Kitchen tip: Cooking with alcohol

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Everyone has that morning. You wake up and realize all the alcohol from last night is half full and uncapped. No one wants to drink it anymore, but you don’t feel right just pouring it down the drain. Very few people understand the potential that alcohol beverages of all kinds have to enhance your cooking. From appetizers and desserts to main entrees, the possibilities are endless. Below you’ll find some of my absolute favorite ways to integrate alcohol into my cooking, which not only tastes amazing but definitely won’t break the bank.

The method I use most frequently is sauteing vegetables with wine or beer and a bit of olive oil or butter. Add the alcohol to the grilling vegetables and allow it to get hot, and then let it simmer for a while. After that, I usually pour most of the alcohol out and finish grilling the vegetables, but you also can keep it in there and eat it as is. Your finished vegetables should taste mildly of the nonalcoholic aspects of the drink, such as the hoppy flavors of beer or the slightly acidic accents in wine. Primarily, however, the wine or beer should help shape or strengthen the flavors in your dish, not create the main flavor.

The same basic concept applies for meat and other dishes you might want to try, and the only rule is that you should choose the alcohol based on the meal itself and your desired tastes. For example, you can add beer to a batter for fried fish to make it crisper with just a little oomph. You can also cook just about anything in wine to make the food’s flavors stronger and richer.

Another awesome way to incorporate alcohol into your cooking is to make your own pasta sauce. A friend recently told me about a white-wine pasta sauce that consists only of butter, olives, white wine and a few herbs. I used the $2 Cabernet Sauvignon from Trader Joe’s, but the sauce was surprisingly fresh and flavorful. Even liquor has its place in the kitchen. You can add vodka to a tomato cream sauce to make your own vodka pasta sauce.

The best thing about cooking is that it’s an art, not a science. You’ll be surprised at the things that taste good after you try them, and experimentation is the best way to discover a new passion or pastime. Over the years, I’ve learned to love cooking with others and sharing recipes and techniques, although I don’t like to cook for myself. Even better, cooking with alcohol is a great reason to open a bottle and share it with a good friend.