Like many families, every Easter mine congregates to enjoy each other’s company and a delicious brunch. This tradition is bolstered by the presence of champagne and mimosas, both of which I wholly support, but there’s something else I look forward to popping the cork on each year – saisons.
For me, there is no beer-style more evocative of and so perfectly suited for springtime as saisons. These farmhouse-style ales of Belgian and French origin convey myriad flavors, many of which epitomize the season on which we are currently and pleasantly entrenched. Esters and phenols from saison yeast strains bring on vibrant bouquets rife with grassy, floral, fruity, spicy and, depending on the presence of Brettanomyces or other wild yeast strains, funkiness often described as “barnyard” in nature. Beer aroma doesn’t get more springtime-in-the-country than that.
On the flavor front, absolutely no type of ale or lager is as unpredictably wide-ranging. Saison’s guidelines are just about the loosest of any style category. A fan of variety, this is what makes saisons my personal favorite. Wrestling a cork from a bottle labeled “farmhouse ale” is always an adventure. My taste buds might encounter a boldly fruity, herbaceous quaff with tight champagne-like bubbles or a spicy, flowery ale with a sticky, fluffy, snow-white head and the driest, sharpest finish imaginable.
When searching out some brunch recipes built to marry with saisons’ wealth of characteristics, I consulted the culinary minds at Breakfast Republic. This early-to-midday chain has spots in North Park, Liberty Station, Encinitas and the East Village, with an Ocean Beach location debuting this month at the former site of OB Warehouse, and a Carmel Valley location coming this summer. If you’re looking for inventive breakfast and brunch fare served in tandem with eye-opening adult beverages, this is your spot.
Breakfast Republic owes its popularity and success to items like shrimp and grits, breakfast bacon mac and cheese, and flights of pancakes or French toast. It’s a strawberry and mascarpone cheese-infused version of the latter that the chain’s kitchen- eam chose as an ideal go-with for a fruitier-flavored saison. And for a drier, spicier or more herbaceous farmhouse ale, they selected their Breakfast Jambalaya, a traditional take on the Cajun classic with shrimp, andouille sausage and fried eggs. The recipes for both of these dishes are included here for your home-kitchen experimentation. When looking for the best saison to pair, feel free to cast a wide net – there are exceptional versions of this style brewed the world over – but know there are plenty right in your own backyard.
Great local saisons include The Lost Abbey’s Brett-infused spring seasonal Carnevale Ale, as well as its year-round Red Barn Ale. They come from the same San Marcos brewery, but taste completely different. Still, each makes for an excellent springtime indulgence. The same can be said for Saison Rustique from Vista’s 100% wild-ale operation Toolbox Brewing, which brings wine-barrel vanillins and grape mustiness into the equation. Other flavorful and thirst-quenching San Diego County offerings include BNS Brewing’s Saloon Girl, Iron Fist Brewing’s Hired Hand, Modern Times Beer’s Lomaland and Second Chance Beer’s Saison Solare, any of which will go well on your brunch table come Easter and beyond.
Strawberry Mascarpone French Toast
Yield: 4 servings
- 1 qt heavy cream
- 6 egg yolks
- 1 cup light brown sugar
- ¼ cup spiced rum
- ¼ cup vanilla extract
- 8 slices brioche bread, sliced into 1-inch thick pieces
- 8 oz mascarpone cheese
- 16 strawberries
- confectionery sugar
- pure maple syrup
In a small bowl, whisk together the cream, egg yolks, brown sugar, rum and vanilla. Dip the bread into the mixture, a piece at a time, and place on a skillet over medium heat. Cook until golden-brown, then flip and repeat. Remove from the skillet and keep warm while you repeat the process with the remaining slices of bread.
To serve, place a slice of bread on a plate, and top with mascarpone and strawberries. Place a second slice of bread on top, garnish with confectionery sugar, and serve warm with maple syrup.
Yield: 4 servings
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- 12 medium-sized shrimp, peeled and deveined
- 8 oz andouille sausage (linguica or kielbasa to substitute)
- 4 oz red bell pepper, sliced
- 3 cups Red Rice (recipe follows)
- 8 oz Jambalaya Sauce (recipe follows)
- 12 fried eggs
- scallions, thinly sliced
Heat the oil in a saucepot over medium-high heat. Add the shrimp, sausage and peppers, and sauté until the shrimp are cooked on both sides. Stir in the rice and jambalaya sauce until thoroughly incorporated. Remove from heat.
To serve, split the mixture equally onto four plates. Top with 3 fried eggs per serving, garnish with scallions and serve immediately.
- 12 oz fire-roasted tomatoes
- 3 cloves garlic
- 2 Tbsp Old Bay seasoning
- 1 Tbsp salt
- 1 tsp cayenne pepper
- 1 tsp fresh oregano, minced
- 1 tsp fresh thyme, minced
Combine all the ingredients in a saucepot over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and transfer to the bowl of a food-processor. Blend until thoroughly incorporated. Set aside and let cool.
- 2 Tbsp vegetable oil
- 1 cup rice
- ½ yellow onion, diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- ½ cup tomato sauce
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 tsp fresh thyme, minced
- 2 cups vegetable stock
Heat the oil in a medium saucepot over medium heat. Add the rice and sauté until golden-brown. Add the onion, garlic, tomato sauce and herbs, and sauté for 3 minutes. Add the stock and bring the mixture to a boil. Place the lid on the saucepot, reduce heat to low and cook for 20 minutes without lifting the lid. Remove from heat and let stand 10 minutes before using.