Abita Brewery Cookbook Provides a Thorough Introduction to Food and Beer

NoJa restaurant in downtown Mobile played host last week to “A Night of Ales,” pairing five courses with beers from Gadsden’s Back Forty Brewing Company and Avery Brewing Company out of Colorado.

The food and beer pairings were delicious and left me inspired to go home and do some experimenting of my own. That inspiration led me to the bookshelf and “Cooking Louisiana True,” a cookbook released in 2008 by the Abita Brewing Company in Abita Springs, La.

Split roughly into two sections, “Cooking Louisiana True” is more than just another Cajun cookbook.

The first section, about 50 pages, provides a wealth of knowledge about beer in South Louisiana. Topics include a concise history of craft brewing, with a focus on both Abita and New Orleans, a thorough description of the brewing process, a guide to choosing glassware, tasting beer and just about anything you’d ever want to know about Abita’s beers, including the style, calories, suggested serving temperatures and even the hops and barley used.

The second section presents the recipes. Split into starters, seafood, mains, sides and desserts, it starts off with a quick introduction to cooking with beer, specifically Abita beer, before delving into the starters.

Throughout the book, the recipes, from both famous Louisiana chefs and amateur cooks, have one thing in common: They all use Abita beer as an ingredient or pairing suggestion. Beyond that, however, there’s a great deal of variety in the dishes offered up. While some are quick and easy — Purple Haze Vinaigrette is a delicious example — others will require some planning, a little creative shopping and a few advanced cooking skills. The recipe for Emeril’s shrimp and cheese grits, for instance, requires you to line up a homemade seasoning, cremini mushrooms, “beer-b-q glaze,” smoked cheddar grits, citrus beurre blanc and grilled green onions — all before you even start the final dish. While it looks delicious, it’s certainly not a weeknight meal you’d make on the fly.

The seafood section will make plenty of Gulf Coast residents happy with its focus on fresh Gulf shrimp and fish. Recipes include barbecue shrimp, blackened redfish, crab cakes, stuffed snapper and more.

“Mains” encompasses the entrees, specifically meat and poultry. The Turbodog braised short ribs is one of my favorite dishes for a cool, rainy Sunday evening. Match it up with Abita’s current seasonal, Mardi Gras Bock, and you’ve got a delicious pairing.

The “Sides” section reads like the menu at a Southern pot luck dinner, with recipes for beer-braised greens, baked beans and warm potato salad that would fit in perfectly at a family picnic or crawfish boil.

Most of the beers used in the recipes can be found in the Mobile area. Exceptions include Golden and Light, which I’ve never seen outside of Louisiana, and Andygator and Abbey Ale, which come in 22 oz. bottles, a size that is six ounces too many due to an Alabama state law limiting bottles to 16 oz.

The book itself is beautiful. The clean design, sharp typography and large, colorful photographs make it easy to pick up and flip through, but there are some dishes — homemade Andouille, for instance — that seem to be a bit beyond the level of the average at-home cook.

With a little beer, and some practice, though, you’ll be cooking “Louisiana True” before you know it.