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A Belgian Dubbel is a true treat to those who love dark, rich and complex beers that pair well with hearty food.  The raisins in the following recipe compliment the dark fruit flavors of the beer, while the carbonation and notes of spice in the beer help cut the sweetness of the rich sauce.  While nearly any Belgian or Belgian-style Dubbel will do, I tried this particular dish with a Dubbel by Westmalle, a Trappist brewery where the beer is produced under the watchful eyes of the monks of the Trappist Abbey of Westmalle.

I suggest making homemade spaetzle (recipe further below) to accompany the pork, but egg noodles will do in a pinch.  The pork comes out amazingly tender, so be patient during the relatively long cooking time.  It is well worth the wait.

  

Slow Braised Pork with Raisins and Balsamic 

Serves 3-4 people

1-1/2 to 2-pound boneless pork butt, cut into 3-4 equal pieces
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1/2 large onion, diced
1-1/2 cups raisins soaked in warm water
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 cup vegetable broth
1 tablespoon Herbes de Provence
1 teaspoon thyme

Preheat oven to 325°F. Salt and pepper the pork. Add 1 tablespoon of oil to a large ovenproof pot over medium-high heat. Add pork to pot and cook until browned on all four sides, about 2-3 minutes per side. Transfer pork to plate; discard fat in pot. Heat remaining 1 tablespoon of oil in same pot over medium heat. Drain the water from the raisins, then add onions and raisins and sauté until onions are soft, stirring occasionally, about 3 minutes. Add sugar and stir for about 30 seconds. Add vinegar and bring mixture to boil.  Cook until slightly reduced, about 2-3 minutes. Add broth, all herbs, and pork with juices from plate. Bring to boil. Cover pot and transfer to oven. Bake (braise) for 45 minutes. Using tongs, turn pork over and continue braising until meat is very tender, about 45 minutes longer.  Remove pork from pot, and place on top of spaetzel (or noodles) and cover.

Boil cooking liquid over high heat until thickened, about 4-5 minutes.  Ladle from pot, leaving any fat or oils behind.  Pour over pork and serve.  

Spaetzle
2 1/4 cups plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg
3 large eggs
1 cup whole milk
1/4 cup minced parsley
Butter to taste

Lightly grease a large bowl with butter.  Set aside.

In a separate bowl, blend flour, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Stir in eggs and milk, and mix to form a soft batter. Mix in the parsley.

Bring large pot of salted water to boil. Taking about a 1/2 cup of batter at a time and using a flat spatula, press the batter directly into boiling water through 1/4-inch holes on coarse grater or colander.  Stir spaetzle gently and boil for 2 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, scoop spaetzle from pot, drain well, and transfer to buttered bowl.

  

Definition: Trappist Beer

 

Only seven breweries in the world are authorized to call label their beers as Trappist.  Six are from Belgium (Orval, Chimay, Westvleteren, Rochefort, Westmalle and Achel), and one is from The Netherlands (Koningshoeven).  These beers must be brewed within the walls of a Trappist abbey, either directly by or under supervision of Trappist monks.  The monks started brewing to both provide for their own consumption and also to provide funds for the upkeep of the abbey and their charitable works.

 

Trappist beers are typically either Dubbels (dark, rich ales with flavors of dried fruit, brown sugar, and caramel) or Tripels (light in color, but strong in alcohol ales where often the flavor of the particular grains used comes through).  In both Dubbels and Tripels, notes of spice, distinctive to each brewery, are a result of the particular strain of yeast used to ferment (no actual spice is added to the brew itself). 

Many often believe the terms “Dubbel” and “Tripel” refer to the strength of the beer.  However, the mathematics are not exact… a Dubbel at around 7% ABV isn’t double the strength of a typical lager, and a Tripel at around 10% isn’t triple-strength.  The terms may derive from the relative amount of grain used.  And why, may you ask, can you not find a Trappist “Single”?  It is actually called a “Simple” is a low-strength beer sometimes brewed by the monks soley for their own consumption.

 

 

Beer Quote:

“In heaven there is no beer…
That’s why we drink it here!”

                                    – Frankie Yankovic

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I recently had the opportunity to have a sneak-peek of Brooklyn Brewery’s new still-fill bottling line, along with a preview tasting of the first beer soon to be released from the new bottling line, “Local 1”, courtesy of brewmaster Garrett Oliver.  This excellent bottle-conditioned Belgian-style ale is due to be released at the end of February.

My account of this great event can be found in February  issue of the Malted Barley Appreciation Society newsletter.  Just click on the link below:

http://hbd.org/mbas/pdf/feb07.pdf

Cheers!

While Germany and the Czech Republic are wonderful historic centers of brewing, and brewing in the U.S. has grown by leaps and bounds since the start of the craft beer movement, ask any true beer connoisseur what the ideal destination is for beer, and the reply will most likely be Belgium. The relatively tiny country of Belgium (about the size of Maryland) is home to well over a hundred breweries, among them some of the most renowned, unique and eclectic in the world. Saison, lambic, gueze, dubbel, tripel, and witbier are among over a dozen styles initially created by Belgian brewers.

It’s no wonder that many American brewers have looked to Belgium for inspiration. Phil Markowski, Brewmaster at Southampton Publick House, has created his own take on a classic Belgian Wit (a.k.a. White) beer. Southampton Double White Ale is essentially a double-strength (7.2% ABV) rendition of the traditional Belgian wheat beer brewed with orange and coriander. It has a perfume-like floral and spice aroma, and a rich golden slightly hazy hue. A taste starts with clover-honey sweetness, followed by the distinctive citrus and spice flavor, with notes of white raisins. Tiny bubbles of carbonation lighten the slightly syrupy mouthfeel. Altogether, a complex, rich, yet refreshing brew. Typically released during summer, the relatively high alcohol means it will keep just fine through winter.

