Wine and bourbon aren’t just for cocktail hour anymore. These loved libations are just as delicious on your plate as they are in your glass. You don’t need to be a bartender or an award-winning chef to create tasty alcohol infused dishes, all you need are a few guidelines to help you understand how to cook with alcohol.
If you think cooking out of a liquor cabinet is just another excuse to get a buzz, think again. Like a hot and steamy date, when food and alcohol get together, the sparks start to fly. All the aromas you love in your liquors shine through when you cook with them, since — as the food scientists at Fine Cooking will tell you — alcohol bonds with the fat and water molecules in food. This means that juniper bite you love in your gin and tonics will be just as satisfying in your next shrimp pasta dish.
But don’t start handing out slices of rum cake at the next toddler birthday party. The widely accepted belief that alcohol burns off in the cooking process is just not true. According to What’s Cooking America, up to a whopping 85 percent of alcohol can be retained in the food. Of course, this all depends on the how the dish was prepared. While a sauce that had alcohol added at the last minute may top the chart at 85 percent retention, an item that was baked for over two hours will only hold on to 5 percent of the alcohol. But don’t let this fact hold you back from rolling your bar cart up to your stove top. If you want to try cooking with alcohol, start with these easy to master methods that will make you want to raise a glass to dinner.
If you’re wondering which alcohol to use with which meats, use this tip Chef Tim Love shared with The Wall Street Journal: lighter spirits with lighter foods; darker spirits go with darker meats. Try experimenting by adding some rum or Pinot Noir to your favorite flavors. And if you end up with too strong an alcohol taste, take the advice of Iron Chef Alex Guarnaschell
“You can add more butter or olive oil,” she told Food and Wine magazine. “The richness helps balance the taste of the wine. You could also cook and puree some onions, for a savory dish, or apples, for a fruit dish, and add them to mellow the wine flavor.”
One of the first things my grandmother taught me to cook was a pan sauce with a can of beer. This is one of the easiest ways to liven up an everyday dish such as sautèed chicken breast. Once you have removed the meat from the pan, simply pour in about ½ cup of the alcohol that will pair best with your meat and start to scrape all the stuck-on bits from the bottom of the pan. Enjoy a full glass of what it is your cooking with while the sauce simmers into a flavorful dinner lovefest.
Even your greens can get their groove on with a splash of the good stuff. Try Martha Stewart’s recipe for Champagne vinaigrette or Honest Cooking’s party-starter tequila lime dressing. Another cooking with alcohol trick I’ve learned (although this lesson didn’t come from Grandma) is to soak fruit in wine or spirits to allow it to absorb the flavors. Tossing some boozy berries onto a summer salad is the twist your dinner guests never saw coming.
When it comes to tipsy treats, Ree Drummond of The Pioneer Woman has your back. Whip up her pot de creme a l’prange, made with grand mariner or her Creme de Menthe infused grasshopper pie. Or if you don’t feel like measuring, mixing and baking, blend up a round of boozy milkshakes for a perfectly sweet nightcap.