After a cursory query on Twitter, I got a lot of great suggestions about potential beers to use in place of wine in a risotto. In the end I decided get a bottle of Orval with a few months on it, hoping to get the sharper, funkier flavours without too much bitterness. Unfortunately my regular stockist was out of Orval, so instead I went with a slightly more left field option suggested: a smoked dark wheat beer, in this case the brilliant Freimann’s Dunkelweiss by Hackney’s Pressure Drop Brewing. Check out the Twitter thread in the link above to see other suggestions. Popular choices included saisons, sours and amber ales.
Essentially, you’re using beer in place of wine in the risotto-making process, but you also need less stock as your beer is helping to act as that too. Pick a beer that – alcohol and carbonation aside – has flavours you would like in a sticky, comforting risotto. My recipe has bacon in it because bacon is amazing, but you could just use more mushrooms instead if you want. Also, I really wanted to put the smoky flavour of Freimann’s in the mix with some smoked, streaky bacon. Ingredients and method below.
The below makes a portion for 1 person, so scale up as you wish:
- 100g Arborio (risotto) rice
- 2 rashers smoked streaky bacon, chopped
- 1/2 an onion, chopped
- 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
- 2 mushrooms (optional), thinly sliced
- 1 tbsp butter
- 15g Parmesan, grated
- 125ml beer (in this case Freimann’s Dunkelweiss)
- 125ml chicken stock
- Salt and pepper
- Parsley, finely chopped, to serve
Cooking time: 40-45 minutes
1. Melt the butter in a large, heavy frying pan and gently fry the onion and garlic for a few minutes. Once softened, season with a little salt and pepper. I’ll be honest with you, I’m fairly free with butter in cooking, I daresay, like many people, I used what looked to be ‘enough’ to gently fry the onion.
2. Add your rice, stirring as you do and coating it all with the butter, onion and garlic. Fry this for about 3-5 minutes on a medium heat until the rice starts to go translucent.
3. Now it’s time to add the beer, but do so gradually, as if you were swigging mouthfuls from the bottle (hey stop! Well, ok, maybe a little) Add a bit of beer, stir and let the rice absorb it, and then some more, and so on. If you’re using a smoked beer, this amazing toasty, fruity aroma should be filling your kitchen. Keep the pan on a medium heat. The alcohol will boil off and all the sticky goodness will be left behind. The rice will take on a slightly darker colour now, depending on the beer it has absorbed.
4. Next, do the same thing again but with your stock (no swigging!) with just a splash at a time, stirring and allowing the rice to absorb it. The grains should gradually fatten up and the liquid thicken. Again, just a medium heat is enough. The beer and stock adding part of the process can take up to half an hour. It pays to be patient and steady. When about half of your stock is left, get a small non-stick pan with your bacon and mushrooms going on a medium-to-high heat. Add a splash of oil if you want, but if it’s streaky bacon you probably won’t need to.
5. Take care to keep an eye on your bacon and mushrooms, stirring them occasionally between adding stock to the risotto. When all your stock is used up and the risotto has absorbed almost all its liquid, take the pan off the heat and stir in your parmesan. After that, add your bacon (crispy, not crunchy) and mushrooms. Give it all a big stir and serve into bowls with parsley sprinkled on top.
Whilst the full-on smoky fruitiness of Freimann’s was perfect to use in the dish, I wanted something slightly less intense but still smoky and flavoursome to serve alongside it. I’ve recently fallen in love again with Anspach & Hobday’s Smoked Brown, which was a perfect match and would even make a good candidate for a beer to use in the recipe. The beer is fairly sweet with a rounded, oily bitterness and a clever, deep and smooth smokiness that brought the dish to life, and had the body and carbonation to cut through the fattiness and enhance the rich flavours. Lovely comforting nourishment all round.
If you’ve done a risotto with beer as an ingredient, share your successes in the comments below. I’m really keen to try this again with some different beers, and if you’re patient it’s a really easy and tasty dish to make. Cheers!