Now leave the lid off and stir the pot one last time, turning everything over to ensure all the ingredients are well combined. Add half the parsley to the pot. Start to divide the mussels between warm bowls, discarding any which have not opened. Fish out the parsley stalks and thyme stalks with some tongs and discard them, then add the rest of the parsley to the juices. Spoon these over the mussels and serve with crusty bread and a green salad, perhaps with the pizza croutons in the next recipe.
For the pizza dough:
375g plain flour
7g active dried yeast
2tbsp olive oil
225ml warm water, just warmer than body temperature if you dip a (clean) finger into it
To finish the pizza croutons:
2 cloves of garlic
3-4 dsstsp grated parmesan
Sea salt flakes
For the dressing:
A spoonful of Greek yogurt
A dash of sherry vinegar or white wine vinegar to sharpen the taste
A dash of water to give it the consistency of a vinaigrette
For the salad:
6 ripe tomatoes
4 heads of little gem, chopped into 1in lengths, root discarded
1-2 dsstsp grated parmesan
12 basil leaves, half shredded with a very sharp knife, the remainder left whole
1 dsstsp chopped tarragon leaves
Sea salt flakes, olive oil and fresh ground black pepper
2 balls of buffalo mozzarella, torn into pieces of about 1in diameter
Soft crumbled blue cheese (optional)
1. To make the pizza dough and the croutons: combine the flour, salt, sugar and yeast in a large bowl and stir with a spoon. Make a well in the centre and add the oil and most of the water. Begin to work the dough together using either a spoon or your hands – if it is too dry, add more or all of the water. Once it has come together to form a rough ball, knead it briefly for a minute on a floured surface then roll out on the countertop. Cut the dough into small balls or rectangles; they puff up as they cook, so cut them slightly smaller than you wish them to be once cooked.
2. Heat a frying pan. Add a light film of olive oil and the garlic to scent the oil – do not let it brown or it will turn bitter and affect the flavour of the oil. Remove the garlic once it has scented the oil. Add one pizza ball to test the temperature of the oil; the oil should sizzle around the dough, so adjust the heat level accordingly. When you are happy with the temperature of the oil, add handfuls of the dough balls, taking care not to overfill the pan as this will reduce the heat too much. Fry on all sides until golden. Have the parmesan ready in a large bowl and add the hot croutons to the bowl as soon as they come out of the pan. Coat the croutons in the parmesan then transfer them to a plate lined with kitchen paper and season with the sea salt. These are best eaten warm, so do this when the salad is pretty much ready to serve.
3. For the salad, prepare the tomatoes in advance. Bring a pan of water to the boil then blanch the tomatoes for 10 seconds before chilling at once in iced water. Remove them as soon as they are cold and slip the skins off. Cut the tomatoes into quarters, discard the seeds and set aside.
4. For the dressing, place the yogurt and vinegar in a small bowl and add water a little at a time, stirring with a fork until you arrive at the consistency of a light vinaigrette. Set aside for now.
5. Place the leaves of little gem in a large mixing bowl. Add the parmesan, basil and tarragon and the tomatoes. Sprinkle on some sea salt and freshly ground black pepper then add enough dressing to coat the leaves very lightly. Stir well then add the rest of the basil, the mozzarella and the blue cheese, if using, then finally add the warm croutons. Stir and serve at once.