I confess, when it comes to what I call my go-to “sippin’ beer,” I lean toward moderately to highly hopped and malty ales rather than crystal clear and crisp lagers.
But in the summer, a beautifully constructed, American craft-brewed Pilsner most definitely has its place in my personal cuisine. For quenching thirst and taming a robust platter of nachos or hearty barbecue, it can be just the ticket. Not so aggressively hoppy as an IPA that it fights the food, but complex enough to be an interesting component in the meal right down to the last sip.
Trust me, there’s nothing dull or boring about a well constructed Pilsner. And beyond all of the benefits just mentioned, it really is a flexible beverage. For one thing, its spicy complexity with a bouquet of floral flavors and aromas and refined hop presence complements where a hoppier-maltier beer would just be inelegant. I definitely include it in my simple picnic fare.
For a summer salad spiked with tomatoes and crumbled feta with a charming vinaigrette, it is always worth considering. But its flexibility shows in how it will also complement a lightly grilled chunk of halibut in a straightforward butter and lemon sauce.
Pilsners can also take on dishes with a larger flavor profile. They can cut through the spiciness of salsas, the saltiness of prosciutto, the fishiness of caviar, and the richness of smoked salmon. In cuisines where some of the dishes are particularly rich in chiles and spicy seasonings, including Mexican, Thai and Indian, an American craft-brewed Pilsner can be the perfect companion.
For instance, take that same lightly grilled chunk of halibut, but instead of a simple lemon butter treatment, drizzle it with a complex Red Thai Curry Sauce (see recipe below), and with a well crafted Pilsner at your side, the meal will be delightful.
One of my favorite pairings is a well constructed, regionally produced Pilsner with a batch of Tommy Tang’s Thai Egg Rolls (Yes, the recipe follows!). Mazama’s creation, with its crystal-clear gold appearance and bready personality wraps itself around the deep-fried crust in the egg roll and celebrates the rich and spicy filling.
So, as summer unfolds, it would be a shame to overlook the wonderful experience a Pilsner can bring to the table when serving a wide range of foods.
Grilled Halibut with Red Thai Curry Sauce
Makes 4 servings.
This simple Red Thai Curry Sauce is extremely versatile. Beyond grilled fish, serve it with rice, noodles, other grilled meats and vegetables, or as a base for any number of soups and marinades.
1 can light coconut milk
3 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons peanut butter
2 tablespoons red curry paste
2 tablespoons lime juice
1-1/2 tablespoons fish sauce (see note)
3 to 4 finely minced cloves of garlic
1/3 cup crushed peanuts
Up to 1/2 cup water or broth
Extra crushed peanuts and finely chopped green onion for garnishing
Grilled Halibut (recipe follows)
In a small saucepan, combine the coconut milk with the brown sugar, peanut butter, red curry paste, lime juice, fish sauce and minced garlic. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, whisking constantly, then reduce heat and simmer for about 15 minutes or until the sauce has reduced and thickened.
Stir in the 1/3 cup of crushed peanuts and simmer an additional 5 to 10 minutes, until the sauce coats the back of a spoon. At this point, if the sauce seems too thick, whisk in water or broth.
Prepare the halibut as directed below. Serve with the Red Thai Curry Sauce.
For The Grilled Halibut: Brush 6 (3-ounce) pieces of fresh halibut with olive oil, then salt and pepper them. Place the fish on the cooking grate and cook 7 to 8 minutes, or to desired doneness (general rule of thumb is 10 minutes total cooking time per 1-inch thickness of the fish), turning once halfway through cooking time.
Tommy Tang’s Thai Egg Rolls
Makes 8 egg rolls
These are marvelously flavorful morsels that will disappear quickly at any gathering where you are willing to share them. And trust me, the combination of these toasty-zesty rolls and a crisp-yet-complex Pilsner is perfect.
1/4 cup olive oil
1-1/2 teaspoons finely chopped garlic
1 cup chopped bamboo shoots
3/4 cup chopped shiitake mushrooms
3/4 cup chopped onions
3/4 cup chopped celery
3/4 cup chopped cabbage
2 tablespoons Thai Sweet Black Bean Sauce
1 tablespoon Thai fish sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/4 teaspoon each: ground black pepper, ground white pepper, chili powder
3 tablespoons cold water
1 tablespoon corn starch
8 egg-roll or spring-roll skins
3 cups vegetable oil (for deep frying)
Sweet and Sour Dipping Sauce (recipe follows)
Heat the olive oil in a medium skillet over high heat. Add the garlic and saute until lightly colored, about 1 minute. Add the bamboo shoots, mushrooms, onions, celery and cabbage, and stir-fry for 2 minutes. Add the bean sauce, fish sauce, soy sauce and the black pepper, white pepper and chili powder. Stir for 3 minutes. Remove from heat.
Line a large strainer with 4 folded paper towels. Place the strainer over a bowl. Transfer the vegetable mixture to the strainer and let stand until cooled; excess liquid will drain off.
Combine the cold water with the corn starch in a small saucepan over low heat and cook, stirring constantly until thick and clear, which will take only 1 or 2 minutes; set aside (you will use this mixture as “glue” when assembling the egg rolls.
