I love cooking. And I love cooking with beer. And not just drinking a beer while cooking – though that’s a pretty lovely way to cook! – but cooking with beer in the recipe. Spending a few hours in the kitchen with good music on the stereo, and a glass of something nearby with some going into the meal is one of my very happy places.
It’s getting a bit colder of late. And for me that means stews. Stews, chunky soups and curries, big robust single-pot meals, full of vegetables and flavour, with a bit of protein to hold it together, give it a bit of oomph. I love spending a Sunday afternoon making a big pot of something delicious, that’ll do me for lunches or lazy dinners during the week. Comfort food.
I’m particularly fond of venison. A bit of roughly chopped bambi, slowly braised with a pile of vegetables and some delicious liquid. You can use beef stock as the liquid; and of course will use red wine. Both are great, and I’d use either depending on what combination of vegetables I’m accompanying the venison with, but I also use beer – dark beers for this sort of dish in particular. And, one recent weekend while considering my Sunday stew I realised I hadn’t drunk Renaissance’s ‘Stonecutter’ for quite a while.
Stonecutter’s a big, rich, ruby-red Scotch ale. Big and sweet, with a big malty roasted toffee flavour buoyed along by a raisin-like fruitiness from some classy hops. I was blown away by it the first time I tried it five or so years ago, and I’ve been infatuated with it since (though I tend to drink their Elemental porter more these days). But with its sweetness, it really is the ‘red wine’ of their range, as Renaissance describe it. Perfect for a venison stew!
I’m a bit lucky down here in south Wellington; the New World supermarket in Island Bay always has a good line of game such as venison, rabbit, and wild bacon. And, just across the road, one of the few stand-alone butchers left in this city sells my little special touch for such stews – a ‘Hunter’s Sausage’, a Polish-style smoked pork sausage, not to dissimilar to kielbasa. After browning the floured and seasoned venison, I cook off the sausage like you would a lardon, releasing fat and a delicious smoky flavour that permeates the stew as you add the vegetables.
On this day went in some leek, celery, carrot and a couple of big richly earthy chopped swedes (I’d have preferred turnip, but none’s in season). Then back in with the meat, then most of the bottle of Stonecutter (and a bit of beef stock to raise the liquid level). The rich, sweet, ale, with its hints of caramel and spice melded with the flavours of the stew wonderfully. Sit back, indulge in the aromas, as you finish off the bottle of beer.
Then, a few hours later (stewing venison rewards a long slow cook, to get to that melt-in-the-mouth texture), serve the chunks of meat and swede with their delicious rich, sweet gravy with bread or (if, you’re like me, and avoiding grains at the moment) with some mashed potato. Enjoyed with another glass of the ale (you did buy a second bottle of the Stonecutter, right?), it’s a match made in heaven.
The Stonecutter perfectly suits rich, complex meaty flavours such as this stew. There’s a delicious bitter-sweet citrus aftertaste that cleans the palate nicely between mouthfuls of the rich stew and the sweet and warming malt of the ale’s body.
A great way to warm up as the nights grow colder.