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Foods to pair with a good ale

With so many styles of craft ales to choose from, could I possibly have a single favorite? If push came to shove, I would have to go with American red ale. With its caramely malt character balanced by a crisp, hoppy finish, an American red goes down smooth, with layer after layer of aroma and flavor to keep the experience interesting from beginning to end.

American red ale is a kissing cousin to American amber ale. It hails back to the American craft beer revolution of the early 1980s. West Coast brewers had already been tweaking the standard pale ale to produce a lusty beverage with rich color and flavor reminiscent of English style bitter and pale ales ... on steroids. Out of that came American pale ale, which evolved into American Amber Ale.

These days brewmasters are doing exciting things to their American reds. They’re trending toward bigger and hoppier, without overstepping the boundary of the genre.

That robust malt character and crisp finish gives the American Red an affinity for a wide range of foods. The sweet malt characteristics stand up to intense sauces that can be both sweet and savory. Think barbecue and hoisen. The hoppy finish tames the heat in a moderately spiced bowl of chili or a Szechuan stir-fry. And the fact that it’s such a balanced brew means it’s equally delightful with relatively lighter entrees, like a grilled halibut with a rosemary-laced marinade. That hop factor also balances a rich dish, such as a decadent pot of braised short ribs, and keeps your palate from feeling overwhelmed by the ribs and the malt in the beer.

Here are some recipes that work well paired with American red ale.

Beer Cheese Soup with American Red Ale

Makes about 8 servings.

1 quart chicken broth (homemade or canned)

2-1/2 pounds potatoes, unpeeled, coarsely chopped

2 cups chopped green onions, whites and about half the green stalks

1 quart light cream

1/4 cup soy sauce

1 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper

6 ounces shredded Jarlsburg cheese

6 ounces shredded Cheddar cheese

1/2 cup craft beer (use whatever beer you plan to serve with it; in this case, an American red; at another time, consider an amber style or nut brown style).

In a heavy-bottomed soup pot bring the chicken broth to a boil. Add the potatoes and simmer for 30 minutes, or until the potatoes are very soft. Add the green onions and remove the pot from the heat. Add the half-and-half or milk to the pot.

Puree the potato-broth mixture. If you can’t do it in the pot with a hand-held blender, you’ll have to do it in batches in your food processor or blender. Return the puree to the pot. Stir in the soy sauce and pepper and slowly bring the soup back to a simmer. The soup can be prepared to this point up to 48 hours ahead and refrigerated, or prepared and frozen for 3 months.

When ready to serve (or pack into a thermos for an outing), proceed with the recipe by placing the pot back on the burner, over medium heat. When the soup begins to simmer, stir in the grated cheeses gradually, a handful at a time. Then gently whisk in the beer and let the soup simmer slowly to marry the beer flavor with the soup.

Dijon Slaw

Makes 8 to 10 servings.

6 cups shredded green cabbage

2 cups finely chopped celery

1/2 pound (about 2 cups) Jarlsburg, Emmenthal or other fine-quality Swiss cheese, cut into julienne strips

1 small clove garlic, finely minced

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

2 tablespoons white wine vinegar

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

1/3 cup olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

2 hard-cooked eggs, peeled and coarsely chopped

In a large bowl, combine the cabbage, celery and cheese.

In a small bowl, whisk together the garlic, lemon juice, vinegar and mustard until well blended. Whisk in the oil, then pour the dressing over the salad mixture, tossing well to completely coat the ingredients. Add salt and pepper to taste. Chill well before serving. Adjust flavorings before serving, adding splashes of lemon juice, vinegar, or mustard as needed. To serve, garnish with coarsely chopped eggs.

Barley Risotto with Mushrooms and Smokey Bacon

Makes 5 cups; about 6 servings

1/4 pound smoked bacon, thin sliced and cut into 1/4-inch pieces

2 ounces butter

2 cups chopped yellow onion

1 cup pearled barley

1/3 cup amber or red ale

4 cups chicken broth

1/2 cup (1/2 ounce) dried porcini mushroom pieces (see note)

3 ounces grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Chopped parsley for garnish

In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, saute the bacon over medium heat until it is richly browned. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and reserve for later.

Spoon off all but 2 tablespoons of the bacon grease. Add the butter and the onions to the pan and saute over medium heat until the onions have softened and turned slightly golden.

Stir in the barley, ale, broth, and prepared mushrooms. Stir and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce heat to a gentle simmer, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the barley has absorbed most of the liquid and is very tender. It should have a creamy character, but not be “soupy,” and definitely not overly dry.

When ready to serve, stir in the cheese, along with the reserved bacon pieces.

NOTE: I don’t reconstitute the dried mushrooms, but I do chop them before adding to the pot. I use a food processor and just run the motor in quick bursts so most of the pieces are about 1/4- to 1/2-inch in dimension; some can be smaller. But you want to avoid very large pieces so that the mushroom flavor is evenly distributed.

Huli Huli Chicken Sliders

Makes 8 to12 servings:

This isn’t a traditional Huli Huli chicken preparation, as made in Hawaii, but its texture and flavor is very close to a variation made in Corvallis at a popular eatery, Local Boyz Hawaiian Cafe.

3 tablespoons canola oil

4 pounds boneless/skinless chicken thighs, halved or quartered

2 pounds boneless/skinless chicken breast, cut into 1- or 2-inch chunks

1 medium yellow onion, chopped

1 quart chicken broth (canned is OK)

1 quart pineapple juice

1/4 cup soy sauce

1/2 cup brown sugar

2/3 cup peeled and shredded fresh ginger

2 teaspoons chile-garlic sauce

Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and saute until the pieces are browned on all sides. Add the onion and saute until softened, about 2 minutes.

Deglaze the pot with the chicken broth, stirring and scraping up all the cooked-on bits of food. Add the pineapple juice, soy sauce, brown sugar, ginger and chile-garlic sauce. Bring the liquid to a boil, then cover and simmer gently until the chicken is very tender, about 60 to 90 minutes.

This dish can be prepared several days ahead, or even frozen. Simply reheat to serve.

Delicious tucked into mini buns, to serve as sliders. But equally yummy over rice, alongside a simple slaw dressed with a sweet-but-tangy sauce.

Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis food writer, artist, and author of “Oregon Hazelnut Country, the Food, the Drink, the Spirit,” and four other cookbooks. Readers can contact her by email at janrd@proaxis.com, or obtain additional recipes and food tips on her blog at www.janrd.com.