On March 17, Stout Is What It's All About

Friday is St. Patrick's Day, which means every American becomes a little bit Irish and rivers are dyed a color not found in nature. But think twice about drinking that green beer. Nothing says Ireland like a pint of dark, dry stout.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

Friday is St. Patrick's Day, one of the busiest days of the year at the nation's drinking establishments. WEEKEND EDITION food essayist Bonny Wolf considers what's on tap.

BONNY WOLF reporting:

Think before you drink green beer. If you really want to be Irish for a day, your beer should be black. Nothing says Ireland like a pint of dry dark stout. St. Patrick himself is said to have traveled with his own personal brewer. Arthur Guinness made stouts synonymous with Ireland in 1759 when he signed an optimistic 9,000 year lease on a brewery in Dublin. Now more than 10 million glasses of Guinness are drunk every day around the world. A good bit of America's share is drunk in the weeks leading up to St. Patrick's Day.

Stout is made with well roasted barley that gives it a slightly burnt dark chocolate taste. It's creamy, long-lasting head is so thick, you can trace a shamrock in it with your finger. The four leaf clover will still be there after a few sips. At one time, stout was considered a health drink. It was said to be good for the nerves, digestion, exhaustion, insomnia and the blood. It was given to nursing mothers and sick children.

Today stout might be deemed a diet drink with fewer calories than low fat milk or orange juice. Some consider stout an aphrodisiac. No scientific proof but a good excuse to drink in excess. But stout is also an ingredient. Yes, you can have your stout and eat it too. It tenderizes the meat and gives its multi tastes to stews, steak and oyster pie, stuffed pork and roast duck. Herring is potted in Guinness. And it's added to oyster bisque and onion soup. There are even recipes using stout to marinate teriyaki tuna, and as an ingredient in cheese fondue. Talk about fusion cuisine. There is stout mayonnaise and stout barbecue sauce. And the desserts. Stout ice cream is a common favorite. Gingerbread and chocolate cakes, brownies and minced meat pies and all manner of puddings are made with stout.

The dark brew goes well with cheese, chocolate and cigars and is said to be better than champagne or white wine with oysters. So on this St. Patrick's Day enjoy a pint in the pub or in the kitchen. To paraphrase an Irish blessing, may your glass be ever full. May the roof over your head be always strong, and may your beer never be green.

HANSEN: Bonny Wolf's book of food essays, Talking With My Mouth Full, will be published this fall by St. Martin's Press. You can find some recipes using stout at our website, NPR.org.

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Baked Rock Oysters with Bacon, Cabbage and Guinness Sabayon

Margaret M. Johnson offers this Irish adaptation of Oysters Rockefeller in The New Irish Table (Chronicle Books 2003). Bacon and cabbage — far more Irish than corned beef and cabbage — is substituted for the traditional spinach. The recipe is from Derry Clarke, chef-owner of L'Ecrivain in Dublin.

Guinness Sabayon

2 egg yolks

1/2 cup Guinness stout

Dash of fresh lemon juice

Oysters

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted

4 outer green cabbage leaves, finely shredded

1 teaspoon canola oil

4 slices traditional Irish bacon or Canadian bacon, chopped

24 oysters in the shell

To Make Sabayon: In a double boiler, whisk the egg yolks, Guinness, lemon juice, salt and pepper together. Place over barely simmering water and whisk for 3 to 5 minutes, or until the sauce begins to thicken. Remove from the heat and gradually drizzle in the melted butter until the sauce is well blended.

Cook the cabbage in salted boiling water for 1 to 2 minutes, or until slightly wilted. Drain and immerse in cold water. Drain again. In a small skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Cook the bacon until crisp. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to paper towels to drain.

Preheat the broiler. Shuck the oysters over a small bowl. Reserve the deeper half of each shell and rinse them under cold water. Place the shells on a bed of rock salt in a small, sided baking sheet. Divide the cabbage among the shells, put an oyster on top of each and sprinkle the bacon over the oysters. Spoon some of the sabayon over each. Place under the broiler 4 inches from the heat source and cook for about 3 minutes, or until the sauce is browned and bubbling. Serve immediately.

