IPAs scare me. Like watching the girl crawling out of the TV in “The Ring”, the prospect of losing a fingernail/toenail, or hearing the name of the Brown’s first pick in the draft — I get tremors when I try to pair IPA’s with a meal. Why? Think about it, Green Flash has a beer called Palate Wrecker and Stone’s Ruination is named after the “ruinous effect it has on your palate”. The flavors of an IPA are so bold and overpowering that you can too easily find a clashing of flavors as opposed to a harmonious mingling. But, like all of the things listed above, I’ve found a way to cope with my fear and tackle the idea of mixing food with a good India Pale Ale.
The first step is realizing that maybe the best thing to do is to find a palate cleanser to eat with your meal. Opt for clean and plain flavors like a french baguette slice, or some plain crackers and glass of water. But, honestly, that takes half of the fun away from food pairing! So, step two is to know that certain flavors are accented by hop bitterness, certain flavors compliment the fruity, spicy, and earthy tones of the hops, and certain flavors mellow the hops to a more tolerable level. If you can create a meal that does all three, then you’re truly giving yourself the best IPA experience possible. That’s my aim today in this three course IPA dinner.
For my appetizer course, I’m going to try to compliment the hops; to keep as much hoppy goodness on your palate without giving you a sense of bitter overload. Salty and fatty foods do a good job of holding up to the bold bitterness in the hops. Think: chips and guacamole, Chex Mix, battered (not sauced) chicken wings, bacon, and smoked fish. For my first dish, I’m going to go with a family holiday favorite — bacon wrapped water chestnuts. Soak the water chestnuts in soy sauce overnight, wrap in bacon, and bake until crispy and delicious. This dish is salty, fatty, sweet, and crunchy, and goes perfectly with bold or mild IPAs.
My entree is going to attempt to accent the flavors of both the beer and the food at all costs. This is an attempt to wreck your palate; to blow out your taste buds. The most common way to do this is to pair IPA’s with heat. Spicy foods like Mexican and Thai are classic cuisine to drink with an IPA. The hops make the spices more spicy, and the heat makes the hops more bitter. Both flavors are taken to an all new high just by having them together. After bacon wrapped water chestnuts, I’d kick it up a notch with this recipe for Killer Cajun Shrimp. The spiciness crawls up on you, which more or less sprints when paired with an IPA, and if it gets too intense, dip some of that french bread into the heavenly broth. Drink, eat, dip, repeat. Sounds perfect.
Ok, we’ve built our meal to a climax, now it’s time to bring it back down. Your taste buds are probably on fire, but you still want to drink that beer, right? The best way to put out the bold flavor of hops is by eating something decadent and sweet. While IPAs go well with any dessert spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg (think apple pie), a great way to douse the flavors while still maintaining a great mingling of hops and dessert is to go with a Carrot Cake. Carrot Cakes are some of my favorites, and this recipe features pecans and lots of rich cream-cheese frosting.
So, there you have it. I conquered my fears and paired IPAs with food. Now, all you have to do is find the right IPA to get the job done. Super hoppy and fruity, or slightly hoppy and dry, the choice is yours!