Cooking with Alcohol
The marriage of food and wine is one that has been blessed with longevity. Clinking wine glasses at the dining table is customary way to toast one another before a delicious feast. After dinner, you may indulge in a little glass of port with the cheese, or perhaps a cognac with chocolate petit fours to finish off the occasion. The matching of drinks to each course is part of the fun of having a meal in a restaurant, or indeed planning a dinner party at home. Wines will have been specially chosen to complement the food, to make the experience all the more enjoyable.
But it’s not just at the table that alcohol is used to complement and enhance food. In cooking, adding a little alcohol to the recipe can make a good dish into a great dish, lending that extra flavour difference to the finished result.
HOW TO COOK WITH ALCOHOL
Firstly, using alcohol in cooking will not make you drunk! Well not if you use it in the right amounts and don’t drink it all as you go along! That famous apron slogan saying ‘I love to cook with wine, sometimes I even add it to the food’, is not the desired effect we’re looking for here! When you cook with alcohol, the actual alcoholic content of the chosen drink will evaporate and you will be left with just the intensity of its flavour. You’re not trying to achieve a totally boozy result that will overpower the other ingredients, but merely enhance the dish with extra depth of taste. Certain types of alcohol work best in certain recipes. Here we take a look at what goes best with what.
Dry or medium dry cider works superbly with pork casseroles, especially if the dish has bits of apple in the mix. The French are very fond of marrying dry cider with pork and Dijon mustard in a wonderful casserole or pot roast. This lovely Cider Glazed Ham from Stonewell Cider recipe makes a superb centrepiece for a weekend brunch. Check out our cider makers here.
Red wine has no end of uses in the kitchen. From the classic Coq au Vin (Chicken in Wine) which should use a whole bottle of good red wine to marinate the chicken joints before cooking in the wine, to wine enriched sauces. A little slug of your fave red in the roasting pan after you’ve taken out the roast beef or lamb adds extra oomph to the gravy. Renvyle House’s Head Chef Tim O’Sullivan has created this fantastic Roast Rack of Connemara Lamb with Red Onion Marmalade recipe, which he cooks with red wine. Delicious.
Use a little white wine for cooking delicate shellfish like mussels. It works well in sauces for white fish too. A splash of white wine drizzled over a whole fish like salmon or turbot adds moisture during oven baking. Choose a dry white wine for cooking savoury dishes and marinades. Sweet white wines can enhance certain desserts and puddings.
Dry sherry is very complementary to slow cooked duck stew with green olives in the Spanish style. Sweet sherry is the classic ingredient of a Sherry Trifle. Soak the trifle sponges with sherry, as in this great recipe video from Tom O’Connell of O’Connell’s of Donnybrook.
Cognac is a great spirit to use for flambe foods. Peppered steak usually has a splash of cognac added to the pan and set alight before making the sauce. Be careful when you do this technique in the kitchen. If you have a gas cooker, you can add the cognac then tilt the pan slightly to ignite the alcohol. Stand well back till the flames have died down. This means the alcohol has burnt off and you’ll be left with just the tastes in the finished sauce.
If you don’t have a gas cooker you will need to ignite the cognac with a match or lighter, so be very careful as you do it. Home made Chicken Liver Pate is all the better for a slug of cognac added when you whizz the chicken livers smooth. Eugene O’Callaghan, Head Chef of Kelly’s Resort Hotel, uses cognac in a creamy Seafood Bisque recipe made with local shellfish.
In Kilkenny, Highbank Orchards make their own version of Calvados called Highbank Orchard Spirit. Works great for flaming pan fried pork medallions, before adding cream, herbs and seasoning to finish the sauce.
The classic ingredient for an Irish Coffee like this recipe from Lough Erne Resort. Whiskey also works in a sauce for steak, use it in a similar way to the cognac for Peppered Steak. Whiskey adds a fragrant smokey flavour to homemade marmalades. You can add a drop to the mix for dark fruit cakes too. Very delicious!