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SIMMERING SUDS

Cook with beer like a pro.

WRITTEN BY HEIDI BETHEL
PHOTOS BY SHAUN HUNTER

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Imagine picking a beautiful porcini mushroom. Watch as it’s boiled into wort, the liquid extracted from the mashing process, only to ferment to bubbly perfection. Like a caterpillar morphing into a beautiful butterfly, a new, delicious porter emerges. And that delicious infusion of mushrooms into beer goes on to star in some truly tasty dishes.

If you’re speaking with Chris Nealon, executive chef at Montrêux Golf and Country Club in Reno, this special porter is precisely his vision. Earlier this year, Eric Ramin, brewmaster at Reno’s The Brewer’s Cabinet, collaborated with Nealon to create the Little Phat Pig Baltic Porter. This fun brew went on to star in the popular Chef Series, in which top chefs from renowned Reno restaurants devised a food-friendly beer brewed by Ramin.

As Reno Craft Beer Week winds up in The Biggest Little City in early June, with pairing and tasting events happening all over town, now’s the time to join Nealon in the kitchen as he cooks with some delicious drafts.

Infused with porcini mushrooms from the Pacific Northwest, the Little Phat Pig Baltic Porter has been brewing in Nealon’s imagination for some time.

“I was in Oregon for six years, and one of my favorite foods to hunt was the delicious, full-bodied porcini mushroom. I would find them on walks in the woods and around my property,” Nealon says. “Porter is my favorite beer style to cook with and drink. It’s a match made in beer-loving heaven.”

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Six-pack selection

Speaking of the best beers to cook with, Matt Johnson, co-founder of IMBIB Custom Brews in Reno, is a big fan of cooking with craft brews. He touts the diverse, flavorful highlights that beer brings to food and suggests that those wanting to experiment should start with more mild-flavored varieties.

“There have been some great examples of using really hoppy IPAs in cooking and pairing, but the flavors are so bold they can overpower the food you’re making,” Johnson says.

“For people just trying it out, I’d push them toward pilsner, stout, porter … things that won’t overpower what you’re trying to cook, which hops often can do,” Johnson continues. “That’s probably true with sour beers as well. You can easily overdo it with too much acidity and sourness.”

Much like wine, a cold beer can be used in different cooking methods, running the gamut of delectable eats — savory to sweet. Add some zing to chowder or cheese soup with cream ale. Use porter as a braising liquid to infuse meats with rich, malty notes. Complement a chocolate treat by adding a stout with coffee notes. The possibilities are vast. And, with just a few sips extra, you can toast a great meal.

Heidi Bethel enjoys all things beer and cannot wait to use her favorite bottle opener from her bartending days to get started on amazing dishes in the kitchen.

RESOURCES

What a pair
Tips for matching local beer with cheese and more.

Still prefer to drink your ale rather than eat it? Laura Conrow, owner and founder, and Jason Davis, cheesemonger and beer/wine buyer, of Wedge Cheese Shop in Reno’s Midtown district, host pairing events that offer guests suggestions for selecting the right beers from Reno-Tahoe brewers to couple with dairy delights. (Note: Wedge Cheese Shop closed April 30, but Conrow will continue to participate in special events, including Reno Craft Beer Week.) Here are some of their favorites:

Chevoo (fresh goat cheese marinated in olive oil, with Aleppo chiles and lemon) and Saison from Alibi Ale Works in Incline Village. The lemon in the Chevoo matches perfectly with the citrus notes in the Saison, and the Saison’s earthy complexity is a delicious complement to the tang of the goat cheese and the slight heat from the chiles.

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Redwood Hill Smoked Goat Cheddar and Tectonic Event IPA from Great Basin Brewing Co. in Reno-Sparks. Aromatic, resinous hops meld with the powerful smokiness and intensity of this Cheddar, with flavors of earthy pine, grapefruit, and barbecued meat.

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Saint Agur double-cream blue cheese and Porterbeer from Under the Rose Brewing Co. in Reno. The roasted chocolate malt of the Porterbeer matches and enhances the richness of the lush, creamy Saint Agur. Conrow and Davis love dark chocolate and blue cheese together, and this pairing puts those chocolate notes in beer form.

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Reno Craft Beer Week is June 2 – 10
Sip, dine, and learn more about cooking with some of the best local brews around. For a complete schedule of events, visit Renocraftbeerweek.com.
Be sure to stop by The Brewer’s Cabinet to try the Little Phat Pig Baltic Porter now on tap.

Recipes

Little Phat Pig Baltic Porter-Braised Pork Belly

Served with porter syrup, Brussels sprouts, white beans, and grilled flatbread

(courtesy of Chris Nealon, executive chef, Montrêux Golf and Country Club in Reno. Serves 6)

3 pounds pork belly, skin removed

1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons kosher salt

½ tablespoon ground ancho chile, toasted

4 tablespoons fresh thyme sprigs

½ teaspoon cinnamon

12 ounces Little Phat Pig Baltic Porter or another dark beer of choice

4 cups chicken stock

Salt and pepper, as needed

Combine dry ingredients and thyme sprigs and rub all over pork belly. Place in large zip-lock bag, removing as much air as possible. Refrigerate 24 hours, turning whole bag over halfway through to ensure pork belly is evenly coated.

Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Remove pork from bag, rinse, pat dry, and bring to room temperature. Score fat side of pork belly in crisscross pattern. Heat in pan large enough to hold pork belly, or cut in halves to fit inside smaller pan. Sear pork belly fat-side down until golden brown. Turn and sear other side. Remove pork belly from pan and drain excess fat. Add beer to hot pan and cook 2 minutes to burn off alcohol. Add stock and adjust salt and pepper to preference.

Place pork belly back in pan, making sure it’s almost covered with cooking liquid but that fat is still exposed. Cover with foil and place in oven. Cook 2 hours or until tender.

When pork belly is tender, remove from oven and leave in cooking liquid to cool completely. Cut into 4-ounce serving pieces and sear in hot cast-iron skillet, or deep fry until crispy. Reserve for plating.

Porter syrup

12 ounces Little Phat Pig Baltic Porter or similar dark beer

4 tablespoons honey

½ teaspoon sherry vinegar

Place ingredients in nonreactive (stainless steel) saucepan over medium heat. Let mixture simmer, but do not boil or it will become bitter. Cook 45 minutes until syrupy and sweet. Adjust with pinch of salt. Strain through finest mesh strainer available.

Brussels sprouts

1 cup Brussels sprout leaves

Olive oil

Salt and pepper

Add enough oil to lightly coat bottom of hot sauté pan. Toss in leaves and season with salt and pepper. Cook quickly, just until leaves lightly blister. Remove from pan.

White beans

14 ounces white beans, cooked or canned

6 garlic cloves, roasted

1 lemon

1 teaspoon parsley, chopped

Salt and pepper, to taste

Toss beans with garlic. Zest lemon with Microplane and squeeze a few drops of juice into beans. Toss with parsley and season with salt and pepper.

Grilled flatbread

4 pieces fresh flatbread

Olive oil, as needed

Rub small dab of oil over bread, but do not saturate it. Place on hot griddle or barbecue. Gently char bread.

Plating

Warm 6 plates in oven. Make small pile of white beans in center of plate. Arrange cooked and sliced pork belly over beans. Drizzle syrup around plate and toss a few Brussels sprout leaves over pork belly and around plate. Serve with flatbread on side.

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