Brewed Pancetta #1 – Steam Beer and Some Basilic Ravioli Sear

So to continue with the notion of using what I have in the fridge, I was able to use my freezer as a primordial garden of Eden. I found a bunch of frozen ricotta cheese ravioli (unfortunately not homemade) and a block of smoked Pancetta that I brought from the cheese shop on the corner of my street. They carry good quality locally made cured meats and have a fantastic selection of cheese from Quebec (check them out). Because this meal was going to be inevitably heavy, I wanted to choose a beer that was a bit on the lighter side. I decided to go with Anchor Steam beer, an amber lager brewed out of San Francisco.  Unfortunately it is not a beer that can be found in Quebec, but the LCBO in Ontario generally keeps it in stock. Steam beer is a particular style of beer, one actually owned by the Anchor Brewing Company.  Because Anchor owns the rights, the style is also referred to as California Common, which is what other breweries call their steam beer in order  to avoid issues. Without getting into too many specifics, what makes this a style of its own has to do with fact that although steam beer is made with lager yeast, the beer itself isn’t really lagered.  Basically, beer is separated into two categories – ales and lagers. Ales, which use ale yeast are fermented at high temperatures, and lagers which use lager year are fermented at lower temperatures – basically refrigerated. Early California-ites didn’t have refrigerators, nor cold enough external temperatures to put the beer in cold storage, so they improvised and essentially created “steam beer.”  Why is it called steam beer?  No one really knows apparently, and there are various theories, all of which I am not going to get into here. I’ve had this beer before, and I quite liked it.  Its got this interesting hybrid feel to it. The flavor profile is not quite as flat of most lagers, but it’s also not as rich and fruity as most ales. A nice happy medium. Great for the summer and great to session.

So then the question remained as to what to do with these two ingredients.  I decided to keep it simple. I had a block of parmazan in the fridge and an herb garden with a ton of basil. With these four ingredients, even the most novice of cooks could at least make something decent. First thing was to chop the panchetta and fry it in my cast iron until it’s nice and crispy, letting the meat fry in it’s own fat for a little while usually does the trick.  While that’s going on I I threw the ravioli into some boiling water until they were el dente. After straining them, I immediately placed them in cold water to stop the cooking process.  I tossed some chopped onion in the pan with the meat and let it simmer for a little bit. Once the onions and the pancetta were looking right, I turned up the heat a bit and tossed in the ravioli.  It can be tricky because you want the ravioli to get nice and brown, with a little crispiness, but they tend to stick to the pan easily, so you really need to watch them and move them as necessary. I quickly chopped some fresh basil and sprinkled it into the pan with everything else, then added some freshly ground black pepper. When everything was looking good to go, I placed the ravioli onto a large bowl, threw in a bunch of grated Parmesan, some proper olive oil, and tossed it all together. I always enjoy finishing off the plate with some final touches, so after I placed them into the bowl, I topped it with some more of the basil, some chives, black pepper, a couple of drops of hot sauce and a little mountain of Parmesan. Although this adds an esthetic flare to the dish, it also helps bring all the flavors together at the end. In my experience so far with cooking, finishing off the dish is almost the most important step.

The beer poured out an light amber color with a small but frothy head that lasted a little while, but eventually dissipated to a small right around the glass.  It has aromas of wheat and hay, with a little bit of honey and some sour fruity smells mixed in there. As I started eating, I made sure to sip the beer in between bites, trying to see how well it could compliment the meal. As I mentioned earlier, this beer has some typical lager elements and some fruity ale characteristics as well. When combined with the rich, smokey, and slightly spicy flavors of the dish, the beer lends a nice balance.  The flavor of oats and hay really come out when tasting the creamy cheese and chive combination. There is a tangy a slightly sour characteristic that blends really nicely with the smokiness of the Pancetta. And of course, the bitter finish from the hops cuts everything adequately, cleansing the palate for the next bite. This one acted as a overall nice companion to this rich and flavorful meal,  I’d do this again!

Style: Steam Beer (California Common)

ABV: 4.9%

Brewery: Anchor Steam Beer

Location: United States

Available in Quebec: No, but can be purchased at the LCBO in Ontario

Beeradvocate Rating: 87 (Good)