The malt's in his method

TV host Paul Mercurio has a proclivity for using a brew or two in the kitchen.

Paul Mercurio is a beer tragic. The former dancer-turned-actor and television personality is a serial home-brewer who launched his own peach-infused beer, Merc's Own Peach Ale, a few years ago.

Lately, he's been on the box tracking down local produce and practising his cooking skills for Mercurio's Menu, with beer featuring more often than not. Now he's launched a new book, Cooking with Beer.

It joins a handful of similarly themed publications but this one succeeds on a couple of counts, one of which is that Mercurio has put much thought into which beer styles match certain recipes and, judging by the text, the recipes appear to have been thoroughly road-tested.

''The key to cooking with beer is to create really good dishes that stand on their own, are well balanced, well flavoured and don't taste like beer,'' he says. ''If there's liquid in a recipe, it might as well be beer.''

Beer forms the base for marinades, batters, stews and soups but it's dishes such as Hoegaarden seafood risotto that lift this book above the predictable.

On the surface, Mercurio simply replaces white wine with beer but his choice of a Belgian witbier is well matched with seafood and coriander to complement the beer's flavouring. It's the sort of recipe that could inspire a bloke to cook risotto for the first time.

The barbecue section has robust beer-based marinades, plus a hot-and-spicy sauce made with stout and bourbon. On the more creative side, Mercurio lists a pilsner paella and a wheat beer vinaigrette.

It is the dessert and baking chapters where he really lets his culinary flair loose. Birramisu, wheat beer ice-cream, Trappist ale fruit cake and a sticky date pudding made with Hoegaarden Grand Cru are highly original but his hop panna cotta is something else entirely. Here, Mercurio steeps hop flowers in hot milk to infuse the dessert with a singular flavour and colour that, I imagine, would be the talking point of any dinner party.

Cooking with Beer by Paul Mercurio, Murdoch Books, $34.99.


This article The malt's in his method was originally published in The Sydney Morning Herald.