The holidays are great, but beer makes everything better, including December’s most iconic condiment
When it comes to familial gatherings during the holidays, many see the helix strains of DNA as the ties that bind…but not me. I say our winter comings, goings, catch-ups and throw-downs are bound by two mighty forces—alcohol and gravy. The former makes everything better—or at least far more tolerable—including the latter. With Thanksgiving in our near-horizon rear-view and the yuletide fast approaching, this seems the perfect time to share a base recipe for beer-infused gravy as well as several fun variations and preparations for it.
Many believe you need to have the drippings from a large roast beast or buxom fowl to construct authentically delicious gravy. I am not arguing the glories of starting with the rendered fat and juices of a slow-cooked behemoth, but gravy on the fly can be made using just about any form of fat desired. It all depends on your ultimate saucing goal.
If you’re looking for a really meaty or smoky gravy, but aren’t starting with a meaty, smoky hunk of protein, the best way to go is sausage. But know your links (or patties). Breakfast sausage is a nice midpoint. It generally exhibits big pork flavor, plenty of salt and a touch of black-pepper spice, making it ideal for the “sawmill gravy” used to smother biscuits across the South. That dish sees crumbled breakfast sausage rendered in a cast-iron skillet, followed by a sprinkle of flour (typically Wondra, a super-fine variety easily found in supermarkets) and the addition of whole milk and more pepper. Other forms of sausage can be used in this preparation, most notably loose, Mexican-style beer or pork chorizo, which adds plenty of garlic and paprika flavor to the finished product. But given its high fat content, you may need to actually remove some of the abundant (and abundantly tasty) orange oil slick that results during rendering.
Getting back on the holiday-accoutrement track, Italian sausage rendered in olive oil provides nice flavors for turkey gravy, as do the giblets (the heart, kidneys, liver and neck packaged inside a frozen turkey’s cavity), though the latter lends flavor sans fat. With turkey and beef gravy, it’s not as important to extract flavors from fat so long as you use stock. One can make their own stock by simmering bones or the aforementioned giblets along with aromatic vegetables (generally, carrots, onions and celery), but store-bought versions have come a long way over the years. When utilizing them, it’s recommended to go with low-sodium or unsalted varieties so you can control the amount of seasoning in your gravy.
When it comes to incorporating beer, it’s important to select the right type for the dish that you are adding the gravy to. For beefy gravies, reach for ales with rich, roasted-malt character—brown ales, porters, stouts, Belgian dubbels and quadrupels. Even coffee beers can work, especially when making “red-eye gravy”, which typically incorporates black coffee and is served over country ham. For lighter gravies served over poultry, it’s best to stay on the lower-bodied, gold-to-blonde side of the SRM scale, opting for beers with floral, herbal or vegetal character—helles, Kölsch, Belgian blonde ales, witbiers, table beers or saisons. The nuances of Belgian ales, in particular, create a flavor bridge for herbs like sage, thyme, parsley and rosemary. In the case of any gravy, it’s highly recommended that hoppy beers be avoided altogether.
Some of my favorite beer-gravy dishes during the holidays include herbed saison gravy with turkey and brown ale beef gravy with steak of any kind. Either work well over mashed potatoes, especially if they have goat cheese whipped into them along with whatever herbs are used in the gravy. And a dish that holds a special place in my heart 365 days a year is something I affectionately call Debu-Tots. It gets its name from the main ingredient—The Debutante, a Belgian-style amber ale made at my nine-to-five, Societe Brewing. That, bacon fat and beef stock form the basis for a gravy that is ladled over tater tots that are then adorned with cheese curds (if you can get them…queso Oaxaca or queso fresco if you can’t). It’s a modern, beery take on poutine that benefits greatly from the depth of malty, spicy flavor in the base beer. I’ve included the recipe so that you can enjoy it now, into the New Year and beyond!
with Bacon, Cheese Curds & Belgian Amber Beer Gravy
Yield: 4 servings
Add the bacon to a cast-iron skillet or large sauté pan over medium-high heat and cook until it is crispy and its fat has fully rendered. Remove the bacon from the pan and, if necessary, remove some of the fat so that there is ¼ cup remaining in the skillet. Whisk in the flour until it is fully incorporated with the fat. Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes. Add the stock, beer and Worcestershire sauce. Bring the mixture to a boil, add the rosemary and cook until a gravy consistency is reached 5 to 6 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Strain the mixture into a gravy boat and set aside.
To serve, divide the tater tots into serving bowls. Place the cheese over the tater tots and ladle with warm gravy. Garnish with the reserved bacon and scallions. Serve immediately.
Societe Brewing’s Lorah Smith keeps her co-workers fed and her Facebook followers salivating
Last year, I took a job at Kearny Mesa’s Societe Brewing Company. Having been a long-time fan of that operation, I’d had the pleasure of getting to know numerous members of the Societe team prior to coming aboard. I’d long admired their deep-seeded appreciation for beer and the brewing process, and looked forward to working with like-minded souls in that regard. But I had no idea that I’d also find common-ground where my culinary passions are concerned.
