Adding liquids like alcohol and mineral-style waters to recipes is not a new thing by any stretch, but it has become much more widespread. Beer-battered foods are almost everywhere, and beer-marinated meats are making the rounds among some food blogs (especially beer and chicken). The carbonation in beer is a major selling point; this carbonation makes batters very light when fried. Beer can also tenderize meats as well. However, you'll often see earlier recipes use seltzer or club soda in batters and sauces. Other than the fact that one is alcoholic and the other is not, is there any real difference? There can be, depending on what you're cooking -- and who is eating.

Reduction Time

If you're going to cook the recipe for a long time, be aware that the beer's flavor can become too intense or even turn bitter. Sauces that are being reduced, or cooked so that the liquid evaporates and makes the sauce very concentrated and thick, may do better with seltzer or club soda. Those two are essentially flavorless (you can get flavored versions, of course, but a bottle of basic club soda or seltzer does not really have a taste, except for that from added minerals in club soda). But a dark, rich beer can quickly turn unappetizing. For sauces and marinades that will be cooked for a long time, keep the beer in drinking glasses and use unflavored seltzer or club soda.

Customized Flavors

If you do want to experiment with the flavor of a marinade or frying batter, or if you want to create a sauce or batter that will complement the item being cooked (and assuming you're not going to be slowly cooking this thing for hours), beer, especially craft beer, could work well. In fact, there are entire cookbooks dedicated to finding the right beer for a particular recipe. For example, in The Craft Beer Bites Cookbook, by Jacquelyn Dodd, each recipe is followed by a suggestion for a beer. A recipe for beer-battered shrimp, for example, should use a "well-carbonated pale ale," while the next recipe, for pork meatballs, needs a "light, bready wheat beer." You really can't do that with club soda and seltzer. If you want an unobtrusive lightness, the non-alcoholic drinks work well, but for definite flavor-matching, go with the beer.

Alcohol Warning

Do be aware that the alcohol from beer in recipes is not going to burn off quickly, despite everyone thinking it does. What's Cooking America says it can take up to 3 hours to cook off alcohol, and you are not going to be deep-frying a drumstick for 3 hours. If you are serving a dish to anyone taking medications that can't be mixed with any alcohol, or if you have a guest who will not touch alcohol for religious or other health reasons, use club soda or seltzer in the recipe instead. Keep the beer for drinking so that you can enjoy the beer while your guest can enjoy the food.

Another thing to be aware of is that now there is alcoholic seltzer. If you are going to use seltzer or club soda in a recipe, use the non-alcoholic type.

Craft beer devotees like yourself can have a lot of fun experimenting with the different flavors of beer in foods. Just be aware of who else is eating the food and how the cooking time can affect the flavor.

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