Place 1/8 of the filling mixture in a strip diagonally across an egg-roll skin, just off center; leave a 2-inch margin at each end. Fold up smaller half of skin to cover the filling. Fold in left and right sides to cover ends of the filling. Spread the larger half of the egg-roll skin with some of the corn starch “glue,” then continue rolling to completely enclose the filling; press to seal. Repeat with remaining filling and skins.
Heat the 3 cups of vegetable oil in a large saucepan to 350 degrees. Deep-fry egg rolls in batches until browned on all sides, about 3 to 5 minutes. Remove and drain on paper towels. Serve hot with the dipping sauce.
Sweet And Sour Dipping Sauce: In a small saucepan, combine 1/2 cup water, 1/4 cup sugar, 1/4 cup rice vinegar, 2 tablespoons plum sauce, 1/4 teaspoon paprika, 1/8 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon chili paste. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat and simmer for 4 minutes. Remove from burner and let cool. Stir in 2 tablespoons ground, unsalted peanuts (or unsweetened peanut butter).
Recipe from “Tommy Tang’s Modern Thai Cuisine,” by Tommy Tang.
Regina’s Clams Steamed in Parchment with Garlic and Wine
Serves 4 as a wonderful first course; 2 as a meal
Steaming clams in parchment is a classic approach, and local chef Regina Iovino once shared with me her wonderful rendition.
1/2 pound (18 to 20 clams, depending on size) Manila clams (or other fresh “steamer” clams)
3/4 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup olive oil
1-1/2 tablespoons chopped garlic
1 tablespoon chopped Italian parsley
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Plenty of fabulous hard-crusted Italian bread for dipping
Preheat oven to 475 degrees.
Cut a piece of parchment paper to 16-by-24 inches. Nestle the parchment into a mixing bowl (NOTE: you won’t be cooking in the bowl, it’s just to support the parchment as you build your package of clams for the oven). Place your thoroughly washed clams in the center of the parchment. Add the white wine, olive oil, garlic, parsley, salt and pepper. The liquid should almost cover the clams — you may need to add a little more white wine). Create a “boat” by twisting opposite ends of the parchment, leaving the top slightly open down the center.
Spray a baking pan (or a pizza round) with nonstick vegetable oil spray so the parchment package of clams will slide easily off the pan after cooking. Gently lift the parchment boat by its twisted sides and place the package on the baking pan. Generously spray the outside of the parchment with the nonstick spray so the paper doesn’t turn black during cooking.
Bake in the preheated oven for 8 to 12 minutes, or until the liquid comes to a boil and the clams are open. Remove from oven and gently slide the package onto a serving plate. Garnish with fresh lemon wedges and fresh Italian parsley. Serve immediately.
Alternative: Instead of parchment, use double-lined heavy duty foil. It’s easier to work with, and is especially adaptable for outdoor grills. Cooking time will vary, just wait for clams to open.
Vietnamese Spring Rolls with Peanut Dipping Sauce
Colorful Vietnamese rolls are the perfect summer finger food. And pairing them with Pilsner is just brilliant.
2 ounces cellophane noodles
Peanut Dipping Sauce (recipe follows)
1 cup mung bean sprouts, blanched briefly
2 cups finely shredded Napa cabbage
5 green onions, quartered lengthwise and sliced
1/2 cup coarsely chopped cilantro
1/3 cup coarsely chopped mint
1/4 cup thinly sliced Thai or Italian basil leaves
1/2 teaspoon sugar
3 cloves garlic
2 serrano chiles, thinly sliced
Juice of 2 limes
12 large or 24 small round Vietnamese rice papers
24 butter or Boston lettuce leaves
Soak the noodles in hot water to cover until soft and pliable, about 30 minutes. Snip them into 2-inch lengths and drain. Make the peanut dipping sauce and set it aside.
Using a vegetable peeler, peel the carrot right down to the core, making long thin strips. Combine them with the noodles, bean sprouts, cabbage, green onions, herbs and sugar. Smash the garlic with the broad side of a chef’s knife, then sprinkle with a pinch of salt and finely chop the garlic/salt mixture into a paste. Add the chiles and continue chopping. Add the garlic and chiles to the bowl of vegetables and noodles, along with the lime juice and stir to evenly coat the ingredients.
To assemble the rolls, fill a bowl with warm water and spread a clean towel on the counter. Working with one paper at a time, slip it into the water and soak until soft and pliable, about 10 seconds, then remove and set on the towel. Mound some of the vegetable mixture at one end of the rice paper, roll it over once, fold over the sides, and then continue rolling to the end, making a neat little package. When all are done, place them on a plate and chill until ready to serve. To serve, rearrange on a fresh lettuce-lined platter and serve with the sauce.
Peanut Dipping Sauce: combine 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar, 3 tablespoons water, 1 teaspoon Asian chile oil, 1 finely minced garlic clove, 3 tablespoons finely chopped roasted peanuts, and 1 teaspoon sugar. Let stand at least 10 minutes before using.
Recipe from “Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone,” by Deborah Madison.
Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis food writer, artist, and author of “Oregon Hazelnut Country, the Food, the Drink, the Spirit,” and four other cookbooks. Readers can contact her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or obtain additional recipes and food tips on her blog at www.janrd.com.