Spirited Cooking: How to Cook With Alcohol + 5 Recipes

Many of us subscribe to the two-handed method of cooking: utensil in one hand, adult beverage in the other. However, cooking with booze isn't about inebriation. It's about flavor. Alcohol liberates flavors from food by creating new chemical bonds with proteins. Therefore, when a recipe offers a "suitable substitution" for the booze it recommends, I never fully trust it.

Why? Because alcohol offers more than just flavor to a dish. From operating as a cooking fuel to deglazing to braising to finishing, booze is unparalled in its versatility. 

Now let's talk about using alcohol to cook our foods. How do you do it? It's simple really. Lighter colored alcohols and spirits should make their way into lighter proteins, sauces, and meals -- an example would be a white wine used in a seafood scampi sauce. Darker spirits work with heavier proteins and more full-bodied sauces.

Cooking With Booze

Pesto, Sun dried tomato, And mozzarella stuffed chicken breast. ?? #dinnertime #cookingwithwine ??

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Science shows that alcohol converts to steam at around 78 degrees Celsius, and water boils at 100 degrees Celsius. That means that at a moderate simmer, alcohol will evaporate in a dish to evaporate much faster than the water, but not completely. Alcohol and water have a good relationship called an azeotropic mixture, which means that water has separation anxiety and won't let go of alcohol.

To make a long, scientific explanation short, this means that more alcohol is left in a dish than many people expect.

How much exactly? Let's have a look at this chart from the USDA:

USDA via The Art of Manliness

Wow, right? Since there is usually a good amount of spirit left in your cooked alcohol, you definitely don't want to be cooking with libations that you wouldn't consume yourself.

That doesn't mean crack open your single malt whiskey that you brought back from Scotland. Just make sure that you aren't using something that comes from a gas station in a plastic bottle.

Alcohol + Food

I'll take a triple shot of vodka on this. ? +?: @elmstreetdiner #forkyeah

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Now that you know why alcohol is such an important ingredient in some recipes, it's time to understand how to pair them with the right foods. Pairing food and alcohol can quickly become an overly complicated endeavor. But it doesn't have to be. The truth is, a beneficial relationship between the two parties can be brokered by just using your eyes and tongue.

As a rule of thumb: lighter colored beers, wines, and spirits generally go best with similar shades of food and vice versa. The darker your alcohol choice becomes, the deeper the colors of their food counterparts should be. Naturally, there are exceptions to the rule, but in most cases matching colors is a good place to start. 

For some more ideas on pairings, reference this list below from The Art of Manliness.

  • Wine: Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc; Beer: Lagers -- white or light fish, mild cheese, fruit
  • Wine: Chardonnay; Beer: Pilsners, lagers, cream ales; Spirits: sake, clear spirits -- grilled chicken, salmon, shellfish, and grilled fish; anything with a scampi or cream sauce
  • Wine: Pinot Noir; Beer: Wheats, brown ales -- grilled fish, vegetables, or lighter meats - chicken, pork, veal; pasta with cream or red sauce
  • Wine: Merlot; Beer: Brown ales -- red sauce pastas, red meat, sharp cheeses, smoked or grilled foods

This is perfect as a snack, lunch, dinner or even as a dessert <3

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  • Wine: Zinfandel; Beer: Pale ales -- tomato pasta dishes, pizza, pesto, red meats, chicken, heavier sauces
  • Wine: Cabernet Sauvignon; Beer: Porters, stouts, high alcohol beers; Spirits: Dark spirits -- red meats, especially steak, grilled and smoked foods
  • Wine: Syrah; Beer: Pale ales, IPAs, high alcohol beers -- red meats, spicy foods, pan seared or blackened fish
  • Wine: Rosé, Champagne; Beer: Hefeweizens -- salads, pasta salads, chicken, fish, light spicy foods

Kitchen Creations + Libations

So now you should have a good handle on the basics. Are you ready to test out some boozy creations in the kitchen?

Here are five recipes to help you try out a variety of libations in your cuisine.

1. Beer Can Chicken

My Lavender Blues

Beer? Bird? Barbecue? What could go wrong here?

Get the recipe here.

2. Brie Cheese + Pinot Noir Poached Pear

How Sweet It Is

There are other wonderful ways to use a breathy pinot noir outside of beef bourguignon. Like poached pears.

Get the recipe here.

3. Cauliflower Steak Au Poivre

Spirit Plate

Vermouth flambeed cauliflower? Sign me up.

Get the recipe here.

4. Caramel Ice Cream With Dark Chocolate Cheesecake Chunks + Salted Whiskey Caramel Drizzle

Jam Lab

With such a long list of ingredients in its name, it has to be good. Oh, did we mention there's whiskey?

Get the recipe here.

5. Sea Scallop + Shrimp Scampi

Cooking and Beer

Have some leftover chardonnay from last night? It goes great with seafood!

Get the recipe here.

Do you cook with alcohol regularly? Any favorite uses? If so, let us know in the comments!

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