Though it's technically a beverage, using alcohol in cooking is a fairly common practice. Red wine, for example, acts as a flavor enhancer in stews like boeuf bourguignon and coq au vin, and vodka plays a similar role in vodka sauce. There are also plenty of desserts that use rum, such as fruitcake and bananas foster, and bourbon can be used as an alternative to vanilla extract. Beer however isn't exactly the most common cooking ingredient, but it's definitely worth adding to Shepherd's pie.
Shepherd's pie is traditionally made with a combination of ground lamb, garlic, onion, veggies like peas and carrots, and mashed potatoes. Tomato paste and beef stock form the base of the sauce and, along with herbs like thyme and parsley, these ingredients can yield a tasty Shepherd's pie. That said, beer will make it even more rich and flavorful. Food is scientifically proven to taste better after a few sips of alcohol, but that's not why beer can improve a Shepherd's pie.
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What Happens When You Add Beer To Shepherd's Pie
When you add beer to Shepherd's pie, it affects both the flavor of the dish and the texture of the meat. Beer contains proteolytic enzymes that have the ability to break down collagen. By adding beer to Shepherd's pie, the collagen in the lamb gets broken down and tenderized, which is especially beneficial if you're using lamb with a higher lean-to-fat ratio.
When it comes to flavor, beer will give Shepherd's pie a more warm, malt-forward taste that typically occurs in dishes that have been slow-cooked. Beer has this effect because it contains both bitter hops and sweet malt, which round out the flavors in the dish while incorporating some of their own. The result is an ultra-savory, satisfying Shepherd's pie.
The alcohol in the beer won't completely disappear, as it takes several hours for that to happen. However, the taste does get cooked off, at least in part, when it simmers in the beef stock.
The Best Beer For Shepherd's Pie
Much like when you cook with wine, a useful approach in determining if a beer will taste good in Shepherd's pie is to consider whether it would also taste good as a drink alongside the dish. If you're not too familiar with beer pairings, any ale, porter, or stout, is a safe bet for a Shepherd's pie. These types of beer generally go well with lamb (and beef, if you're making cottage pie instead of Shepherd's pie), and when cooked, they're great at balancing savory flavors.
The one type of beer you'll want to stay away from is an IPA, because its bitterness will be too overwhelming for a Shepherd's pie, and will not have the same flavor balancing effect as other varieties. Most beer-infused Shepherd's pie recipes specifically call for Guinness, an Irish stout.
Regardless of what type of beer you decide to go with, moderation is key when adding it to Shepherd's pie. Aim for a roughly equal ratio of beef stock to beer. Not only does beer impart a distinct flavor, it's also liquidy and you don't want your Shepherd's pie to be runny, even if the meat is tender and the sauce is extra flavorful.
Read the original article on Daily Meal.