The Matchmakers: Pairing Food With Dark Ales

September 12, 2023, by James Smith

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The Matchmakers: Pairing Food With Dark Ales

"We think beer is such a good pairing for food and works in so many other situations other than at the footy in a plastic cup with a pie – not that that's bad at all!"


Today, we're launching a new series exploring beer and food pairing in the company of the team at Molly Rose Brewing. Each month, we'll showcase a new pairing created by brewery founder Nic Sandery and head chef Ittichai Ngamtrairai (AKA Biggy), focusing on seasonality and different beer styles, while presenting recipes designed to be recreated at home.

Beer and food pairing is something we've showcased in the past, and is one way many brewers and chefs have looked to highlight beer's diversity, malleability and suitability for the dining table as drinking culture in Australia has moved away from one that, when it comes to beer at least, could have been soundtracked by Underworld's Born Slippy on loop: "Lager, lager, lager!"

Indeed, over the 13 years since we launched The Crafty Pint, the understanding of and respect for beer's potential as an equal to wine in restaurants has improved, yet its relationship with food here trails a long way behind many other beer cultures on the planet. What’s more, any improvement pales in comparison to the innovation, quality and availability of beer itself over that time.

Sure, you'll find far more restaurants with a beer list that's a few steps up the ladder from the days when you'd be met by half a dozen barely-distinguishable pilsners on the menu. Similarly, a number of breweries and other beer venues now offer fare above and beyond the standard pizzas and burgers. 

Yet next May will mark a decade since I hosted a Good Beer Week event at Vue de monde in Melbourne at which Brooklyn Brewery's brewmaster Garrett Oliver went head-to-head with Ten Minutes By Tractor owner Martin Spedding over several exquisite courses paired with the former's beers and the latter's wines – and I wouldn't for a second claim beer has made the progress one would have expected to follow such heady moments.

Which brings us neatly to Molly Rose and their mission to change perceptions and elevate beer to new heights week in, week out. Since taking over the two buildings adjacent to their original Collingwood brewpub, the team has set about creating a venue unlike any other in the local beer world while delivering a beer-centric dining experience usually only attempted within one-night-only events at beer weeks.

 

Chef Ittichai Ngamtrairai serving Chef's Table guests at Molly Rose's Collingwood home. Photo credit: Sarah Anderson.

 

Leading the charge are Nic, who will be well-known to most of our readers, and Biggy, who joined Molly Rose after amassing experience at a number of Melbourne's finest restaurants. They include Nomad, Matilda 159, Marameo and Sarti, as well as LuMi, where he learned the art of using Asian techniques to put a twist on traditional Italian cuisine. He's created a menu designed to highlight locally-sourced ingredients with South East Asian street food flair, embellished with house-fermented seasonings and preserves.

"The whole reason for Molly Rose's existence is trying to advance beer in a different direction to other people," is how Nic describes their approach.

"I love eating good food, I love cooking and I love flavour. We just want to share these great experiences with other people and give them the tools and education to be able to do it at home."

His travels while refining the concept that would become Molly Rose – which took in Japan, the UK, and parts of Europe and the USA – merely heightened his desire to explore flavour within beer.

"Seeing how different cultures enjoyed food and drink in different ways – that was really important," he says, citing the izakaya of Japan and a standout experience in New York City as eye-opening moments.

"I visited a place in the US called Tørst where they had a Michelin star for pairing food and beer. I met the guy running it, read his cook book, and thought, 'This is really cool and an amazing way to educate people about how good beer can be and how well it can go with food.'

"I'm inspired by chefs and other drinks makers who construct things in a mindful way, taking into consideration every aspect of a drink or dish, right down to the experience of enjoying it. It's all about the experience, about taking people on a journey from start to finish, and making it so much more enjoyable.

"Pairing impacts the whole experience of a drink or a bite of food: you see different elements of the food and the drink – sip, bit, sip, bite – it’s a journey."

Within Molly Rose's world, this reaches its apogee with the Chef's Table: a 20-seat offering available on Fridays and Saturdays at which guests enjoy a five-course degustation pairing Nic's beers with Biggy's dishes in full view of the kitchen and next to the pilot brewery where many of the beers are brought to life. Safe to say, it's an epicurean experience unlike any other in Australia – or indeed, pretty much any brewery in the world.

"If you can sit at a kitchen bar and watch people make your food, and put a lot of effort into it, and see where the beer is made, you know this has been designed to go together," Nic says. "It’s an experience you can’t really have anywhere else.

"And I felt if we’re going to talk the talk of brewing beer designed to pair with food then we should walk the walk and really look at the pairings."

