Chicago beer writer Bob Skilnik has chronicled recipes using beer in the United States, and in so doing, presents a fascinating history of beer from colonial times to the present in his latest book, "Beer & Food: An American History.''
Beer and food. They seem to go together like ... well, beer and food. Although many do not know beer can be used for cooking more than bratwurst, people have been cooking with beer for centuries.
Chicago beer writer Bob Skilnik wanted to chronicle recipes using beer in the United States, and in so doing, presents a fascinating history of beer from colonial times to the present in his latest book, "Beer & Food: An American History.''
"I'm not sure if I should call it a history book or a cookbook,'' said Skilnik, who has authored several beer-related books and appeared on numerous national television shows. "I just call it a culinary history book. It is more of a historical cookbook than a cookbook, per se.''
The book, printed by Jefferson Press, features more than 90 beer-related recipes from the obscure - beer soup with milk (sounds tasty doesn't it?) - to something as common as Swiss steak with cheese.
There are recipes for salad dressings, cakes, marinade, cheese fondue, pork, beef, chicken, rabbit, fish, pretty much anything anyone would ever want.
Even more interesting than the recipes is how Skilnik explores the history of beer - from the early settlers' problems making a good beer with ingredients other than malted barley to the craft beer revolution and how the industry has embraced food.
Several of the recipes are provided directly from breweries' Web sites. The Boston Beer Company, which brews Samuel Adams, provides several recipes and founder Jim Koch supplied a forward for the 246-page book.
"I've been accumulating pamphlets and cookbooks from breweries for years,'' said Skilnik. "I've always envisioned a lighthearted book, a coffee table book with a lot of pictures of people eating.''
Instead, the book went from lighthearted to information packed, which is a good thing.
I personally enjoyed the early chapters about those who came from Europe to find a harsh land devoid of breweries of any kind.
The settlers tried their best to make good beer using such ingredients as spruce, but could not wait to get "ship's beer,'' or beer made strong enough to survive the trip from England.
Also, beer had its battles to survive, as hard liquors became easier to find and easier to make.
Cookbooks that mentioned beer were hard to find in the early days, Skilnik said, but when he found them - they had some of the most descriptive titles ever. Take this one, written anonymously in 1830:
"The Cook Not Mad, or Rational Cookery; Being a Collection of Original and Selected Receipts, Embracing Not Only the art of Curing Various Kinds of Meats and Vegetables for Future Use, but of Cooking in its General Acceptation, to the Taste, Habits, and Degrees of Luxury, Prevalent with the American Publick, In Town and Country. To Which is Added, Directions for Preparing Comforts for the SICKROOM; Together with Sundry Miscellaneous Kinds of Information, of Importance to Housekeepers in General, Nearly All Tested by Experience.''
As for the recipes, several seemed interesting and tasty, and I couldn't wait to try them. But, there was one problem. I can't cook. Seriously, my cooking skills are just non-existent. I set fire to grilled cheese once.
Luckily, my friend and co-worker Charlie Breitrose enjoys cooking, so I brought the book to him, let him pick out a recipe and do what he wanted.
He chose shrimp in beer, which Skilnik said was "possibly the first of many beer-boil recipes for shrimp.''
The recipe called for four cups of beer (we used New England Brewing's Elm City Lager), three shallots, two onions, three sprigs of parsley, a bay leaf, a stalk of celery, two pounds of raw shrimp, salt, pepper, flour and butter.
It was fantastic - the beer seemed to give the shrimp a little bite. I was thoroughly impressed.
Skilnik does a good job of mixing the history portions of the book with the recipes. He said he purposely used recipes to illustrate what he wrote about in the previous chapters.
Just a warning - Skilnik did not kitchen-test any of the recipes featured in the book prior to it being printed. Since the book has come out, he said he has tried several, including ice cream recipes.
"I went out and bought an ice cream maker because I was dying to make some ice cream that uses various stouts,'' he said.
Skilnik has written other beer history books, including "Beer: A History of Brewing in Chicago.'' He also wrote, "The Low Carb Bartender: Carb Counts for Beer, Wine, Mixed Drinks and More.''
To learn more about beer and food or to see some of the recipes Skilnik cooked for the book, go to www.beerinfood.wordpress.com.
"Beer & Food: An American History'' is available online at amazon.com and barnes&noble.com. It's also in Barnes & Noble stores for $24.95.
Norman Miller is a MetroWest Daily News staff writer. For questions, comments, suggestions or recommendations, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or 508-626-3823.