Man cannot live on beer alone, it’s a sad fact but I’ve tried! However, if your food can include beer too then that’s a win-win situation.
Whether it’s a hearty beef and ale casserole or pastry-topped pie, a slow braised in beer beef rib, or just a simple beer cheese sauce with pretzels, beer can enhance many recipes in the same way wine does.
Often forgotten about is the simple beer batter!
Not only does the gassy nature of the beer improve the light airy batter consistency, but, depending on which type of beer you use, it can enhance the flavors of the food too.
Beer-battered fish seems to be the most common use of beer batters, especially in English-style Taverns, where many of your favorite fish are now available deep fried in the crispiest beer batter for English-style ” Traditional Fish ‘n’ Chips”.
I particularly enjoy some beer battered King prawns in the summer as an accompaniment to a cold beer.
The Super Bowl, and other big gatherings of us beer-drinking fans, just wouldn’t be the same without those beer-battered foods like onion rings, pieces of potato, fish fries, or chicken strips.
You might even have tried the occasional beer-battered pickle chip at Hooters (don’t worry we won’t tell anyone!)
But most of us, while claiming to be seasoned homebrewers, may not have the same skill in the kitchen when it comes to preparing gourmet food.
What type of beer should you use for the best beer batter recipe and is there one batter recipe for all or do certain foods use different batter?
Read on for our guide to making the best beer batter, the best beers to use for each food type, and a few recipes for you to try out the next time you’re in the kitchen waiting for that next brew to finish.
Why Beer Batter Works So Well
Let’s start by talking about why this combination of beer and fried food tastes just so good.
Beer makes a great base for a batter due to it containing three essential ingredients – carbon dioxide, foaming agents, and alcohol. All three contribute to the chemistry of the batter, and certain beers can even enhance the crunchiness of the batter.
If you have ever been to an English Chip shop (yes chips in England are deep-fried potato sticks rather than the potato chips we enjoy here in the US) you will have enjoyed some really good fish and chips that the English are justly famous for.
Pieces of fish are served in a crispy coating along with piping hot wedges of deep-fried potatoes. Although the fish can be very juicy, the outer crust will normally be very crisp with an airy texture.
To attain a crispier coating, beer has probably been used as the main liquid in the batter ingredients, rather than milk or water. The carbon dioxide you find in beer, unlike most solids like salt or sugar, dissolves very efficiently at lower temperatures.
Once the battered fish fillets are thrown into the hot oil, the solubility of the CO2 drops, making bubbles that froth up and causing the batter to expand.
Foaming agents, which are normally added to beer to help with a creamy, more sustainable head, act as proteins that protect these small bubbles in the batter to prevent them from bursting as soon as they appear, as is often found with a glass of champagne.
Finally, alcohol plays a large part in regulating the internal temperature of the food.
Foams can also be a good thermal insulator. When you drop a beer-battered fish fillet into a deep fryer, more of the heat will enter the batter rather than the food actually encased inside.
The result is a crisp exterior that protects the food from drying out as it fries.
The Best Beer for Beer Batter
As we all know, not all beers are created equal. There are probably as many different kinds of beer as there are fish in the sea!
Although you could choose to use just a cheap domestic lager for a batter mix, certain beers work better for certain foods.
When you plan on making fish and chips, remember many of the fried fish used are white fish like cod, skate, or haddock, which can be pretty bland in taste. Try to choose a lighter beer that doesn’t have too many strong flavors.
English-style bitters and brown ales like London Pride, Hobgoblin, or Newcastle Brown Ale may have more complex flavor profiles which can enhance the fish but lack the bitterness or stronger flavors that may overpower the fish.
Guinness or Other Stout Beers
For beer-battered onion rings and other deep-fried vegetables, go for a beer with a darker complexion. The dark, amber color of a stout can give the onion rings a pleasing mouthwatering aesthetic and add extra flavor with a crispy batter.
Try a full-on flavor explosion like Wild Onion Drago Russian Imperial Stout, which is characterized by its sweet oniony taste.
It can add extra depth of flavor to food like onion rings or French fries, however, remember the high alcohol level (10% ABV) would make it best for some plainer foods too which could benefit from extra texture and flavor.
We’re talking Budweiser, Pabst Blue Ribbon, Bud Light, 1 Coors, and the like. They’re nothing too fancy and they work surprisingly well for a crunchy beer batter.
Besides the cheaper cost, beers like these tend to be lower on flavor too. You still get all of that extra crispiness from the CO2 but without the stronger flavors of some other beers.
