in a cold glass to sip while you are cooking and in marinades, braising liquids, soups, stews, sauces, batters and baked goods.

Beer's versatility is due to its variety and the complexity of its flavor profile. With so many beers available these days, it's fun to experiment.

Beer is an excellent batter ingredient because the alcohol causes the batter to more quickly dry and form a crisp outer layer, which reduces moisture loss and fat absorption. Beer also acts like yeast in helping the batter to rise and creates a light and delicious crust.

Here are more ways to cook with beer:

* After you've browned the meat for your chili or stew, splash some beer into the pan and scrape up the browned bits to start a rich sauce.

* Spike cheese sauce (for dip, soup or macaroni and cheese) with a splash of beer.

* Slow-braise meat or steam mussels or shrimp in an inch or two of beer.

* Replace part (or all) of the liquid in a bread recipe with beer.

> Beer-Battered Fish

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup cornstarch

12 ounces lager beer or ale

1 large egg

1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt

About 6 cups peanut, canola or other vegetable oil for deep-frying

1 1/2 pounds (or a little more) skinless fish fillets (grouper, mahi-mahi, flounder, snapper, cod, haddock, ocean perch), cut into 4 thin (less than 3/4 -inch) slices

About 2 teaspoons salt

Freshly ground pepper

Combine the flour, cornstarch, beer, egg and salt in a large mixing bowl; whisk to mix well. The batter will be very light -- slightly thinner than a regular pancake batter. Cover and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes and up to 3 hours.

Line a baking sheet with paper towels. Heat oven to 200 degrees. Heat 3 inches of oil to 375 degrees in a 4- to 5-quart Dutch oven over medium heat (or use a deep fryer).

While the oil is heating, dry the fillets between several thicknesses of paper towels. Season with salt and pepper. Drop the fillets into the batter and toss with tongs to coat evenly.

When the oil is hot, lift the fillets one by one from the batter with the tongs, letting the excess drip back into the bowl. Lower into the oil, holding it suspended in the oil for a few seconds to set the batter and prevent it from sticking to the bottom of the pot. (The temperature of the oil will drop, but you overheated it to compensate. Don't let it go above 350 degrees once it recovers.)

Fry the fillets a few at a time, taking care not to crowd the pot, until deep golden brown, about 5 minutes. Transfer to the paper towel-lined baking sheet with tongs, and keep warm in the oven until all the fish is fried. Makes 4 servings.

-- From "The Summer Shack Cookbook: The Complete Guide to Shore Food" by Jasper White (Norton, $25).