Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Why beer batter is better

It is time for something light and fluffy ... something like beer batter.

My late father-in-law was a good guy who was raised on a farm, had no education after high school, and was a swing-shift laborer at a tire factory for most of his life. But when it came to finding, catching and cooking walleyes, he was a genius.

He made his own beer batter - alternately swigging and pouring in search of perfection - before dipping the boneless fillets and gently dropping them into the hot oil.
The result was a kind of bliss. The fish tasted better than a fish has any right to taste.

So what was the secret? Now I know.

It turns out that it really is the beer. The beverage is saturated with carbon dioxide, which (unlike salt or sugar) doesn't dissolve well in hot liquids. Instead. it emits bubbles that expand the batter mix and gives it that lacy, crisp texture.

But if the bubbles just flew off, like champagne bubbles, they wouldn't do much good. Beer, however, has foaming agents that not only give a glass of beer its head, but keep the bubbles in the batter. The foam also insulates the meat so it can cook gently while the batter turns golden brown.

The alcohol helps, too. It evaporates faster than batter made of water or milk, so it doesn't have to cook as long. And the faster the batter dries, the lower the risk of overcooking the food.

I don't know whether or not my father-in-law knew any of this. He'd never been to cooking school. But, being a genius, maybe he did.

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