By Mark Bowers
Beer and food have a natural partnership, and people have been consuming both together for millennia. There are numerous historical accounts of celebrations where beer and food were nearly synonymous with the festivities themselves. Even today, many people sit down to a meal and accompany refueling the body with a glass of ale or lager. Near perfect pairings are American craft pilsner with pepperoni pizza or English bitter ale with fish and chips.
In the last decade, with the rise in popularity of craft beer, and not wanting to be outdone by the wine industry, upscale beer and food dinners have become quite popular. (Here’s a menu entry from a beer dinner in 2015 that Posto in Somerville held matched with beers from Aeronaut: Rigatoni Puntanesca with black olives, tomato, anchovy and octopus accompanied by A Year with Dr. Nandu). So beer and food pairings span the entire range from the mundane to the truly extraordinary.
While there are certain pairings that are inherently superior to others, most work reasonably well. However, it can be fun to specifically make a dish and try to elevate the experience with a thought out choice of a beer.
For this blog post I will be expounding on a relatively simple to prepare dish, the humble frittata, that gets high marks for presentation and sophistication. Plus there are nearly an infinite number of ingredients and options for it making it nearly as versatile as pizza. In addition, this adaptable dish can be served for breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner.
So what exactly is a frittata? Basically it is an Italian open-style omelet. Although the name frittata is Italian for fried, the origin of this egg dish likely predates Italy and might go as far back as Mesopotamia. The dish is so common and unassuming that some Italian cookbooks leave out the fritta. Many Italian cooks make a frittata using the leftovers from the day before, including pasta, mixing them into beaten eggs and cooking them quickly in a pan.
Nearly any vegetable can be used, and usually more than one. The other nearly mandatory ingredient (at least to me) is cheese. The harder types of cheeses such as cheddar, Monterey jack and gruyere work especially well, alone or in blends. I frequently add parmesan cheese as a final topping to add a touch more complexity to the dish. However, softer cheeses also find a place in frittatas, especially goat cheese.
Back to the veggies! Onions, garlic and other alliums are great additions and act as a base to build on. Other common cooking vegetables that go well in a frittata are tomatoes, broccoli, green and red peppers, asparagus, green beans, peas, mushrooms, eggplant, carrots, and potatoes to name a few common ones. Sauteed greens are good too, including spinach, kale, Swiss chard, collard greens and arugula, but there are many others too. And let’s not forget herbs such as the typical Italian ones: basil, parsley, cilantro, oregano, rosemary, thyme, sage, etc. And definitely, Asian herbs and spices are fair game too such as Thai, Indian, Japanese and Chinese seasoning blends.
Adding meats to frittatas are definitely tasty options too. The usual brunch meat types are all legitimate additions such as ham, bacon, Canadian bacon, prosciutto and sausage. Even other meats such as chicken, steak, pork, turkey, and duck can work. Seafood, such as smoked salmon, shrimp, clams, etc., is also a perfectly legitimate accoutrement.
In addition to the ingredients that you can find in your local grocery store, local foraged ingredients can add a special touch to a frittata. For the frittata recipe below, I used some fresh foraged wild garlic (aka field garlic or lawn chives) that I had found near the edge of a stand of woods near my house. Wild garlic looks a lot like chives and can be found in some backyards or woods. It has a crunchy, mildly garlicky taste whereas chives taste mildly oniony and are not crunchy. If you try your hand at foraging, make sure that the plants that you find do taste of garlic or onion otherwise it is not an edible allium. If you are unsure about the plant,it’s generally a good idea to leave it alone.
Pairing Frittatas with Beer
The main ingredient in frittatas is a mixture of eggs. Fortunately, eggs pair quite well with most beer styles. However, there are a few guidelines that can make the match better. For example, any spicy-hot egg dish can pair nicely with hoppy beers like IPAs. This is especially true for many Mexican egg dishes that contain hot chillies or hot sauces. The same holds true for craft pilsners. These beers cut through the fat of the cheese that coats the mouth thus resetting the palate while the hop notes play with the spices and chillies in the hot sauce.
