Beer dinners are becoming all the rage, probably because they merge our collective interests in inebriation and not starving to death. During one such dinner at Leroy's Kitchen + Lounge in Coronado, I began to ponder what culinary perspectives inform these affairs. Thankfully, new executive chef JC Colón was available to prevent me from just guessing the answer for an entire article.
CityBeat : What are some of the simple rules for pairing food with beer?
JC Colón: When pairing food with beer, less is more. Try not to overthink each dish or get away from the natural flavors of each ingredient. Let the beer be what it was intended to be instead of masking it with overcomplicated pairings.
What flavors in beer are the trickiest to pair with?
I find that beers infused with powerful spices can be challenging to pair well. For example, Ballast Point's Habanero Sculpin has some heat to it, so I like to balance that with dishes that will cool the palate and make the beer more approachable.
What makes a pairing straightforward (for those without culinary training)?
To me, a straightforward pairing highlights classic flavor combinations. For example, Porters have chocolate and coffee notes, so they pair well with chocolate desserts. Citrus goes well with seafood, so a beer with citrus notes like a wheat beer could easily be paired with a seafood dish. Someone without a culinary background just needs to think of familiar flavors that typically complement each other and use that as a base for the pairing.
What flavor aspects are you trying to balance with a beer?
My goal is to achieve harmony between the dishes I create and the beer, whether I am trying to bring out subtle flavors or minimize stronger ones. If a beer has some bitterness to it, I like to counter that with a heavier, richer protein that can stand up to it.
What unlikely beer / food pairings have you tried that worked surprisingly well?
I created a Mano de Leon scallop crudo with citrus and avocado purée, blood-orange segments, pickled radish and citrus oil and paired it with Stone's Cali-Belgique IPA.
What are some of the common missteps with beer pairings?
It's important to keep things approachable for the diner. It is something every chef should strive to do. I like to get creative with my menus, but I also have to be conscious of the fact that people's tastes vary. I like to have a menu that has familiar ingredients people are comfortable with on it and balance that with unique elements so that people leave their comfort zone and experience something new.
Above all else, try to keep in mind that people who come to these dinners just want great food and great beer.
What are some pairing ideas for the summer you'd recommend?
For me, grilled fish with Ballast Point's Wahoo Wheat Beer is summer on a plate. Tomatoes are also in peak season during the summer months, so an heirloom-tomato salad with fresh basil, burrata and balsamic vinegar would pair perfectly with a pale ale.