I’m sure you’ve all seen it before: a hot sauté pan drowning in a foot of flames, a splash of brandy flambéing peaches, or wine stirred into a tomato sauce to add a depth of richness. It’s cooking with alcohol, and it’s one of my favorite ways to create new and unique flavors when working in the kitchen.
Besides it being used in a drink to calm the nerves (for some people), alcohol’s place in the kitchen is most commonly to add flavor to a dish. Many chefs like to finish a dish with a quick splash of liquor, while others build a base of flavors for a dish by reducing wine into some sautéed vegetables and herbs. The greatest thing about cooking with alcohol is that there are many different kinds to use and in many different ways. Here are some of my favorite alcohols to cook with and what I like doing with them.
Beer: I love working with beer, especially when marinating chicken or cooking up a pot of chili. My favorite beer to work with is Samuel Adams because its rich flavor is the perfect match to any dish you’re working with. I love using it with my milkshake recipe, where the foam of the beer plays into the milkshake theme and really brings out the cinnamon and nutmeg.
Dry Wine: If you’re looking for a stronger flavor in your sauce, dry wine is a great addition. It adds a very sweet and acidic flavor that’ll brighten up the palate.
Brandy: Brandy is a dark liquor that’s most commonly used in cocktails and soup recipes. My favorite soup to use brandy with is lobster bisque; nothing better than pairing the rich liquor with a decadent seafood stew.
Grand Marnier: Grand Marnier is a very traditional liquor that is most commonly used in desserts. It earns its place in my kitchen with my mulberry caramel recipe, which is the perfect topping to your homemade ice cream sundae.
Red Wine: This is no secret, especially if you’re familiar with Italian cooking, but I love using red wine in my cooking. I try to add it to any brown or dark sauce I’m making, as it adds a unique level of depth to the dish.
Kahlúa: There are a lot of people who think that Kahlúa was invented solely to make a White Russian, but I like using it in with my chocolate Alaska recipe.
Tequila: Tequila is an obvious one that people don’t think of cooking with that often. The best and most obvious way to use tequila is with ceviche, but I also like using it in the same manner as a marinade for chicken or beef. It has the same effect as it does with ceviche, tenderizing the meat before you cook it.
Breckenridge Bourbon: Bourbon is an especially popular alcohol to cook with, and I like using a small batch from Breckenridge, Colo. My favorite recipe with it is my bourbon whipped cream with fresh berries, but it’s also great in a cake recipe or in my chocolate torte recipe. You literally have not had a dessert like it before.
Vermouth: This liquor isn’t even that popular in drinks, but I love using it in for a nice dry white-wine sauce.