Fish Friday Pairings Double Whammy: Gueuze and Shrimp Salad

As the gainfully employed among you are no doubt aware, Friday was just two days ago. That meant, for those of us walking in the path of the Lord this Lent, meat was out. Beer, on the other hand, is very much in for Lent. And for those of you who find the idea of drinking during this solemn season a tad irreverent, witness the Paulaner monks of Munich who fast during Lent and Advent, eating no solid food but instead consuming a nutritious beer they brew themselves. That’s religion you can believe in!

The beer for the evening was Lindemans Cuvée René, a gueuze, created by blending young and old lambics and then allowing the resulting beer to undergo a second fermentation in the bottle. For this particuar beer, Garrett Oliver has strong words of praise:

Lindeman’s only traditional lambic shows the brewery’s true mettle in the form of Lindemans Cuvée René. This beer is a hazy deep gold, with orange highlights. The nose is a complex riot of bright and dark aromas–green apples, Seville oranges, lemon zest, damp leaves, wet wool, and fino sherry. On the palate the beer is as tart and bright as fresh lemonade, bone-dry and flintily fruity with an acidic pale sherry finish. Other beers may pay the bills, but René Lindemans likes this beer best, and he named it after himself. Try it with shrimp, crab cakes, or ceviche.

de rigeur beer photo

Looking at this beer, it seemed like pretty standard territory for a European-style ale, and I expected the flavor to be generally beery and aley. As soon as this hit my tongue I realized how wrong I was. This beer really tastes nothing like beer we are used to; this was cider, and dry cider at that. As far as I know this gueuze is made with barley like most beers, but if you couldn’t see the label you would most likely mistake it for Strongbow or some kind of very lightly carbonated sherry. I didn’t bother to review Oliver’s tasting notes before opening the bottle so this was a huge surprise, in Martha’s case an unpleasant one. I actually liked this beer once I could accept it for what it was, rather than what I expected.

Although I didn’t look at his tasting notes carefully enough to know what to expect, I did pay attention to Oliver’s pairing notes when planning this meal. Shrimp, crab cakes and ceviche are all mildly ocean flavored and also usually involve some kind of acidic accompaniment (in the case of ceviche the acid is integral), probably to compliment the acidic notes in the beer. With a whole bag of it in the freezer from a previous meal, shrimp was the obvious choice. I decided to make shrimp salad; the lemony dressing would supply the wanted acid. Following the recipe in Cook’s Illustrated #87, I cooked the shrimp until just opaque in a court bouillon and let it cool. My dressing consisted of mayonaisse, lemon juice, tarragon, parsley, scallion, celery and salt and pepper, which I mixed with the chopped shrimp. Served on freshly-baked white buns with a leaf of escarole included for purely aesthetic reasons, this was a nice seafood salad. The shrimp flavor was mild; the strong flavors were the lemon, the onion and the tarragon. Apparently shrimp salad gives people trouble when it is rubbery, but I was very careful about not overcooking the shrimp and this was not a problem.

A salad of shrimps!

And the pairing? This was the first time that I felt that Oliver’s pairing idea just didn’t work. The beer was so forceful and strong and that of the shrimp so delicate and subtle that taking a swig of beer after a bite of salad knocked all the salad flavors off the palate. It could be that Oliver had a different shrimp preparation in mind, like fried shrimp, that would give it more oomph, but I could never see this beer working with ceviche. It might work better with a fruit dessert, perhaps even worked into a sauce. With fish, I bet it could stand up to something more assertive like salmon; but it might stand up and fight rather than achieving some kind of ideal harmony. This was a really good beer and a pretty good salad, but together, they did nothing for each other.

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