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Key Ingredient: Hops

Making the most of a bitter pill



Mike Sheerin, consulting chef at Three Floyds Brewpub and chef-owner of the yet-to-open restaurant the Trencherman, challenged his brother Patrick Sheerin, executive chef at the Signature Room at the 95th, to come up with a recipe using hop pellets for this installment of our weekly feature.

Hops are mainly used to brew beer—because of their bitterness, cooking with them isn't so popular. Patrick Sheerin says that when he looked them up to figure out what to do with them, "The options were ancient medicine or beer. So I was like, well, I like beer."

To learn more, Sheerin attended "hop school" at Goose Island, where the brewers went through more than a dozen different types of hops with him and sent him away with seven of the most common. Cascade, Amarillo, and Celeia hops are citrusy; Mount Hood and Liberty are more floral; and Pilgrim and Columbus are used mainly for bittering beer.

In keeping with his beer theme, Sheerin used malted barley, another core ingredient in brewing (the sweetness of the malt balances the bitter hops), to make a risotto. He chose caramel malt, one of the sweeter kinds, and used all three citrusy varieties of hops in his dish. "Especially after tasting the caramel malt, it was kind of in my head to use this chocolate sauce and I was like, chocolate-caramel-citrus seemed to go really well together, so that's kind of the path we went down. And I had beer on the brain, and beer and citrus is not too far off as a pairing."

Sheerin ended up using hops in four variations: hop-dusted sweetbreads with a malt and hop risotto, chocolate hop sauce, and mandarinquat-hop marmalade. Still "thinking along the lines of beer and bar food," he decided to chicken-fry the sweetbreads in a pretzel crust, reasoning that pretzels pair well with citrus and chocolate.

He dry-hopped both the chocolate sauce and marmalade, a technique that involved adding the hops after cooking (once the sauces had cooled) so as not to extract as many of the bitter elements or destroy the compounds that add citrusy notes. A savory pudding that Sheerin described as being like a mole without the chiles, the chocolate sauce incorporated Cascade hops; the marmalade, made with tart mandarinquats (a mandarin-kumquat hybrid), used Celeia hops.

For the malt risotto, Sheerin used the cooking liquid to make a kind of "hop tea," steeping Cascade hops for a few minutes "to really get the floral notes." The final touch of hops came in what he called "hop dust love," a combination of ground Amarillo hops, salt, and powdered sugar that he tossed the fried sweetbreads in.

Sheerin declared of the finished dish, "Not to toot my own horn, but that's pretty delicious. It's definitely got a little bitter element to it, but with the sweetness and the dry-hopping, I think it came out pretty good. I'd actually put it on the menu."

"I think it's balanced pretty well," he added. "That's the thing about hops, is that they lend themselves really well to savory food because you can really push the salt. Salt does a great job of balancing bitter."

But despite incorporating two of the main ingredients of beer, "it doesn't taste like beer in the least bit."

Who's Next:

Jason McLeod, executive chef at Ria and Balsan in the Elysian Hotel, cooking with asafetida, the dried gum of a rhizome native to Persia, used as a spice. "It's really pungent, like sulfuric, in its uncooked state, but it mellows out to, like, leeks [after cooking]," says Sheerin. "It's that umami bomb. If you eat really good Indian food I think that's the secret versus the kind of run-of-the-mill stuff."

"The guy cooks really gorgeous food, so I was like, let's give him something really funky to work with."

Chicken-Fried Sweetbreads With Hops, Chocolate, and Citrus

Pretzel and Hop-Dusted Fried Sweetbreads

One pound sweetbreads

3.5% saline brine

Pretzels (enough for 1 cup of pretzel meal)

1 Egg

1 cup buttermilk

1 cup flour

Oil for frying


Brine the sweetbreads overnight in large pieces. Cold smoke for 30 minutes and then poach at 130 degrees for 45 minutes, chill, clean, and separate into smaller pieces. Pour flour into a large, shallow bowl and beat the egg and buttermilk together in another one. Run the pretzels through smallest hole on a food mill and then put in another bowl. Gently season the sweetbreads with salt before dredging them in flour, then egg, finishing with the pretzel meal. Let the crust set up for at least 45 minutes before frying. Deep-fry at 325 degrees until golden brown and hot through the center, approximately 1<0x00BD> minutes. Drain and toss with some of the hop dust love. The sugar will melt and help the flavor stick to the sweetbread.

Hop Dust Love

100 g powdered sugar

10 g coarse sea salt

2.5 g Amarillo hops

Grind salt and hops together and combine with the powdered sugar.

Hops and Cocoa Pudding

1 small onion

2 cloves of garlic

2 T canola oil

1 T dark raisins

1 T cocoa powder

1 cup vegetable stock

1/2 t caraway seeds, toasted and ground

1 slice dark pumpernickel bread, toasted and dried


Black pepper

Cascade hops

Sweat the onions and garlic in canola oil until soft. Add the cocoa powder and caraway seeds, then the raisins and vegetable stock and simmer until the raisins are very plump. Let cool slightly, then blend with the dried bread, adjust the seasoning, and pass through a chinois, chill. Weigh out 500 g and add 10 g of cascade hops, and put in a bag under vacuum overnight to <0x201C>dry hop.<0x201D> Pass through a chinois again.

Mandarinquat Marmalade

800 g mandarinquats, washed in hot water, split in half

800 g water

800 g sugar


Celeia hops

Bring the mandarinquats, water, sugar, and a large pinch of salt to a boil, then simmer until the skins are very soft. Pass through the small hole on a food mill, chill and compress with 2 percent by weight of celeia hops for 24 hours. Pass through a tamis (i.e., a drum sieve), and add more salt if necessary. The idea is to balance the bitter not only with the sweet, but with salt, helping to keep the dish savory.

Malt Risotto

1/2 cup caramel malt (barley)

3 T onion soubise (onion cooked very slowly in butter, pureed, and passed through a chinois)

1 quart vegetable stock

Cascade hops


Simmer the caramel malt in vegetable stock until just tender, adding more stock as needed. Strain the malt, combine with the soubise. Bring the malt cooking liquid to a boil. Add three hop pellets for every one cup of cooking liquid and steep for four minutes (like tea). Strain out the hops, then fold the cooking liquid back into the malt, seasoning with a touch of salt.


Lay down a large "swoosh" of the hop and cocoa pudding. Place a spoonful of risotto on the plate and then dots of the marmalade. Place pieces of sweetbreads on top of the marmalade, then garnish with candied mandarinquat skins.

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