Finding a Beer Match for Thai Food is tricky

I love Thai food. There’s just something about the combination of salty, sweet, hot and sour which ticks all the boxes for me. There’s a real freshness of flavour to properly made Thai food that most people who stick to Green curries don’t realise. Stray off the regular favourites and you’ll find a world of variety awaiting you, so don’t be afraid to try something new.

But the one problem I have found with Thai food is that it’s ridiculously difficult to pair with beer. I had a bit of success with the Thai Duck dish I did a while ago, which paired really well with Flying Dog’s In-Heat Wheat, but apart from that it’s been a bit of a struggle.

The problem is that whilst something like a big American IPA might go fairly well with the rich, sweet, spiciness of some dishes, it would completely mask others and doesn't really work with anything coconut based. Plus there’s a subtlety to Thai food which has to be respected, the beer shouldn’t overpower the food, they should work together to enhance each other. That’s easier said than done though when the dish contains diverse ingredients like coconut milk, fish sauce, squid, prawns, lime, sugar, chilli, coriander and lemongrass – which is the dilemma I found myself in last night when I made this:

Tom Khaa Soup with Squid, Prawns and Noodles

Ingredients for the soup:
  • 500ml of light fish or chicken stock
  • 400ml can of coconut milk
  • 12 raw king prawns
  • 2 Large tubes (heads) of raw squid, cleaned and ready to use
  • 1 Medium onion, thinly sliced
  • 3 large cloves Garlic, sliced
  • 1 Thumb size piece of ginger, cut into thin matchsticks
  • 1Hot red chilli, sliced (seeds in)
  • 4 Heaped tsps of Tom Yum paste
  • 8 Medium sized closed cup mushrooms, quartered
  • 3 Tsps Fish Sauce
  • 2 Tsps sugar
  • Fresh coriander stems (from a medium sized bunch), chopped

The accompaniments:

  • 1-4 Hot red chilli, sliced (seeds left in)
  • 6 Spring onions, sliced
  • Fresh Coriander (leafy part)
  • Lime wedges
  • Egg noodles (one square per person)

How to make the soup:

  1. Start by frying the garlic, ginger, onion and single red chilli in a little oil on a low to medium heat until the aromas start to be released. (If you don’t like your food hot then leave out the chilli as people can always add more fresh chilli themselves at the end)
  2. Add the Tom Yum paste and fry on a fairly low heat for a minute or so until the oil starts to come out. Be careful not to burn the paste.
  3. Pour in the coconut milk, light chicken or fish stock (I used one Knorr chicken stock cube and 500ml water), Fish sauce, sugar, and season well with salt. Stir and heat gently until the paste has completely dissolved and the soup base has come to a simmer.
  4. Add the mushrooms and chopped coriander stems. Leave this to simmer on a low heat while you prepare the noodles and garnishes.
  5. Cook the noodles according to the packet instructions. I used egg noodles which I boiled for 4 minutes and then drained and rinsed under cold water. Set aside.
  6. Check the soup for taste and add a little more fish sauce if it doesn’t taste salty enough, a squeeze of lime if it isn’t sour enough, or a teaspoon of sugar if it is too sharp. If it tastes good then leave it alone, and remember that the seafood will also add its own sweet, fishy flavour to the broth.
  7. To prepare the squid use kitchen scissors to butterfly the tube open so that the inside is facing up. Lightly score the squid in a criss-cross pattern being careful not to cut right through. Cut into medium sized rectangular pieces. Drop the prepared squid and prawns into the broth and cook for 2-3 minutes until the prawns are pink and cooked through and the squid has curled up but is very still tender.

To serve:

Place a handful of cold noodles into the bottom of deep sided bowls, ladle the hot broth over the top of the noodles making sure you dish out the tender prawns and squid evenly to avoid arguments! Then simply sprinkle a hand full of freshly chopped red chilli, spring onion and coriander into each bowl and serve with a wedge of lime on the side.

Eat with chopsticks and a spoon and don't wear a new white shirt...

