The Publican’s Mussels in Sour Beer
For sour beer, that is.
My husband may wince at this style of brew, much preferring a smooth Amber Ale instead.
But I can’t get enough of the specialty fermented beer that gets its characteristic tang from wild yeast strains or bacteria.
I love its bracing quality, especially paired with food, much like that of a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc in the wine world. Both wake up the taste buds with a brisk bite, acting like a natural-born palate cleanser.
Though I’ve cooked with various types of beer over the years, somehow it never dawned on me to try it with sour beer.
That is, until I spied the recipe for “Mussels in Sour Beer” in the new “Cheers to The Publican Repast and Present: Recipes and Ramblings from an American Beer Hall” (Lorena Jones Books), of which I received a review copy.
The book is by Chef-Owner Paul Kahan of The Publican in Chicago, a modern-day beer hall known for its huge communal wood tables, deep beer list, and rustic dishes flavored with gusto and served charmingly on mismatched plates.
The Publican is just one of eight establishments in Chicago by Kahan and the One Off Hospitality Group. The others include Avec, Blackbird, and the wholesale Publican Quality Bread. (His bread is fantastic, too, as I found out when he brought loaves to a recent holiday dinner at Acacia House in St. Helena where he cooked with Chef Chris Cosentino.)
The cookbook was written with Cosmo Goss, executive chef of the Publican, and Rachel Holtzman, a Chicago food writer.
It contains 150 recipes perfect for a spirited gathering around the table, including “Shrimp Ceviche with The Best Homemade Crackers,” “Dungeness Crab and Curried Potatoes,” “Pork Belly with Calabrian Chile Glaze,” and “Sesame-Semolina Pugliese.”
“Mussels in Sour Beer” cook in a flash. It might take you longer to find the opener for your bottle of beer than to cook this. OK, I exaggerate. But not by much.
It’s as easy as sauteeing a little bit of celery, garlic, shallot, thyme leaves, chile flakes and a bay leaf in butter, then pouring in a generous splash of sour beer and the mussels. Put a lid on it, wait three minutes, then prepare to enjoy.
Kahan recommends a Gueuze (pronounced “gooze), a sour Belgian beer that’s a little like cider.
I found a small bottle of Brouwerij Fonteinen Oud Geuze for $18 at a liquor shop that has a great beer selection.
It’s a Belgian blended lambic that’s been aged in oak. It’s sealed with a cork and a cage, not unlike a bottle of Champagne. It’s a pretty medium amber color. It’s not nearly as sharp as some other sour beers I’ve had. It’s more balanced, with a softer tartness. The flavor is a little musky and malty. It reminded me a little of kombucha.
You only need 1/4 cup of the Geuze for the mussels, so there’s still a good amount to enjoy in a frosty glass.
The mussels are plump and sweet, and get coated with the buttery broth that has a whisper of fruity sweetness, a faint tickle of heat, and a depth of maltiness.
You won’t end up with a deep bowlful of broth so if you want a little more, just add a bit more beer at the start. Well, if you can stand to part with it from your glass.
Mussels in Sour Beer
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon sliced celery
1 tablespoon sliced garlic
1 tablespoon sliced shallot
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon thyme leaves
1/2 teaspoon chile flakes
2 pounds mussels
1/4 cup Gueuze beer
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons chopped celery leaves or lovage
Baguette, for serving
In a medium pot — ideally something ceramic or cast-iron that can go right onto the table — heat 1 tablespoon of the butter over high heat. When the butter foams, add the celery, garlic, shallot, bay leaf, thyme, and chile flakes, and sweat for 1 minute.
Add the mussels to the pot, flip all the ingredients together, pour in the Gueuze, cover the pot, and cook until the mussels are open, 3 to 5 minutes.
Pull off the lid, stir in the remaining butter, and finish the mussels with a pinch of salt, the lemon juice, and celery leaves.
Serve piping hot with hunks of baguette.
From “Cheers to the Publican Repast and Present” by Paul Kahan and Cosmo Goss with Rachel Holtzman
More Mussels to Flex: Honey Mussels Pasta with Leeks and White Wine