Cooking With Alcohol - Complete Guide

If you love to cook, you know that being in the kitchen and creating masterful dishes is the best experience of the day. However, many cooks have steered clear of using alcohol in savory and sweet dishes altogether.

Cooking with alcohol can seem intimidating at first and we have all known cooks who have become a bit too overzealous when alcohol is involved in the recipe, but alcohol adds so much value and depth to dishes.

It is worth your time and effort to practice and learn to use alcohol while cooking.

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Why Use Alcohol in Cooking?

Cooking with alcohol is not a new concept, but for those who are new to the idea, confusion on what kind and how much can quickly take over. Generally, when a cook uses alcohol it can be a splash of wine to deglaze their pan or a dab added to enhance a sauce, but there are more reasons to use alcohol in cooking and science can back it up.

First, fat and water molecules are on different ends of the spectrum. A separated sauce is evidence of this fact. Few things bring these two entities together, but alcohol is the ideal solution. Brines, marinades, and basting liquids hold together better and enhance flavors of anything you are cooking when alcohol is introduced.

The second science related reason to use alcohol in more of your dishes has to do with how aromas are brought to the nose. Alcohol, for the most part, evaporates from food during the cooking process, but within every steam molecule that escapes from your dish, the alcohol carries flavor notes directly to your nose.

A dish made with alcohol will have far more flavor notes than any recipe that conveniently leaves out this vital ingredient. Your food will taste and smell richer with alcohol than without.

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Master Tip:

One of the misleading factors about shopping for alcohol in stores is the evidence of designated cooking alcohol products. On the surface, it sounds like a great idea to devote certain spirits solely for cooking, but it is actually a sincere negative.

White and red cooking wine, cooking sherry, and similar products were made to curb professional cooks from sampling spirits during work. Consequently, salt was added to standard kitchen wine to make it unappealing to the staff. Cooking spirits are good in a pinch, but should not be used on a regular basis.

To make it simple, never cook with any alcohol that you would, otherwise not drink. You want to enhance flavor, not just add some more salt.

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Cooking With White Wine

White wine is a very versatile choice for cooking. When choosing your wine for savory dishes, invest in dry varieties.

The added acidity is what is desired with white wine, not additional sweetness. Sweet white wines can be reserved for deserts. The sugars in sweet white wine will caramelize too fast for deglazing your pans and sauteing.

White wines pair best with lighter dishes such as fish, chicken, and lightly sauced pastas. White wine needs time to simmer with the food being cooked, so ensure that you add it early enough to properly absorb into the food to avoid any harsh undertones.

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Cooking With Red Wine

Red wine maintains more of a bold, earthy tone when added to recipes. It provides depth of flavor and works best with red meats and hearty foods.

Adding red wine to your roast recipe will drastically deepen the flavor and adding red wine to a pan after cooking a steak will provide an amazing sauce.

Brining with red wine is also an option. Remember, the flavor notes evident in the red wine you choose will be exemplified when cooked, so choose one that matches with your proposed flavor profile for best results.

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Cooking With Brandy

Brandy is an amazing spirit to cook with. Primarily, you will see most brandy recipes in the form of desserts. The sweet nature of brandy add a lot of depth to desserts that simple sugar leaves out.

Bread puddings and dessert sauces are well adapted to the addition of brandy. Brandy can also be added to beef recipes to provide a slightly sweet enhancement.

A tip for cooking with brandy is to avoid an overabundance of heat. Brandy is a spirit that adapts well to a mild simmer, but can caramelize too quickly when the fire gets too high.

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Cooking With Cognac

A good cognac is hard to resist and most recipes with this spirit are limited to cocktails.

However, savvy cooks know that cognac can be an amazing additive to beef and pork recipes. When cooking with cognac, do not add the spirit to the meat, but rather wait until the meat is resting.

Combine cognac with butter and allow to simmer for just a few minutes. The results are a sauce that will ultimately enhance the flavors throughout the meat. Cognac is also an excellent option for cooking with mushrooms as they absorb the aroma and flavorful nature of the cognac.