Serves 4

Cornish Hens in Stout

Stout is used in many beef dishes. As the weather warms up, this might be a slightly lighter main course for St. Patrick’s Day. This recipe, from Real Beer & Good Eats by Bruce Aidells and Denis Kelly (Alfred A. Knopf 1992) should be made with a full-flavored stout. "The stout, mushrooms and cream combine to make a magnificent sauce," the authors write. "And the ale's rich, caramel flavors tie everything together beautifully." They recommend garlic mashed potatoes as an accompaniment. Drink the same stout used for cooking with your meal.

4 1-pound Cornish game hens

Salt and pepper

2 tablespoons butter

1 medium onion, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

1/2 pound mushrooms, chopped

1/2 teaspoon finely chopped juniper berries

1 bay leaf

1 12-ounce bottle stout

1 cup heavy cream

Season the birds generously with salt and pepper.

Melt the butter in a Dutch oven or large casserole over medium heat and in it brown the game hens on all sides until golden brown, about 10 minutes. Remove the birds and all but 3 tablespoons of the fat. Add the onion and garlic and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms, stir and cook for 2 minutes. Add the juniper berries, bay leaf and beer and bring to a boil. Put in ¼ cup of cream and the game hens and lower the heat to a simmer. Cover and cook 30 minutes or until the birds are done.

Remove the hens to a warm platter and skim off any fat on the sauce. Pour in the remaining cream and cook the sauce until it just begins to thicken. Taste for salt and pepper.

Serve some of the sauce over the birds, the rest over mashed potatoes.

Guinness Stout Ginger Cake

Claudia Fleming, former pastry chef at New York's Gramercy Tavern, substitutes stout for the usual water or coffee in most gingerbread recipes. This recipe is from her book The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern(Random House 2001).

1 cup Guinness stout

1 cup molasses

1/2 tablespoon baking soda

3 large eggs

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar

3/4 cup grapeseed or vegetable oil

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons ground ginger

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom

1 tablespoon grated, peeled fresh gingerroot

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan, line the bottom and sides with parchment and grease the parchment. Alternatively, butter and flour a 6-cup Bundt pan.

In a large saucepan over high heat, combine the stout and molasses and bring to a boil. Turn off the heat and add the baking soda. Allow to sit until the foam dissipates.

Meanwhile, in a bowl, whisk together the eggs and both sugars. Whisk in the oil.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, ground ginger, baking powder, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and cardamom.

Combine the stout mixture with the egg mixture, then whisk this liquid into the flour mixture, half at a time. Add the fresh ginger and stir to combine.

Pour the batter into the pan and bake for 1 hour, or until the top springs back when gently pressed. Do not open the oven until the gingerbread is almost done, or the center may fall slightly. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Makes 8 servings.

Grace Neill's Chocolate and Guinness Brownies

Margaret M. Johnson includes this brownie and stout recipe in The New Irish Table (Chronicle Books 2003). According to Johnson, Grace Neill's is listed in the appropriately named Guinness Book of Records as the oldest bar in Ireland. It opened in 1611.

4 eggs

3/4 cup superfine sugar

8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped

4 ounces white chocolate, chopped

6 tablespoons unsalted butter

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

3/4 cup cocoa

1 1/4 cups Guinness stout

Confectioners’ sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Butter an 8-by-8-inch square pan.

In an electric mixer, combine the eggs and sugar. Beat until light and fluffy.

In a medium saucepan, over medium heat, melt the bittersweet chocolate, white chocolate and butter, stirring until smooth. Remove from heat and beat into the egg mixture.

Sift the flour and cocoa together and beat into the chocolate mixture. Whisk in the Guinness.

Pour into the prepared pan and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until a skewer inserted in the center comes out almost clean. Remove from the oven and let cool on a wire rack. To serve, dust with confectioners’ sugar and cut into squares.

Serves 8-10.

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