August 15, 2011 by Crafty Pint
It’s a funny old world. A few years back, the occasional moments of “What the !#@$ are we doing?” would descend on Mr and Mrs Pint when contemplating the reality of their plan: to give up their lives in the UK, strap a pair of rucksacks to their backs and make their way slowly to Melbourne, where they knew one person they’d not seen in five years, had nowhere to live and no work lined up. A mantra was adopted from Strictly Ballroom, one of Mrs Pint’s favourite films: “A life lived in fear is a life half lived.” Four years later, and we’re talking to the star of said film about beer. Who’d a thunk it?
Anyway, reminiscences aside, the reason we caught up with Paul Mercurio is that, 23 years after he started home brewing, he’s brought out a cook book dedicated entirely to cooking with beer. He’s featured a number of beer-centric recipes in previous books, but never gone the whole hog until now, with the release of Cooking With Beer earlier this month.
“I’ve been wanting to write this for a long time, since back in the late 90s,” he says. “[At the time] I told the publishers I was planning on doing a beer TV show too and was told to get the show up and then come back to them about the book.”
It took a little longer than planned, but the result is a book split into seven chapters that looks to take people right through from training wheels, with “Things That Go With Beer”, to sections dedicated to the BBQ, the oven, desserts (including a hop pannacotta) and so on.
“It’s just a book about using beer as one of a group of ingredients in a dish. For me, it’s something that I’ve loved using and this is about taking beer and the whole perception people have of it and raising that. It’s about not using VB Light in your fish batter; I say at the start, ‘Don’t use light beer or mass, commercially produced beer’.
“The mix of recipes is a little bit eclectic, with a bit of everything: Australia, American, German, Mexican. There’s my own beer mustard, a hefeweizen cheese soup and a slow braised goat shoulder with chili and beer. I give you the actual beer I’ve used but then suggest people head to their local brewery or bottleshop and see what they’ve got so you can use beers that are local. Hopefully, people [who don’t know much about beer] get to learn about different beers and get talking about it.”
His involvement with beer goes beyond using it in his cooking. When we caught up with him, Paul was just back from New Zealand, where he’d been judging, hosting, presenting and drinking his way through the Beervana NZ festival. He’s also hosted the Australian International Beer Awards and has played an important role in raising the profile of beer in Australia through his TV shows and advocacy of it as more than a means to one end, paving the way for the likes of Chris Badenoch to use his own television appearances, a cook book and the Josie Bones restaurant to state the case for quality beer as a match for wine in a fine dining environment.
“I like what beer does to food,” says Paul. “It’s all about finding a harmony with all the flavours – if it tastes like beer then you’ve got it wrong. Get it right and it creates something that’s awesomely delicious.”
To mark the launch of the book, Paul is appearing at Mornington Peninsula Brewery on August 24. He’ll be talking about the book, answering questions and serving up a couple of recipes from Cooking with Beer. It’s for the brewery’s Brew Club members only, although you can join here free of charge.
Beyond that, series five of Mercurio’s Menus is due to start shooting in October and November while, having been inspired by Beervana, Paul’s planning to get the home brew kit out again and look at getting a beer back onto the market. He’d also love to get involved in setting up a brewery restaurant, but in the meantime will make do with keeping an eye on his homemade salami, which you can read all about on his blog.
Cooking with Beer, published by Murdoch Books, is out now.