Saturday, January 2, 2010

Colorado Stouts and Porters (Plus Gnocchi)

Ah, the New Year...rhymes with New Beer. And I like the sound of that.

Since pretty much every Colorado beer is still new to me (and because I dared to proclaim to a friend that Michigan stouts and porters are amazing and would therefore be very hard to beat...apparently, them's fightin' words), a few of us decided that a Colorado stout and porter tasting was in order.

I designed a menu around five stouts and porters chosen by our dinner companions, which turned out to be a delicious, but completely over-the-top plan. After the meal, it took me nearly 24 hours to feel hungry again. But it was worth it. Here was the menu:

Course 1:
Ricotta Gnudi with Brown Butter, Pancetta, Crispy Sage and Cider Gastrique
Cutthroat Porter (Odell Brewing Co.)
Black Jack Porter (Left Hand Brewing)

Course 2:
Fennel and Parsley Salad w/Lemon Vinaigrette

Course 3:
Stout-braised Short Ribs w/White Bean Puree and Gremolata
Milk Stout (Left Hand Brewing)
Oatmeal Stout (Breckenridge Brewing)

Course 4:
Chocolate Pots de Crème (recipe here)
Cocoa Porter (Tommyknocker Brewery)


Odell’s Cutthroat Porter: This beer had a slightly spicy nose (think cinnamon), with hints of cola. It was surprisingly lighter on the palate than expected, with enough hops to provide a nice refreshing finish. It paired nicely with the gnocchi appetizer (I made a last minute substitute as the homemade ricotta gnudi was a spectacular failure; see recipe at bottom), complimenting the flavors of both the bracing gastrique and the rich pancetta and brown butter.

Left Hand Brewing’s Black Jack Porter: In comparison to the Cutthroat Porter, this beer was hoppy in the nose, but almost completely lacked that characteristic on the palate. This medium bodied beer had flavor notes of chocolate and dark plum, but was by no means so rich that it would deter me from going back for more; overall, a nice beer to drink alone or enjoy with a meal.

Left Hand Brewing’s Milk Stout: Oh mama…Lactose does work its magic on a good stout. The smooth, luxurious head foretells of the pleasures of the first sip—malty, creamy with notes of chocolate. Since it was light for a stout, it was my favorite pairing with the rich short ribs, which were draped in a velvety layer of sauce.

Breckenridge Brewing Oatmeal Stout: This was a perfectly good beer, a classic breakfast stout. But I’ll be honest; by this point in the evening my taste buds were growing numb from the onslaught of malt, meat and butter. I had also already knocked back three beers after slaving in the kitchen most of the day without pausing to eat. When I looked back at the notes I scrawled down about each beer, the only word I had written beside this beer was “Oatmealy.” Oh well.

Tommyknocker Cocoa Porter: I am sure there are people out there who like this beer, but those people do not include me. From the aroma, I could tell this beer was going to tank for me; an overwhelming scent of honey and chocolate. This translated into a taste reminiscent of Tootsie Rolls—which I hate anyway. There was just no balance to this beer, and so it was disappointing. And much like my own disposition by the time dessert was served, I noticed that most of our dinner companions left their Cocoa Porters…half drunk.

So to sum up, we ate well and drank even better. We also had great company, which frankly has a lot more to do with the success of any evening than either the food or the drink. As for my challenge to the Colorado beer community, I will concede that you showed me a porter or two that rival the Michigan beers that nursed me through the last few winters. Cutthroat Porter and Left Hand's Milk Stout are now on rotation in my fridge.


The menu was a lot of fun to put together—my first attempt at short ribs (a success, thanks to Tom Colicchio’s Think Like a Chef) as well as gnudi (as stated before, a total failure). Gnudi is kind of like the cheesy, lighter cousin of gnocchi. I have heard raves about the ricotta gnudi served at New York’s über-popular Spotted Pig. I also figured by the time I actually go back to New York, gnudi will be “So Yesterday,” so why not try it now at home? Wrong. I f*cked it up royally.

Using a recipe from Zen Can Cook, I gave these little semolina-covered pillows of ricotta a whirl, but unfortunately they had not “set up” long enough before it was time to cook them. They disintegrated in the boiling water. To be fair, I had been warned that this could happen; depending on the moisture content of the ricotta cheese, the gnudi could take anywhere from 24 hours to 3 days to dry out enough to be “set” and ready to boil.


Still Good...


So I went with Plan B—store-bought gnocchi—and it turned out just fine. So fine, in fact, that I’m posting the recipe.

Gnocchi with Brown Butter, Pancetta, Crispy Sage and Cider Gastrique
Serves 4 liberally as an appetizer or side

2 ¼ inch slices of pancetta
3 sprigs fresh sage
1 16-oz. package gnocchi (either shelf stable or from frozen)
5 Tablespoons unsalted butter

Apple Cider Gastrique
2 cups apple cider
¼ cup apple cider vinegar

1. Make your cider gastrique. In a medium saucepan, combine the cider and the cider vinegar. Cook over medium heat, simmering and reducing until syrupy and thicker—the mixture amounts to about ½ cup. Set aside.
2. Set a large pot of water to boil on high heat.
3. While water for gnocchi is heating, dice pancetta. Cook in a frying pan over medium heat, until crispy. Remove from pan to a plate covered in paper towel. If there is enough fat rendered from the pancetta, you can go ahead and fry your sage leaves in that. Otherwise, fry sage leaves in olive oil until crisp. Drain on a paper towel and set aside.
4. When your gnocchi water is about to reach a boil, melt butter in a clean frying pan over medium heat. Swirl the pan as the butter heats and turns a golden brown. Keep an eye on it; do not let it get too brown. As soon as it reaches the desired color, turn off the heat on the burner.
5. Meanwhile, as butter melts, drop gnocchi into the water once it’s boiling (remember to salt your water!). Cook the gnocchi according to package directions (when they float, they’re ready). Transfer the cooked gnocchi immediately into the pan with the browned butter. Toss to coat.
6. To serve, divide the gnocchi among 4 plates. Spoon a bit of brown butter over them, then garnish with pancetta and a few sage leaves. Drizzle on the gastrique. Eat immediately.

1 comment:

Kim said...

Wow - it looks like this was quite a night! It all sounds fantastic. We had a cerveza-palooza recently to try various beers of the west, but your food pairings really take it up a few levels. I hope to do something similar sometime. :)