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Peter LaFrance

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Chef Peter Davis talks Fresh & Honest about beer…

Fresh & Honest

Food from the farms of New England in the kitchen of Henrietta’s Table.

By Peter Davis

This last March I had a chance to chat by phone with Chef Davis about beer and how he uses it at Henrietta’s Table in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

As a published author I can appreciate a chance to promote my book and know the short shelf-life of new-book publicity.

And so it is with great pleasure that I found the following interview stashed in my “C” drive.

The pleasure came not only from finding work I had forgotten but also in being able to present a book that presents a level headed look at how a chef is using local produce and provisions as well as local brews. My first question was perhaps obvious…

How do you use beer in the kitchen there at Henrietta’s Kitchen?

Chef Davis: We use it a lot of different ways because we have a lot of smaller breweries in our area. So we try to figure ways to incorporate beer into our recipes. We can also encourage the staff to suggest beer at the table to go with the dishes in the same way that they suggest the wine.

I knew that, particularly in the braised ribs, there is a reduction by two thirds… that can certainly bring in a bitter note to that dish.

Chef Davis: The other ingredients, the mirepoix and baked vegetables, limit some of the bitterness and smooths it out. Some bitterness is not a bad idea. We go for different flavors across-the-board. Sometimes people enjoy little bitterness.

Is cooking with beer is this something you’ve done all along?

Chef Davis: Yes I’ve been doing it for quite a while. I probably started like to finish chili with beer. Right at the end of the cooking process when it comes off the stove I liked too add a little bit of beer into the bowl chili at that point without reducing it or without cooking at all. It adds some flavor to it … It’s hard to describe.

Have you always been a beer aficionado?

Chef Davis: I like beer… I like to try different beers. I like what’s been happening over the last 15 years or so, with the new beers. People have more of an awareness of what they like they don’t have to take just the same type of beer. People are willing to try new flavors and that’s a good thing.

Are you lager man or an ale man?

Chef Davis: I’m an ale-man I guess I’m not into berries or blueberries of that sort of thing.

What are your favorite recipes that you use beer in?

Chef Davis: In the book there is a Pale Ale Braised Short Ribs recipe but there is also the Maple stout brisket I particularly like…

Maple-Stout Marinade

Makes 8 cups


12 tablespoons Dijon mustard

1 cup maple syrup

4 cups stout

1 cup red wine vinegar

4 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

8 bay leaves

4 teaspoons Tabasco sauce

2 cups onion, finely diced


In a medium saucepan, mix the mustard and maple syrup together.

Add the remaining ingredients and bring to a boil over high heat.

Reduce heat and let simmer for 2 to 3 minutes. Let cool before using.

Maple Stout-Marinated Beef Brisket

Serves 8


1 4-pound beef brisket

4 cups Maple Stout

Maple-Stout Marinade (see above)


Soak the brisket in the marinade for 24 hours.

Remove the brisket from the marinade and grill over low heat to brown on all sides, being careful not to burn.

Remove from the grill and put in a pan on a rack and cover tightly.

Preheat oven to 275 degrees.

Place the brisket in the oven and cook for 6 hours, removing the top and basting with the marinade every hour.

When the brisket is tender, remove from the oven and let rest lightly covered for 30 minutes. Slice the brisket thinly across the grain and drizzle with the pan drippings.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Brew Masters taps "ta henket"

Left to right: Dogfish Head Master Brewer Floris Delee, Dr. Patrick Mc Govern and Sam Calagione

Last night, at the Discovery Times Square King Tut Exhibition, Sam Calagione had a first taste of “ta henket” brew.

“ta henket” is based on a recipe deduced from an investigation of beer and brewing in Egypt, over 6,000 years ago, documented by the Discovery Channel as part of their Brew Masters programming.

The brew is the result of relics found by Dr. Patrick Mc Govern, Dogfish Head Master Brewer Floris Delee and Sam Calagione. Dr. McGovern’s research in molecular archeology at the University of Pennsylvania was the basis for determining the basic ingredients of the brew. The next step was a trip to Egypt for hands-on research that involved hieroglyphics, and gathering indigenous micro flora and yeast. (All of this recorded for the Discovery Channel presentation.

The following are my tasting notes:

Appearance: Light straw-colored slightly opaque brew with a bit of carbonation and a loosely knit head of off-white foam built from medium to small bubbles.

Aroma: A citric tang was the first impression, and then a sweeter note introduced an herbal base. The second impression was slightly more herbal.

Mouth feel: For a brew of 5% abv there was lightness to the body that was not unpleasant or unanticipated after the aromatics.

Flavor: The first impression was a flavor of oregano. The second sip brought up a citric touch. The third sip was an interesting balance between the two with an accent on the oregano.

Finish: There was a dry note that left a refreshing sensation. No hops here…

Note: Sam told us that they used an herbal mix called Za’atar (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zaatar ) and coriander.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Beer and Fried Frenched Potatoes

The above illustration is a picture of an as close to the perfect deep fried frenched potato.

You, and spell-check, noticed the obvious mistake in the preceding sentence didn’t you?

Sorry folks… what you call French fries did not come from France in the first place. (They are a specialty of the Belgian cuisine.) When prepared in Metropolitan France, or in any French speaking part of the world, the preparation is known simply as “frites”… fries.

So how did the name come about? The answer is found in the usual ability of settlers of the British colonies to grasp the nuances of communicating in more than one language. At least two of the revered founding fathers of what is now the United States (Jefferson and Franklin) actually conversed in the French language. Later representatives of the new country, in a tradition that continues to this day, lacked that skill. And thus miss-interpretation abounded. One documented instance illustrates the inability to translate even the English language.