First up for this series exploring the art of beer and food pairing, we're celebrating the change of seasons from winter to spring. Over to you, Nic and Biggy.


Grilled Lemongrass Chicken on Glass Noodle Salad

 

Here we are charging into spring and, after an unusually pleasant Melbourne winter, there are whispers on the street that dark beers are set to be ditched for the year already. So, we're here in the inaugural edition of The Matchmakers to explain that, when it comes to dark beers, you should definitely walk in the light and not towards it! 

Not all dark beers need be syrupy, thick and, as my cousin named them, “sandwich beers”. (She is from country Queensland – sorry, Laura.) Quite the opposite, in fact: dark beers can have nuance and complexity while still being refreshing. 

The “darkness”, for want of a better word, can play a wonderful supporting role to biscuity malt in something like a German Dunkel (dark lager) or a brown ale, or can hum along harmoniously with hops in a Cascadian dark ale (similar to black IPAs). 

To prove the point, we are going to get you feeling all spring-and-summery by asking you to dust off the BBQ for chef Ittichai’s Grilled Lemongrass Chicken on Glass Noodle Salad before slinging you a can of a hoppy dark ale. Chef had a taste of one such beer, Hugs Allowed, and was inspired by the delicate roast and balanced malt sweetness that plays second fiddle to the Simcoe and Eclipse hops, which in turn throw out ripper mandarin, grapefruit and pine aromatics. 

The reason this beer works so well is twofold: the layer of malt character in the beer grabs onto the chargrilled chicken and the umami-laden dressing of the salad, while the crunchy herbs and the banging lime and lemongrass sing along sweetly with the citrus notes in the beer. Don’t even get me started on that fiery bird's eye chilli with the hop blast, brioche malt sweetness and refreshing dry finish... Sip-bite-sip-bite-sip-sip-siiiiiiip as the chilli builds. 

It's quite the journey for your taste buds and one you'd miss out on should you limit your consumption of dark beer to winter. And should you find yourself suitably inspired to explore further, other dark beer pairings worth checking out include:

  • Dunkel with Comte cheese
  • Dunkelweiss (dark German wheat beer) with almond croissants
  • Schwarzbier (black lager) with Peking duck
  • Porter with truffled mushroom pizza
  • English brown ale with a marmalade sandwich
  • American brown ale with a spicy pepperoni pizza


The Recipe 

 Serves 2 /// Prep Time: 20 mins ///Cook: 35 mins (Plus resting)
NB Begin the marinade a day ahead

Ingredients 

Marinade

  • 300g Free Range Chicken Thighs
  • 1 stalk Lemongrass, coarsely chopped
  • ½ stalk Turmeric, coarsely chopped (see note)
  • 5 clove Garlic, peeled
  • 2 Tbsp Fish Sauce
  • 2 tsp Salt

Noodle

  • 300g Glass Noodles
  • 20g Peanuts, crushed
  • 15g Dry Shrimp
  • 1 small Red Onion, thinly sliced
  • 5g of Coriander leaves, coarsely chopped
  • 5 stalks Spring Onion (green part), chopped 

Salad Dressing

  • 40g Fish Sauce
  • 30g Palm Sugar 
  • Juice of 2 limes
  • 1 Birds-Eye Chilli, crushed (optional)

Note: fresh turmeric can be substituted with 2 tsp of turmeric powder. 

Method

 

  1. For the marinade, process lemongrass, garlic, salt and a little touch of water in a food processor or blender. Coat the chicken pieces with the marinade and seal in an airtight container in the refrigerator overnight or for at least three hours. 
  2. Bring a medium-sized saucepan of water to the boil, add glass noodles and cook for five minutes. Once tender, remove the glass noodles and add them to a bowl of iced water for two minutes, then drain until the noodles are dry. 
  3. Turn on grill to a low heat or air fryer to 180 degrees, add the marinated chicken and cook until the chicken is golden and juices run clear (approx 25 minutes). Let the chicken rest for ten minutes.
  4. In a bowl, add all the noodle ingredients. In a separate small bowl, combine all the salad dressing ingredients, and season to taste. Drizzle the salad dressing over the bowl of noodle ingredients to finish the glass noodle salad.
  5. To serve, spoon the glass noodle salad into serving bowls, slice the chicken and place on top.  

Note from Chef Ittichai: 

You can add other vegetables as you wish, and change which part of the chicken you would like to use. Or try pork. But, above all else: ENJOY!


Photo of Nic and Biggy at top of article by Sarah Anderson.
All articles in The Matchmakers series will appear here.

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