Danny from Florida asks: I love what you do on the Brewing Network, and can't wait to taste one of your meals some time in the future. Hopefully there will be an NHC in a Southeastern state soon! Thanks for this opportunity to pick your brain over a couple of things!
My first question centers on brewing additives and by-products, and how they may be integrated into a meal. For instance, do those water salts we add to our all-grains beers, like gypsum or calcium chloride, modify the flavor or cooked meals similar to the way they affect beer flavor? Could they be used as flavor enhancers, similar to standard table salt? Additionally, in the quest for increased sustainability, what are some uses for spent grains, spent hops and yeast/trub cakes that are left behind in the bottom of the fermenter? Are there any food applications for any of these things (other than the old spent grain bread), or should they simply be composted after use. I know autolyzed yeast is a common ingredient in processed foods, hence my question.
One final question pertains to the growing of hops. It has been the experience of many gardeners in Florida that hops just don't grow very well in this state, rarely yielding sufficient quantities to be of use in brewing. Their quality is also sub-optimal due to the soils, climate and overall growing conditions down here. I have heard that the shoots of the hops as they emerge in the spring are similar to asparagus and considered a delicacy in some parts of the world. Do you have any recommendations on planting rhizomes for harvesting these shoots, how many rhizomes are needed for a small family meal, and how to cook them?
Thank you so much! Sean answers:
You have asked some excellent questions. I too have been thinking and playing around with some of the other brewing ingredients that sometimes get forgotten and just thrown out, such as the grain, yeast slurry and hops.
I love salt, and my first comment to address your question is that salt does more than just add salinity to food. It also brings its unique mineral compound and texture to the dish. There are finishing salts that can add texture, color, trace minerals, and flavor (smokiness to herbs and citrus) to a finished dish by sprinkling them over the top of an item and not using them in the actual preparation of a dish. These salts differ than sea or kosher salt that should be used more as a cooking salt. However, using brewing salts/minerals in food preparation is tricky. First, if these minerals are overused, your palate can develop a chalky sensation. There are some breweries that overuse these brewing salts, and leave a harsh or gritty coating in your mouth.
Additionally, I am intrigued by how the water chemistry adds its unique seasoning to the finished product of a brew, complimenting the hops or the malt. In some cases it produces a beer that can't be replicated any other way. I have been playing with BeerSmith (homebrewing software) to create 1 gallon jugs of water that have been modified to resemble water profiles of certain areas. Then I use that water to make stocks, pasta dough, bread dough, and soup to understand how these water styles affect food through the cooking process. The addition of gypsum and calcium chloride also change the pH of the water, and this too should be taken under consideration when using them in food preparation. Use caution, as a little goes a long way here. Try experimenting with a control recipe with distilled water, then a second with the modified water and see if you can taste the difference. We all know that adding Burton-on-Trent salts to a British Pale creates a unique and classic flavor that can't be replicated by simply adding English malts and hops to a recipe.
In regards to the by-product of brewing ingredients, we seem to be thinking along the same lines. Often times, spent grain is given or sold to farmers from breweries as feed to farm animals. I have contacted Brewers Supply Group and asked for a breakdown of what is left in spent grain versus just the grain itself and was surprised at the answer. It led me to plan not only my brew day, but also my cooking day. If you like bread, sourdough or other more rustic/artisan styles, try substituting 1/4 - 1/5 of the flour with spent grain and then cutting back slightly on the water (the modified water can be used here), as the moisture content of the spent grain is hard to measure and keep at a constant. This will add a wonderful texture to the bread. Mix and knead this dough, placing in the refrigerator overnight and then baking the next day to slow the yeast down and create more flavors in the bread. I have a recipe for spent grain crackers
that is very easy to make after a brew day, and the added spent grain becomes a strong element in the finished cracker. You can also use the spent grain in granola, adding texture and flavor to your breakfast. Another way to add more flavors to the spent grain is by adding some regular grain back into the granola or bread; even just a few teaspoons or tablespoons will add to the complexity and flavor, especially if using a caramel or kilned malt. Another breakfast favorite that works with spent grain is oatmeal. Add some frozen spent grain (to stop any spoilage) or dried spent grain (place onto a parchment or lined sheet tray in a thin layer and place into a 200˚F oven for several hours until dried) to your oatmeal, along with a touch of freshly cracked malt or DME/LME to create a wonderful and unique brewers breakfast. The frozen or dried spent grain can also be used in pancakes, waffles and quick breads (muffins/loaves). Just think about what type of grains were mixed in the style of beer you made and how those flavors will be incorporated to the final dish.
For spent hops, I have yet to find a way to use these, as much of their flavor has been sacrificed in the brewing process and the only thing that is really left is the leafy material that isn't very tasty. I would suggest listening to my podcast
for more ideas and techniques on this topic.
Spent yeast is another story. If you are a clean brewer and dump the trub, the yeast can be re-used for another batch of your homebrew. Using this yeast to make bread, flatbread or other yeast items is definitely possible. The trick is not to have a lot of hopped trub mixed into the yeast slurry that can be found when a brewer uses pelletized hops and not using a whirlpool or a hop sack, thus keeping these bitter elements out of the yeast. The other consideration that I can share from lots of R&D is that each stain of yeast that is used in the brew house is different than instant active yeast from a packet. Depending upon the strain, the amount used and time needed to raise the loaf of bread it will be longer than the commercial yeast equivalent. You can add wort to replace water and to help feed the yeast and speed up the process, but the brewers yeast has not been modified or mutated to be fed a starch (flour), and will take longer and the results are not always consistent. Vegemite, produced in Australia, is a yeast by-product spread with a very unique flavor. Not everyone’s cup of tea for a spread on toast. However, you can take a hop free yeast slurry and cook it down a little, and then add this to soups, stocks and other sauces to give a 'meaty' and 'beefy' flavor that is different than adding bouillon or other flavor builders.
You can always compost the spent grain, hops and yeast, and mix in other organic materials to create a very rich soil. I will warn that the aroma of spent grain and yeast slurry decomposing in
the backyard can become rather strong. If you have ever visited a brewery with bins awaiting a farmer’s pick up, you can attest that this is a very strong aroma. Not always as pleasant as roses and herds in the rest of the garden.
For your question on hop shoots, yes they are a delicacy. During spring in Belgium, the first hop shoots are harvested and cooked much like white asparagus and served at many fine restaurants. The trick to doing this at home is two-fold. First, you have to have enough to serve your guests. I would suggest eight plants for a small intimate dinner. Second, once the hop rhizomes are planted, cover the soil with straw or moss, keeping the direct sunlight off the first bines that break ground. The idea is to keep the shoots white and keeping the sun from turning them green. This will keep them tender. The shoots should be harvested when they are about 2-4 inches long. To prepare them, remove the leaves (as they can be spiny) and sauté in a little butter for just a few minutes over medium heat. A few years ago, Brian Hunt of Moonlight Brewery let me pick his first shoots for a Belgium Beer Dinner at the Toronado in San Francisco. I created a Delirium Tremens Sabayon by whisking 4 egg yolks with about a 1/4 cup of the Delirium, adding a touch of salt over a double boiler. I whisked the mix for 2-4 minutes, until it tripled in volume and became a frothy, slightly thick sauce. Be careful not to over-mix as it can curdle. The trick is to whisk and watch the yolks cook slowly. I poured this sauce over the sautéed hop shoots and served over a beer poached fish. This is a tasty seasonal treat that really can only happen once a year.
Thanks for the great questions and sharing your ideas and thoughts.