One of my biggest concerns in spending five-days-a-week at Societe was how I was going to resist the urge to consume The Pupil, The Dandy, The Butcher and their cousins on a far-too-frequent basis. It remains challenging, I’ll admit, but I manage somehow. As it turns out, there’s even more to be tempted by at my workday digs—namely a constant barrage of home-made, edible goodness brought in on plates and platters, in tinfoil and Tupperware, and always warm, odoriferous, fluffy, gooey, piping hot or otherwise desirable thanks to its maker, Lorah Smith.
To many, Lorah is “Travis’ wife”, and while that is true from a literal sense (she does sport a wedding band bestowed upon her by our brewmaster), to her family at Societe, she is so much more—kind-hearted spearhead of our charitable and humanitarian efforts, coordinator of our offsite beer-dinners, maternal herder of cats and nourisher of the masses. I found out about that last one after being treated to three days of tasty baked goods during my first week of employment. Many dishes, both savory and sweet, have followed. So, too, have dozens of conversations about food and her daily cooking conquests, proof of which are presented via her appetizing Facebook timeline.
I instantly felt a kinship with Lorah. We’ve both been bitten by the cooking-bug, but she’s far more prolific than I am these days. I marvel at her output and creativity. There have been times when she’s made more food than her audiences can consume. Keep in mind that her audiences regularly consist of her hungry-man husband and trio of kiddos, and the 20-plus employees of a brewery where more than half of those folks have completed a challenge that involves consuming a two-and-a-half-pound burrito and full-serving of imperial stout in less than 20 minutes. To outcook these folks is quite the feat.
If you’re not impressed yet, a look at some of the dishes she’s fixed up ought to do it: herb-crusted rack of lamb with balsamic-glazed portobellos and chevre-stuffed potatoes, home-made pho, New Orleans-style Asian braised pork belly, chilaquiles with hatch green chile salsa, and carnitas made from a pig that Travis guy butchered himself. Then there’s the hearty chili made with meat from a bear gifted to the Smiths by local beer-scene gadabout Bobby Mathews, which was both exotic and delicious! And keep in mind, these aren’t things she busted out for special occasions. These are days-that-end-with-a-Y territory. The woman just loves to cook and can do it well.
So, when it came time to focus on a local culinarian with chops, gusto and some recipes to share, it was a no-brainer that I shine a light on this generous gastronome. You can call her “Travis’ wife” if you insist, but you’d do just as well to refer to her as “chef.”
Bangers and Mash with Braised Cabbage and Beer-Onion Gravy
Paired with The Haberdasher English IPA or The Pugilist Dry Stout
Yield: 4 servings
Place the potatoes in a large pot of water and bring to a boil over high heat. Continue to boil until the potatoes are fork tender, about 12 to 15 minutes. While the potatoes are boiling, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in a large skillet over low heat. Add 2 cups of onions and sauté until soft and tender, about 6 minutes. Place the bangers to the skillet and add enough beer to cover them. Bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until the bangers are fully cooked, 15 to 20 minutes. You may need to add more beer to keep the bangers covered at least to the halfway mark as the liquid evaporates. Once the potatoes are tender, drain and transfer to a large mixing bowl. Mix in the milk and 5 tablespoons of butter and mash to desired consistency. Season with salt and pepper, then cover to keep warm.
Melt the remaining butter in a large skillet over low heat. Add the onions and sauté until they begin to caramelize, 10 to 15 minutes. Add the cabbage and some of the broth from the bangers to help wilt it. Cook until slightly tender, 5 to 7 minutes.
Remove the bangers from the broth and keep warm. Increase heat to medium-high and reduce the onions and broth mixture by half to create a thin gravy. Add Worcestershire sauce, and season with salt, pepper and garlic powder as desired.
To serve, place a mound of mashed potatoes onto a plate and top with a sausage. Ladle the onion gravy on top of the bangers and mash. Spoon some cabbage on the side and serve immediately with an English-style IPA or dry Irish-style stout.
Paired with The Savage Feral Dark Ale with Cherries
Yield: 6 servings
For the Filling
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
For the batter, cut the milk and butter into the remaining dry ingredients and set aside. For the filling, place the cherries in the bottom of a greased 9-inch baking dish. In a small bowl, combine 1 cup of sugar with the cornstarch. Stir in the boiling water, then pour the mixture over the cherries. Pour and spread the batter evenly over the cherry mixture. Evenly sprinkle the remaining sugar over the cobbler. Place in the oven and bake until the cobbler top is golden-brown and cooked through, approximately 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and let stand 5 minutes.
Serve warm alone or topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Either way, pair this dessert with a Flanders-style red ale or barrel-aged, cherry-infused sour ale.
—Recipes courtesy of Lorah Smith, Events Manager & Director of Charitable Giving, Societe Brewing Company