And while beer may be the beverage of choice in Belgium, the national dish of Belgium is mussels. So what better pairing for a Belgian-style ale than mussels steamed in beer?

Mussels in White Ale
(Makes 2 main courses, or 4 appetizer portions)

3 strips of bacon, chopped
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter
1 medium onion, chopped
3/4 cup chopped fennel bulb
1 can diced fire-roasted tomatoes, drained
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 cups of beer
(I used 1 cup Southampton Double White and 1 cup amber lager, but feel free to experiment with different Belgian-style ales)
2 lbs mussels, scrubbed with beards removed
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons sour cream

Cook bacon in heavy pot over medium-high heat until browned, then add butter. Heat the butter until foam subsides. Then add onion, fennel, tomatoes, garlic, thyme, bay leaf, salt and pepper to the pot, stirring occasionally until vegetables get soft, about 5 minutes.

Add beer and bring to a gentle boil. Add mussels to the pot, and cover, stirring occasionally. Once mussels open wide, in about 5 minutes, remove open mussels from pot and transfer to a bowl. Discard any unopened mussels. Remove pot of remaining broth from heat, and add mustard and sour cream, whisking until combined. Divide mussels between 2-4 bowls, and then pour the broth over the top.

Perfect with a glass of Double White, or whatever Belgian-style beer you used for the broth. This makes a hearty, warming, but not too heavy meal on a cold winter’s day, but is equally enjoyable any time of year.

Beer Quote

“The Good Lord has changed water into wine, so how can drinking beer be a sin.”
                                                                    – Sign near a Belgian Monastery

Cafe D'AlsaceWhen it comes to fine dining, many establishments have a sommelier to help you navigate the often complex and confusing world of wine. Cafe D’Alsace on Manhattan’s Upper East Side is more than likely the first restaurant in America, perhaps the world, to have a dedicated Beer Sommelier. With 120 beers on hand, and styles ranging from French Bière de Gardes to Belgian Tripels to German Doppelbocks, the choices can be overwhelming. And when it comes to matching the wonderful Alsacian cuisine with just the right brew, Avi (a.k.a. Aviram Turgeman) is just the man for the job.

For our meal, he started me out with a snappy Tripel Karmeliet, a Belgian Abbey-style ale whose distinct character comes from the three grains used for brewing this beverage… wheat, barley and oats. It was served in a huge bulbous glass from the brewery itself that showed off its tremendous head and allowed me to get my nose right into the glass to appreciate the spicy, citrus hop aroma. A very nice appertif for cleansing the palate, that also went quite well with the appetizer of warm potato salad.

To find a beer that would compliment both my dinner of Choucroute Garnie (sausages, back bacon and pork loin) and my wife’s Trout in Riesling sauce could be a difficult task. But Avi’s recommendation of Trois Monts, a complex champagne-like Bière de Garde, was an excellent pairing for both dishes.

Of course, one true test of a beer sommelier would be finding the perfect beer for with dessert. As a chocolate-lover, I couldn’t resist the Trio of Chocolate (chocolate creme, chocolate tart, and an intensely-chocolately dark chocolate gelato.) My first choice would have been Lindeman’s Frambois, a delicious raspberry beer to complement the chocolate. But Avi said he had just the beer for my chocolate dessert, and delivered a bottle of Sinebrychoff Porter on the house, an excellent deep-roasted Finnish Baltic-style Porter that paired with dark chocolate better than I could ever imagine.

Definition: Baltic Porter (updated 12/29/06)

A Porter is a dark, richly roasted ale that originated in England and is the grandfather of what we know today as Stout.  English porters brewed for export were stronger and with more hops in order to survive the sea voyage from England across the North Sea to the Baltics, Scandinavia and Russia.  So when the Baltic states started brewing their own porters, their renditions reflected the English exports.

These Baltic Porters are a more robust, higher alcohol (7% or more) take on the porter style.   Scandinavian Baltic Porters are typically brewed as ales (with top fermenting yeast), while Slavic and Baltic breweries typically use lager yeast for their porters (bottom fermenting yeast, brewed at cooler temperatures).

For more information on porters, read my article found here.

blue moonBlue Moon is a pretty tasty Belgian-style Witbier that is attracting a good number of beer drinkers who want something different than Bud, Miller or Coors. But note that it is a Belgian-style beer (i.e., not really from Belgium), and while it may appear to many to be a microbrew, in fact it’s a product of the Coors brewery:

http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/06324/739907-34.stm

So, is there anything wrong with enjoying a beer brewed by Coors? I’ll leave it to you to decide. But if your beer-drinking palate favors Blue Moon, I’d suggest trying any of a number of other quality craft-brewed witbiers, such as Allagash White from Maine, Ommegang Witte from Cooperstown, NY, or Blanche de Chambly from Quebec. There’s also the true Belgian original, Hoegaarden, which is now brewed and distributed by the makers of Stella Artois (InBev), making it easier to find these days (although some say it’s not quite the same ever since the big brewery took over).

Definition: Witbier

A Wit (or Witte, or White) beer is an unfiltered wheat beer that is flavored with orange peel and corriander, with other spices sometimes thrown in for good measure. It’s highly carbonated, and it’s light body and citrus flavors make it a very refreshing summertime brew.