Less hoppy and more malty lagers, like helles, amber lagers, Vienna, Marzen, Oktoberfest and other dark lager beers, work better with egg dishes that are less spicy, and have less chili heat. Plus if the dish has browned ingredients from long cooking, roasting, baking or grilling, the malty, toasty, caramel flavors of the food go wonderfully well with similar types of flavors in the malty lagers as well as brown ales and brown porters. Just be careful not to overwhelm the dish with a very pronounced roasty even sometimes burnt character often found in big robust porters and stouts. The burnt flavors of coffee and chocolate, many times bordering on being acrid, can clash and inundate the milder, complex flavors of the browned ingredients and the cheese.
Two other styles of beer deserve a mention here as well. These are saison (Belgian country ales) and weissbiers (German style wheat beers such as hefeweizen and dunkelweizen). The saison is an extremely versatile beer type to matcrh with food. Its snappy bitterness, earthy-spiciness, dynamic aromatics, peppery phenolics, slight acidity, and sprightly carbonation makes saison one of the most versatile beers to pair with food. In a similar vein, weissbiers go well with egg dishes and pretty much all brunch menu items. Its lively carbonation and touch of acidity cut right through the mouth-coating eggs and cheese, while its fruity flavors and slight spiciness work with most of the other ingredients one is likely to encounter in a frittata.
I chose this vegetarian Caramelized Onion Frittata version for this post based upon what I had at hand; I also wanted to include the wild garlic and some caramelized onions to add a touch of browned sweetness.
Recipe for Caramelized Onion Frittata
Serves: 2 people
Time: 1 hour, including preparation and cooking
1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
½ red pepper, chopped
1 cup cooked broccoli, chopped
4 Tbs. olive oil
¾ cup tomatoes, chopped
½ cup cheddar cheese, grated
¼ cup parmesan cheese, grated
4 large eggs
2 Tbs. milk
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. dried thyme
⅛ tsp. cayenne pepper
salt & freshly ground pepper to taste
hot sauce (optional)
3 Tbs. foraged wild garlic or chives
Saute the sliced yellow onion, sliced garlic cloves and about 1 tablespoon olive oil in a skillet over low heat. Stir occasionally for about 45 minutes or until the onions are an even dark brown. Be patient as you do not want them to brown too quickly before they develop the sweet caramelized flavor. If the pan dries out, add a tablespoon or so of water to deglaze the pan. After the onions and garlic are nicely caramelized, remove from the heat, lightly salt and pepper, place them in a small bowl, and set aside.
Using the same skillet over medium heat add a bit more olive oil and the red pepper. Saute until the peppers are soft. Add the broccoli, tomatoes, and 2 tablespoons of the wild garlic or chives and cook until heated through. Remove from the heat.
In a medium bowl, combine the eggs with the milk using a whisk. Add in the oregano, thyme and cayenne pepper plus season a little with salt and pepper and stir to incorporate. Turn on the broiler to high and position a rack about 4 inches below the bottom of the broiler. Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large ovenproof skillet over medium high heat. When the oil is hot add the egg mixture all at once and swirl the pan if needed to evenly distribute the egg mixture.
After a few seconds, turn down the heat to medium-low. Evenly add the red pepper mixture, then the caramelized onions, then the cheddar cheese followed by the parmesan cheese. Place in the oven under the broiler for a several minutes or until the top of the frittata is golden-brown in places and the cheese is bubbly. Remove the frittata from the oven, top with the remaining wild garlic or chives and serve the frittata while still warm with hot sauce and toast, or a potato dish such as hash browns.
Aeronaut Beers to Pair with
Pair with an IPA such as Hop Hop and Away, A Year with Dr. Nandu or any of Aeronaut’s NEIPAs or other IPAs. Another good option is Aeronaut’s pilsner, Robot Crush. I like Hop Hop and Away as a pairing here especially if I’m having the frittata topped with hot sauce at brunch and sitting outside on the patio on a nice warm spring day.
Alternatively, if you desire a more malty brew, leave off the hot sauce and try a malty lager, such as Aeronaut’s pale kellerbier Surface Wave or Landbier.The malty aspect of these beers pairs well with the caramelized onions.
For more information on pairing food with beer, I highly recommend the book by Garrett Oliver, Brewmaster of Brooklyn Brewery, entitled The Brewmaster’s Table. Until next time–beer appétit!
Mark Bowers is the brewmaster at Aeronaut. The views and opinions expressed on this web site are solely those of the original author, and they do not necessarily represent those of Aeronaut Brewing Co.