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Cooking With Vodka

Vodka can be used in savory dishes such as meats and pastas and is even light enough to make an effective glaze for fish, but when cooking with vodka, ensure your flame remains in control. The high alcohol content of vodka can be a hazard to an overzealous cook.

When adding vodka to the pan during cooking, add the spirit off heat, then slightly tip the pan to allow it to ignite. Adding strait from the bottle over high heat can produce a flame that backs up into the bottle potentially causing drastic burns.

Unlike certain other spirits, vodka is not just adaptable to savory dishes, but desserts and bakes as well. Vodka enhances baked goods by acting as a guard to avoid gluten breakdown during baking. Vodka is also a great additive to fruit desserts and chocolate for a booze full kick.

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Cooking With Gin

Learning to cook with gin can be a challenge, especially if you are exceptionally heavy handed with your spirits. Gin is packed with amazing flavors and can add a floral and herbal background to your dishes.

However, gin is also a very powerful spirit and it is easy to overpower your food.

Gin is best added with a moderating hand. Think of gin on the same level as you would with cayenne pepper or vanilla extract. A little goes a long way to enhance flavor, but too much can completely undo your food’s flavor.

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Cooking With Tequila

When cooking with tequila, treat the spirit like wine. Tequila is adapted to reducing into a sauce to add a sweet, rich entity, to the cooking juices.

Tequila is best used in savory cooking. It has had limited success in desserts, but it is never out of the question to experiment. Again, tequila is a strong spirit, so carefully add it to a pan to avoid any potential burns.

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Coooking With Champagne

Champagne is much like any other light wine in cooking. It is best for light dishes such as fish, chicken, and lightly sauced pastas. Additionally, the bubbly nature of champagne makes is a great addition to many desserts as well.

Butter cookies and certain cakes use champagne to enhance flavors and add a little zing to the palate. Champagne jellies are popular as well.

When cooking with champagne, it is essential to use a good quality bubbly, but not essential to purchase the rarest, most expensive bottle.

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Cooking with Sherry

Essentially, sherry is merely an enhanced wine made in a town called Jerez, Spain. Sherry is used just like wine in many dishes, but it is especially easy to burn due to a higher sugar content.

When cooking with sherry, ensure your heat remains at a simmer throughout the cooking process. For sauce making, deglaze with sherry and add a little butter for a rich, luxurious finish.

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Cooking with Beer

I know, most people think that beer is for drinking only, but the complexities in beer are amazing for a variety of dishes, primarily savory ones.

There are endless recipes from beer chicken to beer bread, to beer batters and the one thing these recipes have in common is the use of beer to not only enhance flavors, but add bitterness where necessary.

The bitterness of beer is not actually a bad thing, like some people might believe. Beer helps to balance flavors in savory cooking.

Experiment with your favorite beer and again, only use a brand that you are comfortable drinking on its own. You will find that the complex flavors provided from hops and malts will only make your recipes better.

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Cooking with Rum

Rum is not a common ingredient in cooking apart from the occasional rum cake or rum balls during the holidays, but rum can be used in a range of different dishes.

There are actually two distinct varieties of rum, dark and light. Dark rums are excellent to use in beef and pork recipes to add a unique richness.

White or light rums are adapted to light dishes such as chicken, seafood, and foods that are intended to have a light sauce.

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Cooking with Bourbon

Bourbon is a dark whiskey with notes of cinnamon. Naturally, due to its cinnamon rich flavor, it is ideal for desserts. Bourbon balls are a welcomed treat during the holiday season and it is a great additive for cakes and can even enhance brownies.

However, bourbon is not just a one note spirit. Like other strong alcohols, it should be used very sparingly, but adding a dash of bourbon to chili or hearty soups will provide a unique note and bring out a variety of flavors lurking within the recesses of the dish. Always use good quality, and authentic bourbon in your dishes. Yes, it makes a difference and a little goes a long way.

Cooking with alcohol is not as complicated as some people make it seem. We love to enjoy a drink in the afternoon with friends, so naturally, it should be added to the food we eat as well. Different alcohols provide different flavor notes and enhancements that will make your recipes stand out in any crowd. If you are struggling to find something to add to that cake or to bring out flavors in your main dish, never discount the use of a dash of alcohol.

Happy Boozy Cooking!

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