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March 16, 2013

Local chefs serve up Irish food, drink

By Cathy B. Koplen
The Daily Star

---- — As St. Patrick’s Day approaches, many area residents may ponder ways to bring out the Irish in their weekend. Irish beer and spirits will be at the forefront for many who are celebrating — but not just in glasses. 

Several local restaurants are offering themed menus to mark the occasion, including dishes and desserts made with Irish-themed alcohol. O’Neill’s Shire Pub on Main Street in Delhi has items on its menu that are flavored with Bailey’s Irish Cream or Guinness beer.

“We have a Bailey’s cheesecake that we make here,” said Rachel Bracchy, manager of O’Neill’s Shire Pub. “We make it from scratch — the crust and the cake. There is a trace amount of alcohol in the cheesecake, and the flavor really stands out.”

The sweet spirit is a natural fit, but what about desserts flavored with beer? 

Because of the high malt content in Guinness, the Irish beer it is often used as an addition to sweet foods. Guinness reduces to a caramel state easily. The natural addition of sugar to desserts counters the bitter taste of the beer, which is intensified by cooking it.

At the State University College at Oneonta, the Human Ecology club will offer Guinness brownies for sale as a fundraiser. The club has been selling the brownies for the past two years. This year, members will have a combination of bittersweet, semisweet and white chocolate brownies with Guinness, as well as brownies without Guinness. The brownies are sold as a fundraiser with the proceeds going to various nonprofit organizations.

And that trace amount of alcohol? Adviser Oscar Oberkircher said it’s nothing to worry about — at least with this recipe. 

“We use Guinness Extra Stout beer which is about 5 percent alcohol by volume,” said Oberkircher, who is program director for the college’s food service and restaurant administration major and lecturer in the human ecology department. “The bottle is 12 ounces; so approximately, 0.6 fluid ounces is alcohol. Since about 60 percent of that will cook off, that means about .24 ounces of alcohol will remain in that cooked recipe. The recipe makes two 7-inch pans of brownies, so each pan would have about 0.12 ounces of alcohol in it. Each pan gets divided into about eight pieces — these are rich tasting brownies — which means each piece has about .015 ounces of alcohol in it.

So why use the Guinness at all? Oberkircher said the beer in the brownies is not there to produce a boozy effect, but to lend a noticeable flavor to the baked goods.

“The beer acts as the liquid for the batter instead of water,” Oberkircher explained. “When alcohol is added to food, the cooking process does diminish the alcohol content, but it takes more than two hours of cooking to reduce it to negligible quantities. The brownies will cook for about 20 to 25 minutes so about 60 percent of the alcohol from the beer will cook off. Therefore, there will be alcohol left in the prepared brownies, but it is a very minute amount per pan and even smaller per brownie.”

Of course, there are many savory dishes that can also benefit from the addition of some suds. 

A shepherd’s pie, cooked with beer, is on the menu at the Shire Pub in Delhi, and as a St. Patrick’s Day special, the chef there has created a recipe for Guinness wings. The wings are dredged in beer batter and, after they are cooked, saturated with a sweet barbecue sauce made with molasses and Guinness beer.

The Autumn Café, on Main Street in Oneonta, has long been a place to celebrate the Irish holiday, and this year is taking full advantage of good timing. 

“We always do something for St. Patrick’s Day,” said Autumn Café owner Tim Johnson. “We have been here for over 30 years and every year we do something for St. Patrick’s Day. This year, because the day falls on a Sunday, we are offering our traditional Irish breakfast.”

The menu will include eggs poached in beer, served over Irish soda bread toast; bacon and sausage; pan-fried tomato slices and potatoes. A Guinness chocolate pudding, and slow-cooked corned beef in Guinness, will also be available. 

Johnson said his restaurant cooks with beer because it adds a flavor that is unique.

“All of our dishes are made from scratch,” Johnson said. “We buy fresh, locally grown produce and eggs; and I always buy the top-end corned beef that is not cooked. That way we can simmer it in the beer and there is no fat.”

These are just a sample of what’s available for the adventurous chef. The Internet abounds with recipes for Guinness- and Bailey’s-flavored dishes of all varieties. Why not try one this year? After all, they say everybody is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day.