Notes:

This is a bit of a cheat’s recipe as I use ready-made Tom Yum paste, but the paste I use is a genuine Thai variety and does give an authentic flavour which the addition of the fresh ingredients builds upon. ‘Tom Khaa’ is similar to ‘Tom Yum’ hot and sour soup but has the addition of coconut milk to the broth and is very often served with prawns and squid like I do here. The addition of noodles is my own take on the soup as it turns the dish from a soup starter into a ‘soupy noodles’ main course as you’d get in many Thai, Chinese and particularly Japanese restaurants.

Beer Match

As you might have already guessed this is where I ran into a bit of trouble.

I went for a bottle of Wensleydale Semer Water Summer Ale, which stands on its own as a really great beer. It's got a lovely pale straw colour with a hint of gold, and a big caramel aroma with hints of citrus. You get perfect carbonation and a spot on mouthfeel - quite thick and cask ale like. The taste is initially very sweet with loads of caramel and a slight yeasty, dry straw background flavour, but then it finishes lightly hoppy with a nice bit of very light citrus and a touch of dryness. It wouldn't say the finish is 'dry' as such, but just that the hops definitely clean all that caramel away in the finish.

Unfortunately whilst it was a really good beer, it wasn’t a very good match for the dish. I think I was expecting something with more bitterness and a dry citrus hop flavour, whereas there’s definite caramel sweetness to this beer which didn’t pair very well with the creamy-hot-sourness of the soup.

Hey ho, it was fun giving it a try, but in the end I saved the beer until after I’d finished eating, where I enjoyed it immnensely.

Thanks to Wensleydale brewery for passing this beer on to me. I’ll be reviewing a number of their beers in an upcoming post so watch this space if you’re a fan.

10 comments:

  1. You could have just drank a few pints of Otley's/MelissaCcoles "Thai-bO" its like a thai curry in your mouth, and saved on the washing up!!!

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  2. I had a pint of that in The Rake when I was down in London recently and really like dit. I thought the Thai flavours were there but didnt overpower. Really nice, and would've gone great with this dish!

    If they release a bottled version I'll give it a go with a Thai dish like this.

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  3. You're right, though, curry's hard to match.

    Everyone's bored of us saying this but *NOT IPA*. Just because it's got "India" in the name, doesn't mean it goes with curry. Too many hops + curry = nasty.

    A big Hoegaarden Grand Cru might have done it, or a Duvel. Something strong, not too floral, with that bit of coriander.

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  4. Some IPA's with some curries are good, but if its a hop bomb and a super chilli heat curry you are just going to end up with a tongue that cant taste anything. A malty english IPA like meantime works pretty well with a rich curry like a Rogan Josh though.

    With regards to going belgian, I've taken a big bottle of very cold Leffe to a BYOB Thai restaurant before and that was pretty good. I actually thought about Duvel for this meal but didn't have any in the cupboard. The Wensleydale was in the fridge so I thought i'd give it a go.

    A swing and a miss, but a swing none the less!

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  5. Can't remember the name of it but I recall really enjoying Wensleydale Brewery's take on a Barley Wine at the Leeds beer festival earlier this year. Definitely worth getting your hands on one of those.

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  6. They make some great beers. What do you think to the recipe Dave? I know you're a bit of a Thai expert so be gentle with me!

    It's a proper cheats version but tastes good.

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  7. Great recipe! I love dishes like this. If I've had a particularly heavy weekend then I'll have this on Sunday night minus the coconut.

    As for the beer... try a Chang. Seriously. It's made for food like this and just works so well. The other suggestion would be Thornbridge Kipling. It's got a creaminess to it which matches the coconut but a lively freshness which matches the chilli and lime - that's my go-to beer for Thai green curry but it works broader as well.

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  8. Recipe looks great to me. Nothing wrong with using off the shelf pastes in Thai cooking I don't think, provided that they're supplemented with fresh herbs/chilli/garlic etc. I'd probably bung in more fish sauce than that, but that's 'cos I'm addicted to the stuff.

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  9. To be fair I think I probably added another two teaspoons at the 'check to flavour stage'. I remember watching a Thai food programme and they said it's more traditional to let the flavour cook into the broth, which is what I try to do here, so perhaps should add the whole lot at the beginning. I think with it being a seafood soup though it's ok to have that fresh fishiness in broth that adding it near the end gives.

    It's a hero ingredient!

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  10. Thanks for sharing the recipe. But it seems cooking thai food is very hard.

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