Ideal for when you want a basic “salt and pepper” batter to allow the flavors of the food to shine through.
Traditionally, IPAs are not the best choice for a beer batter. They can be too bitter and very thin. The floral hop flavors they contain will also be eradicated when cooked, leaving just the malty taste of the beer behind.
Goose Island IPA, however, is a good choice for a beer batter as it has a fuller body than most IPAs with bright citrus notes to the flavor. The exceptionally smooth nature of the beer also results in a very clean tasting flaky outer crust to the food.
You will still get a slight bitterness to the batter as with all IPAs, so it’s better to use this beer for foods like chicken wings, potatoes, and pickles.
Most sour beers lack the higher levels of carbonation needed by a beer batter to give it that crunchy and crispy texture – a shame, as there are many recipes that would benefit from that extra layer of sourness.
Just imagine Chinese-style sweet and sour chicken with an added layer of sourness from a sour beer batter. Delicious!
Luckily for sour beer lovers, Bell’s Brewery’s Oarsman Ale is both sour and carbonated. It’s widespread, affordable, and just what you need. Use Oarsman Ale for chicken, white fish, and potatoes.
Other popular styles of beer such as an amber ale or a blonde ale can help add a nice golden hue to what would otherwise be quite a pale batter.
Whatever beer you choose, you should ensure it is high in carbonation for those extra big bubbles and lightness, yet mild in flavor to compliment the food rather than overpower the flavors.
The Ultimate Fish and Chips Beer Batter Recipe
Now you have decided which is the perfect beer to use, let’s take a look at the nitty-gritty of a flavorsome and light batter that is great for deep-frying fish amongst other foods too.
This is the perfect recipe for recreating those summer seaside meals, such as fish in batter accompanied with air fryer potato chips and homemade tartare sauce, as you would find in the best chip shops.
- 2 lbs white fish fillets like cod or tilapia
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper or 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper for a slightly spicier batter
- 1 tablespoon garlic powder
- 1 tablespoon paprika
- 2 teaspoons kosher or seasoned salt
- 1 large egg, lightly beaten
- 1 1/3 cups beer – an American light lager is perfectly acceptable, although you could use a Mexican lager and serve it with yellow corn tortilla chips for fish tacos.
- Canola oil for frying
- 1 cup (120g) all-purpose flour. All-purpose flour is fine, although cake flour could be used for a batter mix that is lower in gluten and a thinner batter. A batter with rice flour would be a completely gluten-free option but could need more cups of flour.
- 1/4 tsp baking powder
If using frozen fish, thaw it completely before cooking and dry it with paper towels before seasoning the fish with salt and pepper. Cut into strips and set aside while you prepare the batter mix.
Add oil to a large heavy-bottomed pot (dutch oven or cast iron pot) until it’s about 2 to 3 inches deep and heat until oil reaches 375 ºF. Use a trusty kitchen thermometer to keep a check on the initial frying temperature.
To make the beer batter – in a large bowl whisk together the flour, garlic powder, paprika, and seasoned salt. Adding a 1/4 tsp baking powder can make the batter much lighter too. If you want a slightly thicker batter just add another cup of flour.
Stir in the lightly beaten egg and gradually whisk in your favorite beer until a batter forms with no lumps
Flour the fish strips with seasoned flour and shake off any excess flour before dipping the fish into the batter mix one piece at a time.
Place in the hot oil and cook for 3 to 4 minutes or until the fried fish is a golden brown color and the fish texture is that of flaky fish but still moist.
Cool on a wire rack allowing any excess grease to drip off, and enjoy while hot.
Deep-fried fish can be reheated in a conventional oven or air fryer at 325 ºF until heated through if kept refrigerated overnight.
Notes on Other Foods
For onion rings, you can use the same batter mix, although steeping the onions in buttermilk before dredging them with seasoned flour and dipping them into the base batter mix can take away some of the onion bitterness.
Covering the onions with buttermilk for at least 30 minutes will reduce their pungent bite and leave you with sweet tender onion rings in a crispy beer batter.
For other vegetables like potatoes, you may want to make the batter thicker with more cups of flour added to the base mix.
A simple supper dish or sharing platter for the next time the boys come around can be made by deep frying a section of veggies in your latest brew-based batter mix, and serving them with a selection of dips like a blue cheese sauce, ranch dressing, or a dill veggie dip.
For shrimps in a beer batter, try using Asahi lager in greater quantities with some baking powder for an almost tempura-like batter.
Just make sure the batter is kept very cold, if not ice cold.