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The Six-Pack Gourmet

February 18, 1993|CHARLES PERRY

Once upon a time, aspiring American cooks worried about what wine to cook with. Those were the days when they basically aspired to be as French as possible. They'd knock themselves out to get a particular French wine for cooking a particular dish, simply because the French tend to have very settled ideas on the subject.

That is, in France they have settled ideas about what wine to cook with. When French people emigrate, they're admirably practical about their cooking liquid. In the Caribbean, they use rum without a whisper of complaint.

The safe answer to the wine question was always that you should use the same wine in cooking that you were going to drink with the meal. And this raises an interesting point: What if you're going to drink beer? Despite the wine explosion of the last quarter century, this is still basically a beer-drinking country.

And beer is wonderful to cook with. Besides being cheaper than wine, it's subtler and homier. It's a natural for any dish featuring pork or onions, of course, but its mild sweetness and the bitter note of the hops make a refreshing counterpoint to a wide range of ingredients.

As for what beer to cook with--there are lots of theories. The safest: Just use the same one you're going to drink with the meal.

This recipe is a cross between a Belgian beef carbonnade and an ordinary American stew. As the stew cooks, the onions disintegrate in the beer and cook down to a sweetly pungent sauce. The potatoes, added later, fall apart and give the sauce a certain body, and the carrots contribute both flavor and texture.

BEEF AND BEER STEW Oil 6 onions, thinly sliced 3 pounds beef stew meat Salt, pepper 6 cloves garlic, crushed 1/4 cup chopped parsley 2 (12-ounce) bottles dark beer 2 bay leaves 2 sprigs fresh thyme 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar 4 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces 5 carrots, peeled and cut into 2-inch lengths 1 tablespoon tomato paste

Heat 1/2 cup oil in large oven-proof casserole over medium heat. Add onions and cook until tender and translucent.

Meanwhile, heat 3 tablespoons oil in skillet over medium-high heat. Brown meat, in batches, on all sides. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add meat to casserole, with garlic and parsley.

Into skillet meat was cooked in pour 1 bottle beer and scrape up brown bits. Add to casserole, along with second bottle of beer. Add bay leaves, thyme, Worcestershire and vinegar. Stir to combine, cover casserole and cook at 350 degrees 1 1/2 hours.

Add potatoes and carrots to casserole and cook 40 minutes more. Stir in tomato paste and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serve in bowls, with crusty bread, if desired, to sop up sauce. Makes 6 servings.

Each serving contains about: 683 calories; 227 mg sodium; 100 mg cholesterol; 37 grams fat; 42 grams carbohydrates; 42 grams protein; 1.74 grams fiber.

This is a remarkably easy dish, from "Feast of Italy" (Crowell: 1973), and the unusual combination of beer and cream turns out to be incredibly delicious.

POLLO ALLA BIRRA 6 tablespoons butter 1/4 cup olive oil 2 large onions, sliced 1 (3 1/2-pound) chicken 1/4 cup flour Salt, pepper 2 cups beer 1 cup whipping cream

Melt butter with olive oil in medium skillet. Saute onions until tender and translucent. Remove onions to oven-proof casserole.

Lightly dredge chicken in flour and shake off excess. Cook chicken in pan 10 minutes, turning to brown evenly all over. Add chicken to casserole with onions. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Pour beer over all. Cover and cook at 350 degrees 1 1/4 hours.

Place chicken on large platter. Pour drippings and onions into blender and puree. Add whipping cream and return to casserole. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Heat just until warm. Pour sauce over chicken and serve. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Each serving contains about: 880 calories; 410 mg sodium; 225 mg cholesterol; 70 grams fat; 17 grams carbohydrates; 38 grams protein; 0.35 gram fiber.

This recipe has been adapted from Patricia Quintana's "Mexico's Feasts of Life" (Council Oaks Books). The salsa has an elusive flavor that is hard to recognize if you don't know that it contains beer.

GRILLED SNAPPER WITH BEER SALSA 8 (1 1/2-pound) red snapper or 1 (6 1/2-pound) red snapper 1 cup oil 6 cloves garlic, peeled and pureed Salt, pepper 1 medium onion, chopped 3/4 cup chopped cilantro Beer Salsa

Bone fish and lightly score flesh. Place in shallow dish and cover with oil. Sprinkle with garlic. Marinate 1 hour.

Drain fish, reserving marinade. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Grill fish over medium-hot coals, 10 to 12 minutes for small fish and 18 to 20 minutes for large fish.

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