Using wine, beer or liquor in a recipe is nothing new. Think rum cakes during the holidays, tailgate spreads with beer-broiled sausages or Julie Child’s signature dish, coq au vin. Home cooks and gourmet chefs alike know that alcohol can enhance a dish’s flavors, create a stunning sauce or marinade, and that’s it fun to cook with, too.
Adding a bit of alcohol to your cooking can create flavor profiles that you may have never tried before. It brings out the flavor in foods, much like salt. Additionally, using alcohol in a marinade or as a basting liquid can help tenderize meat by using acids to break down its protein.
There are many ways to be inspired by your liquor cabinet when preparing meals. After you’ve browned meat for a dish, deglaze the pan with wine, brandy or even vodka as the base for a sauce (just make sure to remove the pan from the heat when adding it to avoid flames.) Or make a boozy whipped cream with your favorite liquor to frost cupcakes or brownies.
Often, you will hear people say that you should cook with the type of liquor, wine or beer that you enjoy drinking, but this is an outdated concept. Instead, try experimenting with different types of alcohol in your recipes, and avoid waste, by purchasing mini bottles. If you’re not sure if you would like a beer that you’re adding to your chili on its own, purchase one bottle instead of a pack. Most grocery stores have this option.
A major misconception is that all of the alcohol content will cook out, leaving only the flavor behind. This isn’t always the case. In most recipes, at least some of the alcohol will be retained. If you flambé a dish (igniting the alcohol to create additional flavor or moderate its harshness), only 25% of the alcohol will burn off. If you add the alcohol to boiling liquid then remove it from the heat, 85% of the alcohol will be retained in the dish.
When it comes to burning off the alcohol in a dish, it’s all about how long you cook it. For baked or simmered dishes where the alcohol is stirred into the mixture, about 15 minutes of cooking time will leave behind 40% of the alcohol content while a two and a half hour cooking time will retain only 5% of the alcohol.
If you want to try a recipe that includes alcohol and it’s not an option to have any retained, you can always make substitutions. Instead of beer, try beef or chicken stock. Recipes that call for Amaretto will taste great with almond extract instead. Fruit juices can be used instead of port wine, sherry and certain liqueurs (just choose a juice similar to its flavor.)
When it comes down to it, the best thing to do is experiment with different flavors and see what you like best.