So you know we've been getting into beer recently, and we've even started using it more in our actual cooking. We'd also like to start getting a better handle on how to go about pairing the beers we love with the foods we cook. When we were invited to try a menu designed by Chef Michael Symon to pair specifically with Pilsner Urquell, we jumped at the chance!
Pilsners are pale lager-style beers that are golden in color with a very hoppy flavor profile. Although originally from the Czech Repubulic, pilsner-style beers are now made around the world. The Pilsner Urquell we sampled is imported from the Czech Republic and is considered to be one of the original pilsners.
Based on our experience with American pilsners, we were expecting this beer to be bright and bitter. We were surprised when we tasted something quite different! It was definitely bitter at first sip, though without the astringency we associate with highly-hopped beers. Then after that first hit of bitter, the flavor really mellowed out. We could taste notes of toasted malt and a yeasty sweetness.
Chef Symon paired this beer with a pasta dish, a fresh vegetable salad, and a creamy soup. Of the three, we thought the pilsner went best with the pasta. This was a linguini tossed with a light sauce of anchovies, capers, chilies, and tomatoes in extra virgin olive oil. The ingredients were fresh and bright, and the flavors of those capers and chilies really popped in our mouths.
Drinking the beer alongside definitely gave this dish extra depth. A lot of the flavors played off each other - hoppy and bright, bitter and spicy, sweet and salty. The pilsner's malty finish seemed to bring it all together and refresh the palate for the next bite.
The biggest idea we're taking away from this meal is that a good pairing doesn't necessarily mean that the beer and food have similar flavors. It seems like it could be more interesting to pair beers and foods that have complementary, yet contrasting flavors. This would give the overall meal a sense of balance.
Here is Chef Symon's recipe so you can try this pairing for yourself!
Linguini with Heirloom Tomato, Capers, Anchovies and Chilies
Serves 4 - 6
1 pound dried linguini
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 cloves sliced garlic
1 teaspoon chili flakes
1 cup brandywine heirloom tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and diced (Note: we used regular farmer's market tomatoes and didn't bother with peeling)
1 tablespoon capers, drained
6 salt-packed anchovies, rinsed and minced
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup sliced flat leaf parsley
1 cup toasted breadcrumbs
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil for the pasta. Heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. When the olive oil is hot, add the garlic and sweat it for two minutes, then add the chili flakes and cook for another 30 seconds. Drop the pasta in the boiling water. Add the tomatoes, capers, and anchovies to the sauté pan, bring to a simmer, and cook for 2 minutes. Remove the sauce from the heat and add extra virgin olive oil and parsley. Strain pasta and add directly to the sauce. Toss and place in 4 bowls. Top with breadcrumbs.
Do you have any other suggestions for beer and food pairings?
(Images: Faith Durand for the Kitchn)