There’s something special and memorable about the Oregon Coast, the public sandy beach that follows the Pacific Ocean’s reach for 363 miles of western Oregon. Like much of the Northwest, Pelican Brewing saw this significance too, planting three different locations walking distance from the sand in Pacific City, Cannon Beach and Tillamook. Outside of making sumptuous, award-winning beers, Pelican Brewing also puts its ales and lagers to work in the kitchen, where every coastal-influenced dish is not only paired with a house beer but cooked with one. Ken Henson, Pelican co-owner and director of food and beverage, shares the brewery’s key tenets and a recipe for pale malt-crusted salmon.

How would you explain the philosophy behind Pelican’s beer in the kitchen and on the table?
We truly believe we produce the best beers in the world. For a long time, wine has been put on a pedestal when it comes to food.  From the day I met brewmaster and co-owner Darron Welch, we have been joined at the hip to break the assumption that beer is a “good ol’ boy” drink for frat parties and football games. Beer deserves to be revered, to be honored and, most importantly, it deserves a place at the table alongside of, or slightly in front of, wine. We are trying to break the mindset that wine is superior to beer when it comes to food pairings, we try to be the Jagger/Richards of beer and food, and are proud to have been a leader in the movement of a new wave of breweries and restaurants that are breaking the mold.

What does the beer bring to this salmon dish?
We are so lucky to live in Oregon because we can get fresh Chinook salmon when the season allows. Salmon is a tremendous fish, high in Omega 3 fats, which are not only healthy for you, but make for a really rich fish. The carbonation of the beer helps to cut through some of that richness while the backbone of the beer is an incredible maltiness. The malt brings balance to all of the elements of the dish.

Where would you recommend readers at home picking up pale malt for the crust?
You could go to any of the amazing local breweries and ask them for some pale malt. That is the great thing about the Northwest brewing scene — the brewers and chefs are very accessible and excited to work with home cooks, homebrewers and anyone interested in food and beer experimentation. We have an amazingly collaborative culture. [Editor’s note: you should be able to find pale malt at a homebrew store as well.]

Would you pair with the same beer (Sea’N Red Irish-style red ale) in the recipe used? 
It is easier to talk about and notice the balance of the dish if you cook with the same beer you drink. When I think about which beer I will drink with a dish, I want either the dish to have balance or to have contrast. In this dish we are going for balance.  You could easily go the other way and look for a beer with a citrus-y hop profile that would contrast the dish by (instead of balancing with the richness) cutting through the richness of the fish. Given the nature of the gastrique in this dish, which is a sweet malty addition to the flavors, I would stick with a maltier beer. Of course I would hope you would choose Pelican’s Sea-N-Red, but a traditional Scottish Ale would work quite nicely.

Pale Malt Crusted Salmon with Roasted Sweet Potato Hash and Pelican Sea-N-Red Gastrique
Recipe courtesy of Pelican Brewing
Serves 4

1 1/2 pounds wild King salmon, cut into 4 potions
1 cup pale malt, ground in food processor
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
4 cups Sea’N Red ale
1 cup sherry vinegar
1/2 cup honey
3 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and medium-diced
1 pound onions, medium-diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 pound pepper bacon, chopped
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 sprigs fresh rosemary
4 sprigs fresh thyme
1 pound fresh spinach

In a sauce pan combine the ale, sherry vinegar and honey. Cook over medium heat and reduce until the gastrique is the consistency of syrup.

In a sauté pan render out the fat from the bacon, add the onions, garlic and diced potatoes. Season with salt and pepper and finish cooking in a 400° F oven until the potatoes are soft.

When the potatoes are done cooking, add in the fresh spinach stir until it is slightly wilted.

Brush the top of the salmon with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Press the ground pale malt on the top of the salmon and place in an oiled baking dish and bake in a 375 degree oven for 8 to 10 minutes (More if you like your Salmon cooked more thoroughly).

After the salmon is cooked serve with the potato hash and drizzle with the Sea’N Red ale gastrique.