Category Archives: beer and food

Expensive scotch egg.

When Did ‘Pairing’ Beer With Food Begin?

In a new piece for All About Beer magazine, Tom Acitelli, author of a well-regarded history of the US craft beer movement, makes a carefully worded and very specific claim on behalf of the late Michael Jackson:

On Nov. 16, 1983… readers of The Washington Post awoke to an essay, meandering over four pages, on which beers to pair with which parts of the Thanksgiving feast the following week… [This was] the first time such extensive beer-food advice had appeared in an American newspaper… It was the father of every beer-food-pairing piece to come in the next generation…

He’s not saying that Jackson was the first to consider pairing specific beers with particular types of food, or that this had never happened before 1983 — only that this was the first time many Americans would have come across the idea explored at such length.

And he is right to be cautious.

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Carter’s Lunch, Manchester, c.1904

“Our local carters working the [Manchester] warehouses seldom took food with them. Public houses, avid for trade, put on some kind of a free snack with their 1½d ‘carters’ pints’. Certain pubs went further and supplied potato pie, cheese and pickles, a pint of beer and a piece of thick twist tobacco — all for 4½d. A carter had to prove his bona fides, though, by bearing a whip in hand or around his neck.”

Robert Roberts, The Classic Slum: Salford life in the first quarter of the century, Penguin, 1971, repr. 1974.

Food and Beer Matching, 1934

“About what should and should not be eaten with beer I would hesitate to lay down the law so forcibly and finally as do the writers upon wine. The writers on wine say that the correct procedure is the choose the wines first and then to arrange the dinner to accord with them. But here again it seems to me that the these wine connoisseurs move in a rarefied atmosphere which, if it is not unknown to the ordinary Drinker, is at least unfamiliar to him… Beer drinkers are not pernickety and Pecksniffian. They are ready to accept an ampler variety of tastes and customs.”

‘A. Drinker’, A Book About Beer, 1934

The Pub as Quasi-Happy Eater

Good George Pacific PearlOur local Wetherspoon’s isn’t a very good one. It rarely has anything other than Doom Bar, Ruddles or Greene King IPA on offer, usually a degree or two too warm, served in an ambience that brings to mind a faux-pub on a cross channel ferry. We pop in from time to time, though, just in case something exciting might be available and, yesterday, we were tempted to stop for a couple of pints from the international beer festival range.

Pacific Pearl, brewed by Good George of New Zealand (Kelly Ryan (PDF link)) was very good indeed though, yes, a bit warm. A sort of a black IPA or citrusy porter, like an oily Terry’s Chocolate Orange melted in a very posh coffee, it was certainly worth £2.15. Fly by Night, brewed by the chap from La Trappe in the Netherlands, on the other hand, was all sweaty socks and cardboard — bad rather than off, we think. Swings and roundabouts, eh?

As we drank, we talked about why, apart from the beer, we didn’t like the pub. Our conclusion: it feels like a fast food restaurant with some pub-like features — very convenient and obviously good value, but naff. Then, coincidentally, last night, we came across this passage in the 1985 CAMRA Good Beer Guide, on the subject of Host Group, Grand Met/Watney’s newly announced pub chain:

‘The Host packaged pub enterprise is as much of a threat to those who love individuality and consumer choice, as the packaged beer phenomenon was in the last two decades,’ says Peter Lerner of CAMRA’s Pub Preservation Group. ‘We cannot let our pubs decline to become chains of look-alike quasi-Happy Eater, Kentucky Fried Chicken bars or motorway service stations.’

A quasi-Happy Eater is a very good description of our local JDW.

Snacks to Beer: Pizza

Pizza with floury burned crust.

We’ve been making our own pizzas for a few years but have never really been happy with the results. We’ve tried pizza stones; posh mozzarella; tomato sauces from both fresh toms and tinned, cooked and uncooked.

Now, at last, we’ve settled on a recipe and an approach, and it’s one that illustrates the Premium Sausage Problem: the trick was using simpler, cheaper ingredients. It makes what we call upmarket takeaway’ pizza — cheesy and salty, but with a crisp crust; think Pizza Express. By popular demand (one person asked), here’s the recipe.

Dough (for two pizzas)

  • 300g plain white flour — we use the cheapest available.
  • 1 teaspoon dried, fast-acting yeast. (Or 4-5 grams.)
  • Half a teaspoon of salt (or to taste).
  • Optional: a pinch of dried basil, oregano or mixed Italian herbs.
  • 180ml of warm water.
  1. Bung all the above in a food processor with a dough hook and knead in the machine for five or so minutes, or until it comes together into a nice, shiny looking ball of dough. If it looks too dry after two minutes, add water a drop at a time. (You can also make the dough by hand, which will be messier and take longer, if you prefer.)
  2. Put a slug of olive oil in a large bowl.
  3. Shape the dough into a neat ball and turn it in the oil then leave the dough in the bowl covered with clingfilm for a couple of hours.
  4. Knock it back when it doubles in size and then leave for another hour or so.

Toppings

  • Can/pack of passata (sieved, uncooked tomatoes).
  • Pack of grated, hard mozzarella. (Not sloppy mozzarella balls.)
  • Salt, dried basil, black pepper.
  • Topping 1: anchovies and black olives. (TIP: crush the olives in your hand to help dry them out.)
  • Topping 2: 10-12 slices from a chorizo ring (per pizza).
  • Optional: basil leaves.

Pizza bases, one plain and one with passata.

Putting it together

  1. Get the oven on as hot as it will go.
  2. Divide your dough in two and, on a floured surface, make a ball. Flatten it out with the heel of your hand or a heavily floured rolling pin until it’s a neat circle 20cm across. Flour a non-stick pizza tin (ours cost £4 each) and then press the dough out to the edges. It should end up pretty thin all over. Leave it for 10 minutes.
  3. Take a ladle and spread a very thin layer of passata over each base — thin enough that you can see the dough through it in places — something like four or five tablespoons’ worth. Add salt, pepper and dried basil to taste. Leave for another 1o minutes.
  4. Sprinkle cheese all over, just enough to cover.
  5. Add other toppings in a way which pleases your eye. (But not basil leaves just yet!)
  6. Once the oven is at maximum temperature, put both pizzas in. Our oven cooks them in bang on 11 minutes. In case your oven is better, set a timer for 9-10 and keep an eye on them.
  7. When they’re done (crust beginning to blacken, cheese melted and darkening), take them out.
  8. Add more black pepper and fresh basil leaves, if you’re using them.

Tweaks and customisation

  • Other toppings that work well are pepper and sweetcorn (further cost-cutting: frozen work well); and small beef meatballs with cayenne and black pepper.
  • If you find the pizza too crisp this way and like it ‘bendier’, turn the oven down to c.200 degrees C and cook for a few minutes longer.
  • If you really want to use mozzarella balls, try slicing them and leaving them to drain on a cloth for a while before adding them.

Beer? Oh, yeah, this is a beer blog, isn’t it? Alright then: we find that pizza goes particularly well with Saison Dupont but, actually, pizza works with pretty much any beer you fancy.