Fresh Hopportunities

So, this: 0617161223

Led to this:

hops_under

Which led to this:

hop_picking

And ultimately, this:

0902162056a

Yes, the brewer dreaming away up there on his bed of fresh, pungent Cascade hop flowers will be making a fresh hop IPA. But what the hell am I going to do with the rest of it?!

I read up on culinary uses for hops, which is still a pretty small body of work (this is a relatively new endeavor for the kitchen curious). The main point across all the articles was restraint. The amount of hops added to a batch of beer is a very small percentage of the overall ingredients, and it yields big flavor. This is an important thing to keep in mind when you’re thinking of cooking applications. Seriously – if a 5 gallon batch of beer only requires a few ounces of hops to produce a notable, sometimes intense flavor, you probably need a literal pinch of hops to flavor an entire pot of whatever you’re making. The good news is that there are many different varieties of hops with a wide range of flavor and aroma profiles, and new varieties are being developed all the time. Like so many crops, there is also an element of terroir. It will require some searching, but determined cooks and brewers can often get their hands on the hops they’ve deemed most appropriate for their flavorful goals.

Quick refresher: in brewing, hops are used to impart both flavor and aroma. The amount of hops used and the amount of time they’re boiled in the wort determines the bitterness and flavor profile of the end result. Hops added at the very end of the boil and those used to ‘dry hop’ a beer are the main contributors to the aroma of the beverage.

In cooking, hops can be used for these same purposes. Shredding the cones and using them as a finishing herb is a nice way to add some aroma and a slight bit of that distinct flavor. For more intense flavors, hops can be added straight to dishes while they’re cooking. The oils in these delicate little flowers is what gives us that punch of bitterness, and like all oils, different foods bind and react differently. For instance, hops added to foods with a high fat content will be more forgiving because of the way the bitter essential oil molecules from the hops bond to theĀ  fat molecules in the food, limiting their interactions with taste receptors on the tongue. I learned all this by reading a highly informative, accessible and reasonably short article from the Nordic Food Lab – if you have any interest in this subject whatsoever, I recommend reading it.

In the above-mentioned article, the author tells of infusing hops into cream to use in different recipes. In my brain, high fat, infused cream and beer friendly food naturally led to poutine. Yes, the Canadian french fry, gravy and cheese curd dish, poutine. I warmed up some cream, steeped 4 or 5 hop cones in it for a few minutes, and used that in my gravy. (Disclaimer: I totally did poutine wrong and made white gravy. I considered this to be a quick and dirty test dish to see if it was something worth doing right in the future, so please excuse my transgression.) The verdict? Not great. For one, I probably steeped the hops for too long, extracting too much bitterness and allowing that to overwhelm the aromatic elements. Second, I used Cascade hops, which is known for citrus, spicy, and floral notes. Our crop this year had a pretty distinct lemon note to it. For something like poutine, a hop more on the woodsy, earthy, tea-like side of the spectrum would be more appropriate. Poutine isn’t off the table for future culinary hop experiments, but for this crop, it won’t be in the rotation.

So what else? What am I going to do with all these hops? The short answer – nothing, at the moment. They’ve been dried, vacuum sealed and are waiting in the chest freezer for more creative days. Until then, suggestions are welcome!

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