We’re sitting in a booth at Grill Meats Beer and across from me is the chef who has, arguably, done more for mixing beer and food in New Zealand than any other. We’re enjoying a couple of pints of Fork Brewing’s XPA, Charlie, when our fried oyster bao arrive.
Shaun Clouston is known to many people in the beer industry. He’s currently the head chef at Logan Brown, co-owner of Grill Meats Beer and a prolific talker. He loves beer and does his best to keep up with all the new releases.
And that is the key to finding perfect matches: drinking as many different beers as you can; discovering and learning the flavours.
This is how Shaun paired Emerson’s Pilsner with oysters. It was a match that Richard Emerson, a man who loves pairing food with beer, thought was crazy. You have oysters with stouts and porters.
“Oysters and champagne, everyone knows that one right?” says Shaun, “and when I had this beer I was like, this is just like a champagne, so it’ll go perfectly. And it seems odd now that this was such a bold step.”
Food and beer have been linked together forever. Bread and beer were most likely discovered at the same time. The porterhouse steak is named after a place known for its porters. Cooking with beer is hardly new either, but Shaun has taken it to new heights.
His Wakanui beef cheeks braised with Emerson’s London Porter is a staple on the menu at Logan Brown. He’s turned beers into desserts, freeze dried them, and even found a match for the most notorious beer: Yeastie Boys’ Rex Attitude (paired with kedgeree).
The stronger the flavour in a beer, the harder it is to match with or put into food. The hop notes in many IPAs die when the beer is cooked, while the intense bitterness of some overwhelm any food matches.
While the new range of fruit flavoured IPAs are great with food (“I love that grapefruit and pineapple Sculpin”), other adjuncts leave a bad taste in the mouth.
“I haven’t tried a chilli beer yet that I’ve liked.”
Balance is such a hard thing to achieve in brewing, harder still when you want to have an ‘extreme’ beer with food. Do you go like Rex Attitude and fight fire with fire, or try to hit it with an opposing flavour (La Calavera Catrina with nachos or cheesecake?)
Meanwhile at Grill Meats Beer, the plates are piling up. Oyster bao (“my version of an Asian-style oyster poboy”) are followed by sticky Hunan lamb ribs and the old stand-by JFC (Japanese fried chicken). I’m annoyed that my White Matter (Yeastie Boys’ white version of their tea-flavoured IPA) doesn’t match to any of them, while Shaun’s pint of Mangosé and Melons from Baylands is almost perfect.
I switch to a heavier flavoured Tuatara Centennial Ale to match the Hunan ribs and it finally clicks. I imagine it’d go even better with the Hop and Hoisin ribs, which are made with an IPA. We would then try the bao with a London Porter and realise that both the beer and bao are too sweet for each other.
Shaun ponders his beer for a while. “You know, I think this is sweeter than it used to be.” I can only confirm that the pilsner has certainly changed in the last year.
This is a problem when you cook with craft beer. Recipes change; beers can be different from batch to batch; a change in the hop harvest can drastically alter the flavour. Where wine makes it clear that different vintages will taste different, beer doesn’t. What happens if Emerson’s Pilsner doesn’t go with oysters anymore?
Shaun is pondering this over our final beers (Double Vision Brewing’s Pacific Ale) when he suddenly recalls something: “You have to mention Kieran!”
When Shaun was first trying to get Logan Brown away from beer as a secondary element to wine (the fridges still contained Tui for cruise ship patrons who had heard of it), Kieran Haslett-Moore was a huge influence.
Back then, Kieran was working for Regional Wines and Spirits and brought Shaun a big box full of beers to try.
“It blew my mind all these flavours! It was like a whole new discovery for me and I certainly wouldn’t be doing the things I am now if it wasn’t for him. In the end, that’s really what you need. You need someone who is incredibly passionate about their subject to lead you there.”
Shaun Clouston’s London Porter Braised Beef Cheeks
- 4 beef cheeks – trimmed
- ½ – ¾ bottle Emerson’s London Porter
- 1 carrot – peeled & sliced
- 1 large onion – peeled & sliced
- 1 stick celery – sliced
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 tsp Dutch cocoa powder
- 1-1 ½ lt beef stock – heated
- Salt & fresh milled black pepper for seasoning
1. Season the trimmed beef cheeks with a little salt and pepper, then lightly oil. Heat a heavy skillet or fry pan and colour the beef cheeks. Once coloured, place into a deep braising dish.
2. In the same pan brown all the sliced vegetables and bay leaves, then add to the braising dish containing the sealed beef cheeks. Deglaze the pan with the London Porter, then add to the braising dish. Lastly cover the cheeks with hot beef stock and 1 tsp Dutch cocoa, before covering the braising dish and placing in an oven that has been pre-heated to 160°C
3. Cook for 1 ½ – 2 hours or until soft.
4. Leave the beef cheeks to fully cool in the liquid, preferably overnight to let the flavours fully infuse.
5. To reheat, remove the cheeks from the braising liquid and strain off the vegetables and any solidified fat. Place the liquid into a large pan and reduce the liquid by half on the stove top, before adding the cheeks to reheat. Baste the beef cheeks with the hot braising liquor, then place in a hot oven for 10-15 minutes to fully reheat. basting every few minutes or so. By this stage the beef cheeks should be fully warmed and the sauce reduced.
6. Serve with mashed potatoes flavoured with a little horseradish or a simple risotto & enjoy