These days, cooking with beer is frequently on the mind of Dean Dupuis, executive chef of Robert Wiedmaier's Mussel Bar & Grille at Revel.
Besides Belgian Beer Day on Saturday - which appears to be mainly an Internet-based effort to organize a toast around the world - Dupuis is gearing up for his first year at the Atlantic City Beer and Music Festival this weekend. He'll be offering samples of the modern Belgian roadhouse's signature beer, Antigoon, at the festival, as well as a beer-steamed mussel and gruyere fondue to complement it.
"Beer and mussels go hand in hand," says Dupuis. "Any shell fish goes with beer, but some have more of that real briney (flavor). Antigoon is really crisp and almost citrusy, so it fits with the mussels. It gives a mild tang without overpowering the flavor, it's subtle."
Dupuis has a background in Southern cuisine and claims catering singing star Usher's wedding among his professional credits. While most chefs who work for Wiedmaier get a chance to explore Belgium on a "research" mission to learn what is happening in the food, beverage and service industries there, Dupuis has not yet had a chance to go. But he's hoping this will be the year.
Meanwhile, he already possesses a wealth of knowledge on how to cook with some of the 150 brews available at Mussel Bar. For example, some really hoppy beers get bitter if you reduce them in a sauce, Dupuis says. Instead, he recommends using a milder beer with a full flavor.
And while there are no hard fast rules for mixing or pairing beer and cheese, the chef recommends planning ahead. That's the best part, because it involves plenty of sampling and pondering the flavor profiles of beer. Dupuis likes to set a focus, either on the beer or the cheese, and then choose pairings to complement the star ingredient without overwhelming the flavor profile. For example, a honey-goat cheese will complement a crisp, light beer, where stronger cheeses such as gruyere or cheddar call for a full-flavored brew.
And layering flavors is everything. For his fondue, Dupuis steams open the mussels in garlic-and-onion seasoned beer first, then sets them aside so they don't get over cooked and chewy. He likes to use Penn Cove mussels, because they're the sweetest and plumpest he can find, nicely filling the shell with lots of meat. But if you can't find Penn Cove, Prince Edward Island mussels are nearer and just as tasty.
Dupuis layers flavor from a bay leaf and chicken broth in the steaming liquid - now mixed with savory mussel juices - before adding cream and gruyere cheese, with spot checks for taste throughout.
"I like to season as I cook to develop that flavor profile," he says. "That way you're not just seasoning it at the beginning and end, but all the way through the process. So each piece has layers of flavor as opposed to one monotonous dump at the end."
Dupuis says the dish, which he describes as a thin dip for flatbread, allows him to show his playful side when cooking. He likes to save the shells for a garnish and add some local flavor as well, in the form of roasted Jersey long hots.
"When I'm eating mussels, I almost want to go straight to the bottom and soak the broth up with some bread, because that's the best part, at the bottom, right?" Dupuis says. "So this is like a playful way of doing that, where you get the best part."
Contact Felicia Compian:
Mussel & Gruyere Fondue with Crispy Flatbread, Garlic Chips and Roasted Long Hots
• 1/4 cup olive oil
• 1/4 onion, diced
• 1 tablespoon garlic, minced
• 1 pound Prince Edward Island or Penn Cove mussels
• 1 cup light ale, full-flavored recommended
• 1 bay leaf
• 1 cup chicken broth
• 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
• 1 1/2 cups gruyere cheese
• 1/2 cup creme fraiche
• Salt and pepper, to taste
• Scallions, white part, thinly shaved, for garnish
• Garlic, thinly shaved
• 2 to 3 tablespoons milk (enough to cover garlic)
• Jersey long hot peppers
Warm the olive oil in a small sauce pot until almost smoking, then add the onion and garlic, cooking until soft. Season with salt and pepper. Add the mussels and the beer, cover and let cook until the mussels just open.
Once open, remove the mussels, take the meat out of the shell, reserving shells for garnish. Let beer reduce until almost evaporated, then add bay leaf and chicken broth and let reduce down 75 percent. Add the cream and bring to a simmer, cooking down slightly to reduce just a bit. Stir in the gruyere and the mussels and warm until cheese is melted throughout. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Finally, stir in creme fraiche off the heat, add salt and pepper as needed.
For the garnish, blanch desired amount of garlic, thinly shaved, in milk until tender. Drain and fry until crisp. Roast the Jersey long hot peppers in an oven at 500 degrees seasoned with salt, pepper and oil.
To serve, place fondue in a small pot and top with scallions and fried garlic. Place the mussel shells, a stack of the flatbread (see recipe below) and a pile of the roasted Jersey long hot peppers alongside.
• 2 2/3 cups water
• 1 cup, 3 tablespoons semolina
• 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
• 1 tablespoon sugar
• 5 1/3 cups bread flour
• 1 1/3 salt
• 1/2 tablespoons instant yeast
• Sea salt, to taste
On mixer speed 1, add the water, semolina, olive oil, sugar and flour and let mix until it comes together into a nice dough. Add in the salt and yeast and mix for 5 minutes. The dough should be tacky to the touch, but not a shaggy mess.
Remove from mixer, scale into 4 ounce portions. Knead into tight balls and close the bottom securely. Refrigerate overnight before using.
The next day, punch the dough out with hands until 1/8-inch thick, brush with olive oil and sea salt and put in oven under the broiler until lightly charred. Remove, let cool and bread into desired pieces.