In cooking notes written in the English language, published in the 1700’s, there was a dish of potatoes sliced into long thin pieces (a kitchen knife technique known as “Frenching”) and fried in hot oil until crisp. The dish was documented as “fried frenched potatoes”. In defense of the folks at that time, cooking was very much an oral tradition even with trained chefs.

What does any of this have to do with beer?

I can think of no beer not enhanced by the accompaniment of a serving of perfectly done fried frenched potatoes.

The illustration above does more than any words I can think of to illustrate that “perfect” example.

What do I see?

I see a slice of potato in an ideal shape to render the tuber a morsel of nutty fluffy interior lightly embraced by a crisp almost caramelized brown coat.

These flavors individually would enhance most brown ale, together they allow heavier beers, flavored beers and barley wines to refresh the pallet for more of the flavors of the potato treat.

Should you prefer the lighter side of life the lagers of the world all enjoy the especially nutty flavors of the fried frenched potato.

Is it the perfect snack for beer drinkers?

Stay tuned…

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Beer... How special?

Exactly what is a good beer worth?

It’s worth what people are willing to pay.

At the end of September New York City celebrated craft beer week. At least 200 bars pubs taverns and restaurants were involved. There were also at least a dozen special events scheduled that involved everything from cask beer to brewery tours.

I made a special effort, and spent $65, to attend one of the events called Get Real New York. The event was a two-day celebration of cask beers, separated into two tasting sessions each day. There would be at least 80 different cask beers available at each tasting. There would also be a generous selection of foods to sample supplied by New York restaurants and retailers.

It was a warm summer Saturday afternoon, perfect for standing in line for about a half-hour waiting for the doors to open. I was impressed by how well behaved to the crowd was, and also noted that I was probably old enough to be the grandfather of most people standing there. Once they opened the doors tickets were collected identifications checked in a very smooth manner. For some reason I wasn’t asked to prove how old I was.

The tasks that were available were prolific and prestigious. The servers were able, friendly, and knew how to pour beer. It took less than an hour to sit my way through just under 30 beers. During that time I also had a chance to taste some tasty open faced sandwiches, cheeses, and other “finger food”. As I wandered around the very large space, sipping beer and tasting food, I took the opportunity to talk to the people who were serving the beer and food. One of the questions I asked was “How many folks my age have you seen today?” Nine out of 10 times the answer was “None.”

That was when the thought crossed my mind, “Is the appreciation of cask beer limited to those between the ages of 25 and 35?” The obvious answer to that question is, “No.”

So why were there so few of my generation at this event? The answer has nothing to do with beer. It has to do with perceived value. Get ready, here it comes…

When I was the age of most of the people at that event $65 would’ve been enough to feed for starving college students for a week. That same amount of money would have been enough to keep those college students in beer for the same amount time. Should I ask anyone of my generation if they would be willing to pay $65 for three pints of beer and a small plate of food I would be providing them with a humorous story that they can tell the rest of their lives.

On the other hand, I can issue that there were at least a couple of thousand people attended the event… and gladly paid $65 each.

Perhaps I should reevaluate the value of a good beer… never mind, I can’t afford to.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Why imported beers are so special…

Imported beers on the other hand offer an entirely different type of lifestyle enhancement. First off, there is the assumption that if the beer has been imported especially a great distance it must be something special or it wouldn’t have been worth all the cost and effort. It is assumed that the additional cost of shipping is a necessary overhead and influence on the price of imported beer. The fact that it is imported indicates that there is a demand, and if there is a demand for this particular beer it must be something special.

In the early 1990s there was a beer exported from the province of Saskatchewan that went by the name of “Grizzly”. The beer was packaged in 12 ounce crown capped green glass bottles with a front label that prominently displayed a grisly reared up on its hind legs. One of the two major Canadian brewing companies produced this beer. It was quite simply an effervescent relatively low alcohol malt beverage. In New York City, and particularly the borough of Queens, where there is a large Korean community, this beer sold tens of thousands of cases. The reason it sold tens of thousands of cases had very little to do with what was in the bottle. It had a great deal to do with the position that the grizzly bear has in Korean culture.

Every year at the end of September and the beginning of October you can expect to find St. Pauli Girl Oktoberfest on tap at any place that favors this particular German Festival. Satisfied to toast this event with only an authentic German beer, party goers across the United States will hoist a stein or two of this particular product. Should the truth be known? The truth is that the beer is actually brewed in Germany, however St. Pauli Girl is not a brand sold in Germany. And if it was it would have a very specific market. The fact is, in Germany, a “St. Pauli Girl” is a prostitute.

And so the question is what makes an imported beer so special?

An imported beer is particularly special to someone who has been to where the beer is brewed and is aware of the social cultural and culinary importance of that beer. This consumer is someone who has tasted the beer at the source and is probably aware of the brewery’s history. The involvement and associations that this consumer brings to the table cannot be underestimated.

And imported beer is also particularly special to someone who wishes they have been where the beer is brewed. Romantic notions concerning the brewery, in the area of a particular country that it comes from, are quite often enhanced by the labeling, packaging, and advertising of that product. Should one care to buy into the ambiance created by the advertising the sounds of Alpine yodeling should accompany the opening of every Bavarian beer. The popularity of these beers can only be an indication a great many people have very sensitive ears and are able to hear Alpine yodeling halfway around the world, or that the beer itself is particular enough to hold the attention of the consumer. Considering the product that dominates the North American beer market, any additional or unusual flavor that is part of an imported beers flavor profile will serve to draw attention to itself.

Finally, the fact that brewers go to such effort to brew beer for export gives the curious consumer at least one good reason to try a particular beer. The fact that some beers are considered important in some cultures results in an active ex-patriot market. And in this culture, a super premium price naturally assures us super premium product.

And that’s why imported beers are so special…