Pairing foods with beverages is not just for wine. Beer pairings have recently become a common culinary experience as chefs and beer fans alike have realized the versatility of beers in the kitchen, and the blank culinary page that is chicken is an optimal place to begin experimenting with beer pairings.
Like wine pairings, there are general guidelines to pairing beer and food, such as serving lighter beers with milder dishes and full-bodied beers with hearty ones. However, the only real rules are to drink what you like and to only cook with a beer that you would drink. If you are cooking with beer, you may either serve the same beer with the meal or one with a complementary profile. So, if you cooked a dish with a malty beer, you may chose to serve a beer that is higher in hops.
Like with wine pairings, there are some classic and well-reasoned beer and food pairings. When serving a spicy dish like kung pao chicken, one would typically serve a gewürztraminer or a riesling. These wines are light in body, with mineral and floral notes, and these characteristics help the wine stand up to the intense heat and spicy flavors of the dish. Translating that to a chicken and beer pairing would lead one to serve an India Pale Ale (IPA) with the kung pao. The IPA has a high hops content giving it bright, floral flavors, and it also has a higher alcohol content than other ales which helps cool the heat from the chilis. These same characteristics make an IPA the perfect companion beer to Buffalo wings.
Beer can also be a star ingredient in your chicken dishes. We have all heard of, and many of us have tried making, beer can chicken, but this dish can be dressed up and taken to the next level with a few modifications:
Take a whole chicken, rinse it and pat it dry. Sprinkle kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper inside the cavity and under the skin around the breasts. Place the chicken into a large zip-lock bag and pour in a bottle of Hoegaarden, the original Wit beer. Let the chicken marinade for several hours, then remove it from the bag, stuff the cavity with half an onion, several peeled and cracked garlic cloves, and the aromatic herbs of your choice (rosemary is an excellent option). Roast the chicken, basting with the Hoegaarden, until done. Remove the chicken to rest, and reduce the drippings to make a quick pan sauce.
The Hoegaarden has hints of orange, coriander, and other spices that make this beer an excellent choice for pairing with chicken. If Hoegaarden is not available, try another Wit, such as Blue Moon.
This is just a small sampling of the world of beer and chicken pairings. Chicken lends itself well to an immense range of cooking styles, so the only limits to pairing chicken with beer is your own imagination.