From the Beer Wench's Kitchen
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Belgian Witbier & Citrus Tilapia
By K. Allen

Article Originally Published in Southern Brew News

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  Balmy, spring Georgia nights shine bright with fireflies and the sound of crickets.  This time of the year brings to mind the hot, sultry characters of a Tennessee Williams play or folks sitting on front porches sipping lemonade. What, you may ask, does that have to do with beer?

The natural order of things demands that there exists a season for every beer and a beer for every season. A classic Belgian Witbier makes a great, refreshing choice for the warmer months.  The Belgian Witbier or Belgian White contains a pleasant sweetness and a zesty, orange-citrusy fruitiness. These beers often end with a refreshingly crisp, dry and sometimes tart finish. 

This 400 year old beer style died out in the 1950s. We can thank Pierre Celis for reviving the style first at Hoegaarden Brewery in Belgium and later at his own brewery in Austin, Texas (which was closed in 2001). Today this beer is one of the more popular styles and can be used as a “training” beer for people new to the world of world-class beer styles. There are now several brands of Belgian White beers including Hoegaarden, Blue Moon, Blanche de Brooklyn, Sterkens and many more.

I, as your beer wench, went in search of the perfect recipe to accompany this magical brew. The spicy, citrus character of the Belgian Wit goes well with many types of dishes such as fish, vegetable or pasta dishes done in light garlic, oil and herb sauces. Having so many wonderful choices, I settled on what turned out to be a glorious combination -- filet of Tilapia over caramelized leeks served with asparagus and an orange marmalade reduction.  Let’s begin with the marinade, shall we?
        -Juice of one tangerine
                        -1 lemongrass stalk (cut into small strips)
                        -fennel (1/4 cup large pieces)
                        -1 cup white cooking wine
                        -1/4 cup rice vinegar

In a gallon storage bag or bowl with cover, mix the tangerine juice, cooking wine and rice vinegar. Slice the lemongrass stalk into small strips, chop fennel in large pieces (approximately ¼ cup) and place in liquid. Take your tilapia filets (this recipe is done for two filets) and rub them on both sides with fresh-cracked black pepper and a small bit of sea salt and place in marinade making sure they are completely submerged. Cover bowl or close baggy and place in the refrigerator for a minimum of two hours.

When you are ready to begin cooking, but before you start your fish, you want to begin your reduction sauce. The ingredients include: 
       -marinade liquid (save a small portion of this to pour over you fish before
                                    placing it in the oven)
       -4 tablespoons of orange marmalade
       -freshly cracked black pepper

In a small saucepan, combine the marinade liquid and your orange marmalade. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to simmer. Stir occasionally.  Sauce should reduce down to a thick consistency. When done, add pepper to taste.

Now we are ready for the fish. Heat a large frying pan with a tablespoon of olive (or your favorite light vegetable oil) and a few sprigs of lavender, chopped. Chop your leeks into large pieces and sauté  in the oil until slightly brown. Add a tablespoon or two or sugar or sugar substitute and cook until sugar is melted and slightly brown. Place the caramelized leeks in a bowl or pan and set this aside.

Using the same pan that you used to cook your leeks sear both sides of the fish. The pan needs to be hot. This only takes a minute or two per side. Place the fish on a baking pan, add a little of the marinade juice and bits of lemongrass and fennel on the fish in the pan and place in the oven at 350 degrees F for approximately 10 minutes. Time may vary depending on your oven -- mine works overtime just like I do.

In the meantime, you should bring about 2 cups of water to boil in a large saucepan or soup pan, place a colander on top, add your asparagus, put a lid on top and let it steam until it reaches a texture suitable to your taste.  If you have a vegetable steamer, more power to you.

When fish is ready, place a bed of leeks on the plate. The fish is placed on top of the leeks. Drizzle reduction sauce onto the top of the fish (amount is up to your taste). Serve with asparagus and a starch of your choice. Garnish with sprigs of lavender, rosemary and/or tangerine slices. Open your choice of Belgian Witbier and enjoy the mingling of flavors. The spicy, refreshing citrus of the beer enhances the fish and brings out the flavors of the orange and spices in the food. Just writing this article makes me want to make this dish again!

If you have a favorite beer and food pairing or have questions about the beer or recipe, drop me an email; I’m always on the lookout for new ideas.

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