It should go without saying that every pudding is improved by a drop of alcohol of one form or another. Alcohol has long been a cook’s best friend; you will want to console yourself with a drop or two when you’re stuck in the kitchen and your guests are merrily playing strip poker (what? That’s not how your dinner parties pan out?).
Do be careful though: the closest I have ever come to killing myself in the kitchen was after a few beers with a good friend (who is also a far better cook than me). Drinks before and during cooking led to a wok being left on the heat with oil in it. Cue huge bang, 4′ high flames and a ruined pan. Luckily we had a ledge outside the window and managed to get the pan outside before we did ourselves any real harm.
Safer ways to use alcohol in cooking
Following that experience, I thought I’d share some safer ways to use alcohol in cooking. Starting with the easier / more obvious and progressing to some you hopefully haven’t thought of before:
- Obvious: recipes with alcohol in the name. Think: pears in red wine
- Marinade: many a meat is improved by a little of the tenderising effect of alcohol. Try red wine with dark meat, sherry with lighter meat.
- Subtle ingredient: if you have some wine that is a bit past it, it makes a great addition to big, strong, winter-warmer dishes. Add your old red wine to chillis, stews etc.
- Bread: replace the liquid element of your favourite bread recipe with beer. I like using stout or old peculiar to get enough flavour in the finished article
- Drinks that are almost food: if you subscribe to the “eating is cheating” school of drinking (I clearly don’t) then you might still want to get some sustenance – in which case Guinness is clearly your friend. Other foods that can be squeezed into this category are bloody mary (any drink requiring a recipe that complicated…) and liqueur coffee (practically a dessert)
Spirits and fortified wines
- Flambé: most people’s experience of setting fire to foods comes either by accident or in lighting the Christmas pudding. Stop to think about it though and loads of options open up – a personal favourite is lamb flambéd in pastis – just fry the lamb steak and finish with a flash flambé
- Serving: when I make chocolate mousse, I not only add a little brandy to the mixture, but also drizzle a little into the bowl before dolloping the mousse in to set (I tend to make individual bowl servings).
- Deglaze: a great use for fortified wine (sherry, marsala etc.) is to ‘deglaze’ the roasting / frying pan before making a proper gravy (please don’t use stock cubes – real gravy is so much easier and better)
- Adding food to drinks: I have a half-remembered anecdote in my head (I think probably from Anthony Bourdain’s “A Cook’s Tour” – a great book) about a Japanese drink that has tiny live fish added to it at the last moment – but I can’t find it just now. Other examples of this include adding cherries to cocktails, celery to bloody mary, Cadbury’s Creme Eggs to dirty pints…
Any more ideas of unusual ways to use alcohol in cooking? Let me know in the comments…
Image credit: Mark McLaughlin on Flickr