A recent barrel-aged beer throwdown occurred at my local drinking establishment between Central Waters Brewing and Potosi Brewing, two Wisconsin breweries enjoying most-favored-brewery status in my house. Seven offering from each, ranging from their respective ambers and IPAs to fully loaded, barrel-strength stouts. They were glorious.
They were also inspirational. An recent dinner gave us the perfect opportunity to pull out a selection of old favorites from Central Waters (and one extravagance from O’so) and pair them with seasonally inspired fare. Seasonal fare for the Great Lakes in winter would be root cellar offerings – the hardy remains of the late fall harvest, which were traditionally kept in cellars dug into hills throughout the region. We’re talking preserved meats, root vegetables, and anything dried. Our dinner used those elements as inspiration, rather than rigid restrictions, because…well…I can go to the store. We focused on freshly smoked meats, rather than salted or fully dried offerings. We did make everything on the grill, actually on a Green Egg, which is a bit like cooking in a old cast iron oven. Here’s the run-down:
First Course: Smoked Whitefish Dip with Central Waters Honey Blonde Ale
Lake Superior whitefish is a very light, small flake fish without a particularly strong flavor profile. The texture is often fairly soft, similar to an Icelandic cod. Once plentiful throughout the Great Lakes, it was over-fished and can now really only be found commercially in Lake Superior. We sprinkled a fresh skin-on fillet with sea salt and lemon, let it sit for about 30 minutes and then on to the grill for a slow smoke. The grill was at 250 degrees and we used mesquite chips, though I prefer applewood for this application when available. The fish was smoked through in less than 30 minutes, but we allowed it to firm up on the grill for another 15 minutes for our application. The fish was allowed to cool, then removed from the skin and flaked into a bowl. In an electric mixer went cream cheese, mayonnaise, spritz of lemon, then whipped until well blended. The cheese mixture was then folded in with the fish and a handful of diced scallions and chilled for over an hour.
We served the smoked whitefish dip on pumpernickel rye toasts with house-made yellow zucchini pickles on the side. We paired our initial offering with the Honey Blonde Ale. The beer is really bright and refreshing, with just a hint of sweetness from the honey. It is an easy opener and cleansed the palate between each bit of the whitefish. Simple, complementary flavors.
Second Course: Wild Rice, Roast Vegetables with Central Water Horicon Session IPA
Early in the day, rainbow carrots and pearl onions were slow roasted on the grill in butter and kale was later dried on the grill until crisp. At time of service, cooked wild rice was heated with butter and shredded Sartori Family Heirloom Parmesan and the carrots were caramelized in buckwheat honey and malt vinegar. The sweet carrots were offset by the savory kale and the rich, nuttiness of the wild rice. We paired this with Central Waters Horicon Session IPA, looking for the more pronounced hop flavors to harmonize with the earthy flavors of the dish. A lovely combination, the slight bitterness in the beer made every bite of the carrots sing.
Third Course: Smoked, Maple-Glazed Chicken Thighs, Corn Puree, Roasted Mushrooms with Oisconsing Red Ale
We adapted our Smoked, Maple-glazed pheasant approach to chicken thighs and then served them on the corn puree we recently featured, inspired by Morel Restaurant. The corn was caramelized on the Green Egg for about 45 minutes, yielding a puree that was reminiscent of summer corn on the cob. The Oisconsing Red flavors tend towards the caramel malts with enough hop balance to keep it interesting. A nice pairing, though we might have considered something a bit more contrasting to set the smoky, sweetness of the dish off to a greater degree.
Fourth Course: Smoked Beef Short Ribs, Dried Cherries, Rutabaga Puree with Mudpuppy Porter
Our Door County cherries make an appearance in this dish, with a marinade based on the spices we used for our Epic Beef Short Rib we had a few summers back. The dried cherries had been re-hydrated in a reduced beef broth and the then marinated the beef overnight. The ribs were then slow smoked over mesquite wood on the Green Egg at 275 degrees for three hours. We placed it on a puree of yukon gold potatoes and rutabaga, which we boiled until soft, then into a food processor with almond milk and butter. We finished it back on the stove top with brie and Creama Kasa from Carr Valley, which is a triple cream, adding a real richness to the dish. We paired Central Water Mudpuppy Porter with the dish to offer a deep, dark note, accenting the smoky beef flavors.
Fifth Course: Blueberry Slump with O’so Convenient Distraction (Imperial Porter with Coffee and Vanilla Bean)
A slump is basically a pie filling topped with dumplings. As we were cooking everything on the Green Egg, this was a easy way to finish the meal. We took about 4 cups of blueberries, added a dash of vanilla extract and about a 1/2 cup of maple syrup. Then we made a dumpling dough with flour, baking soda, butter, and water. We hand flattened the dough and tore irregular pieces to layer on top of the blueberries in a heavy enameled pan. Onto the Egg for 45 minutes at 300 with a top and it was perfect. We paired it with Purple Door Vanilla Ice Cream and O’so Convenient Distraction – an Imperial Porter with Colombian coffee and Madagascar vanilla bean. The bright fruit flavors were a superb complement to the dark chocolate nuances of the beer.