Brewing up a burger


Liz Hands learns to cook with beer at Black Sheep Brewery, and wonders why she never thought of it before. Hic!

It turns out I’ve been mixing my batter wrong all these years.

Instead of adding the liquid to the flour, it should be the other way around. And I needn’t worry about getting all the lumps out – they only make it better. Such is the advice of chef Paul Kilbride at the Black Sheep Brewery bistro in the pretty village of Masham, North Yorkshire, where I’m discovering the considerable joys of cooking with a pint or three of craft ale.

While I’m not averse to splashing a glass of Pinot Grigio into a risotto or a glug of Merlot into a stew, cooking with beer is less familiar, so a morning here learning with Paul is quite a revelation.

We’re making one of the most popular dishes on the Black Sheep bistro menu, a Riggwelter Ale burger with pulled pork, served with onion rings on the side. Five years ago, hardly anyone had heard of pulled pork this side of the Atlantic. Now it’s everywhere, and it seems everyone has their own take on how it should be cooked. The Black Sheep version usually involves huge pork shoulders marinated overnight and slow cooked. We’re using fillet, which Paul says works equally well. Not trusting my knife skills, he takes off the sinew for me, leaving the fat which will break down into the juices.

We make a dry rub of 1 tbsp black pepper, ground coriander and turmeric, although I have a little slip with the turmeric so this batch may be particularly orange. To this is added cayenne pepper, and crushed and ground chillies.

“Massage it into the meat to get as much of it sticking as possible,” says Paul before handing me a bottle of Imperial Russian Stout and another of Riggwelter. Both are poured over the meat before greaseproof paper goes on, followed by tin foil. Usually, this would go into the fridge overnight, but we put it straight into the oven at about 200C/Gas6. It will take around 2½ hours, so we have to employ “here’s one I made earlier” to top the burger, which is next.

This is the easiest and by far the best burger I’ve ever made. But then I guess it would be with a professional chef having done the prep and now passing me the ingredients. For those of you chopping it all yourself, mix by hand 2½ kg minced steak, 1 egg, 250g breadcrumbs,½ onion, 4 cloves garlic, chopped chives, parsley, tomato purée, salt and pepper. Usually, about a sixth of a pint of Riggwelter would go in too, but we opt for the Black Sheep Ale instead as we’ve already used Riggwelter once today. A handful of the mixture is then put into a burger press – a gizmo I didn’t know, until now, that I needed in my life.

The burgers take 2½ mins on each side to cook before they’re finished off in the grill. “Don’t push them around too much because they’ll break up,” warns Paul. As it happens, I end up with a burger to be proud of.

The pulled pork is drained off, rested and pulled to pieces, while the sauce is reduced with Coca Cola, brown sauce, brown sugar and a little salt and pepper until it makes a glaze which is tipped back over the pork. The perfect batter for onion rings is next. We pour a full bottle of Golden Sheep Ale into a bowl with 280ml soda water, along with malt vinegar, parsley and chives followed by 400g flour. “We always do the wet mixture first because you can judge the consistency better,” says Paul. “It’s nice to have a few lumps in it too because they’ll separate; it’s like making a pancake or Yorkshire pudding batter.

Head chef Derek Ballantyne, Paul and the team have recently revamped the Black Sheep Brewery menu. Beer, as you would expect, features in most dishes, even some of the puddings. “We have Riggwelter rum and raisin ice cream and use the Imperial Russian in the sauce for the sticky toffee pudding,” says Paul. “I love cooking with Black Sheep. The darker ales are great for things like the pulled pork because there’s a sweetness to them. The Riggwelter has a banana-y taste. The Golden Sheep Ale is great for fish as it doesn’t overpower; light, and slightly carbonated, it makes very crisp batter.”

With that, it’s time to try that batter on the onion rings, served alongside the burger and, of course, Black Sheep Ale. The brewery serves its ales in one-third pints so you can pair them with the food, having a different ale for your starter, main and pud. It’s a great burger, even if I say so myself, made even better by pairing it with a pint of Black Sheep Ale. I’m a cooking-with-beer convert. I even take a few bottles of Golden Sheep Ale with me to make batter at home. Liquid first.

Black Sheep steak and Riggwelter Ale pie
Black Sheep Best Bitter battered fish and chips
Black Sheep liver & gravy

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