Do you want to cook with alcohol, but you don’t know how to use wine, brandy, or beer? You’re usually supposed to follow the recipe, but you should also know which liquid goes well with your other ingredients.
Sometimes – just sometimes – I like to have a glass of red wine while cooking. I open the window, I turn on the music, I roll up my sleeves, take a sip of wine, and I start playing with flour, chopping vegetables, or cutting some meat, depending on my recipe. Sometimes I even dance! But this isn’t an example of how to cook with alcohol! It’s just having fun while cooking, even if alcohol is involved or not.
If you start to cook with alcohol, you will find out that it’s a little less intuitive, so you should follow your recipe to the letter. But first of all, why should you do it? Because when it’s used properly, alcohol improves your food. Pour it in a marinade or a brine and it will help season and flavor the meat. Alcohol is also able to penetrate the meat better than other liquids, and it carries flavor into the meat itself. You can use alcohol when you make sauces or other dishes (even desserts) because, overall, it makes your food smell and taste better.
You can cook with wine, beer, brandy, whiskey, gin, or tequila. Just follow the recipe and you’ll be just fine.
What happens with the alcohol while cooking?
The conventional wisdom is that all the alcohol you add to a dish evaporates or dissipates during cooking. But that is wrong. In fact, you have to cook something for a good 3 hours to eradicate all traces of alcohol, according to Whatscookingamerica.net. USDA research shows that 85 percent of the alcohol stays put after the wine is added to a boiling liquid and then removed from the heat. Another study showed that anywhere from 4 to 78 percent of the initial amount of alcohol did not evaporate when some dishes were done.
When you cook with alcohol, the heat will remove some of it, but not all. Still, the longer a dish is cooked, the less alcohol remains. You should be aware of this if you’re cooking for children or people who avoid alcohol because of health, ethical, or religious reasons.
What to cook with alcohol
Cooking with wine
The first rule when cooking with wine is to avoid those types labeled ‘Cooking Wine’ because they’re not good for your dish! Use the wine that you would drink on its own! An expensive wine is not necessary but choose a good quality one.
Red wine (usually dry) is good for long-simmered meat dishes, usually beef, lamb, and pork. You can also use it in sautés, casseroles, sauces, soups, stews, and in some desserts, like poached pears in red wine. A magic thing you can make with wine is deglazing a pan. This means making a sauce by pouring wine in a hot pan in which you’ve just made a steak, then scraping the bottom with a spatula to loosen the browned bits. You can add, if you want, some butter, spices, and herbs, then pour the sauce over the steak.
The most versatile white wine to cook with is a dry, crisp one. White wine is best for chicken, duck, fish, shrimp and other seafood dishes, but also for sauces, risotto, and sweets like white wine poached apricots.
For best results, wine should not be added to a dish just before serving. The wine should simmer with the food, or sauce, to enhance the flavor of the dish.
If you don’t want to cook with alcohol, but you want to try a recipe that requires it, substitute red wine with an equal amount of red grape juice, cranberry juice, chicken broth, beef broth, vegetable broth, clam juice, fruit juices, or flavored vinegar.
White wine can be replaced with water, chicken broth, vegetable broth, white grape juice, ginger ale, or white grape juice.
Cooking with brandy
Brandy is a distilled spirit made from fermented fruit or starchy vegetables. Unlike gin, vodka or whiskey, brandy is great in all kinds of food. Use small amounts, because it’s stronger than wine. It works with seafood, chicken, turkey, liver, pork, sauces, mashed potatoes, or noodles with veggies. If you love exotic tastes, top your bowl of soup with 1 teaspoon of brandy. Brandy is also used to flambé foods, but for this technique, you need some extra skill and a lot of precaution!
You can add a few drops of brandy over a fruit salad, in a cheesecake, cake batter, a pudding, in your crème Brulee, or in caramel or chocolate sauces.
If you want to avoid cooking with alcohol, keep in mind that brandy can be replaced with white grape juice, apple cider or apple juice, diluted peach or apricot syrups. Substitute equal amounts of liquid.
Cooking with beer
People who cook with alcohol often choose beer. Maybe because it’s cheaper than wine, who knows? You can use it in marinades most of the time, but also when making a dough. Usually, light beer works best for chicken and fish. As well as red wine, dark beer is best for red meat. You can also use it for braising legumes or in cheese dips.
A lot of cooks say that the yeast in beer also makes baked goods lighter and springier. You can use it when making a batter (let’s say for your fish and chips), because it works like sparkling water to carbonate the mix, helping to make it crisper, lighter, and airier. Add it to your pizza dough or make beer bread.
Replacing the beer in a recipe will change the taste, of course, but you can try – for a similar flavor - chicken broth, beef broth, mushroom broth, white grape juice, or ginger ale.