Cooking with Alcohol

Okay, let’s just start this post with the fact that yes, I drink a lot. Anyone who knows me knows. However, I am not referring to the bottle of red my ex-sister-in-law and I used to down while cooking Thanksgiving dinner. I mean actually using the alcohol in the cooking process. But yes, you can also pour yourself a glass while you do it.

I have always loved cooking with white wine. I love using it to replace broth in things like risotto. It’s divine with almost any chicken dish. Basically, it’s great for deglazing the pan after searing pretty much any meat. However, in the last few years, I have learned so much more about using different alcohols in cooking.

For example, braising anything in red wine is delicious. My newest favorite is pork shanks braised in red wine. Get yourself a Dutch oven, sear those shanks on all sides, and then set them aside and deglaze the pan with a little red wine. I like a good dry red. Then, put your pork shanks back in the pan and pour the rest of that bottle in. Toss that in an oven at about 300 degrees and let it cook for a few hours. You will get the most tender, delicious meat ever. If you really want to boost it, put creamer potatoes in the pot before the shanks. It’s like a pork Bourguignon. Of course, beef Bourguignon is also delicious. We also had a red wine mushroom pasta sauce that was divine!

Sherry is also an excellent cooking alcohol. It’s fantastic in any red sauce. It adds a tiny little flavor element, but it’s impact is huge. It also works really well in shrimp dishes like shrimp dejonghe. I don’t drink Sherry, but I love it’s flavor in food. Cognac has a similar taste impact. Although Cognac works better in sweet dishes like this pear tart I have made a few times. It’s just pie crust, slices of pear, and then sprinkled with a little sugar and cognac. It’s delicious.

And let’s not rule out tequila. I make a tequila lime chicken that is a mimic of either the margarita chicken at Chile’s or the tequila lime chicken at Applebee’s. But mine is better, in my humble opinion, because I use chicken thighs instead of breast. I am just a bigger fan of dark meat.

Oh, and let’s not forget vodka. I first had vodka sauce when I was 12 years old. I loved it. I loved it so much I made my mom go to the restaurant with me later to try it again. Years later, I attempted to make vodka sauce. This was a good 10-15 years ago when I was not quite as developed of a home chef. It was one of the worst things I’ve ever eaten, and my middle daughter has never let me live it down. However, a couple of years ago, I decided to give it another try. It is now one of that same daughter’s favorite dishes. And I developed a version for the Instant Pot last year which is both fantastic and easy.

And beer! Beer is awesome. You can make bread with only four ingredients using beer. Everyone in Wisconsin knows that a little beer and a little cheese turn into an excellent soup. And beer-butt chicken was one of my oldest’s favorite dinners back in the days before she turned vegan.

This post could go on forever. There are just so many ways to use alcohol in cooking. Alcohol, like salt, can enhance the flavor and add depth in so many ways. Even if you are a person who does not drink (why on earth?), it’s a great cooking ingredient. And don’t worry, if you are not also drinking a glass or taking a shot, the alcohol mostly cooks away.

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