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Alcohol in the kitchen, not on the table.


When we talk about choosing alcohol to add to the food, we usually mean what to put on the table next to the plate, served in a bottle or a glass. Meanwhile it turns out that popular drinks also prove themselves popular… during cooking. Why add alcohol to the prepared food? How to do it best and how to pick matching flavors?


Probably every one of us had a chance at least once in their life to have liquor pralines or a heavily „spiked” cake. But we don’t always realize that drinks can also be added to fancy dishes. If we tend to eat at restaurants and try different meals served there, we have certainly been able to try such combinations multiple times without even realizing it. Properly used alcohol not only doesn’t overwhelm the entire dish with its strong flavor, but it actually subtly accentuates and enriches it. Every cooking enthusiast should learn how to match „booze” for different dishes. How to do it? Which alcohols are the most useful in the kitchen?


Why add alcohol to food? Wouldn’t it be better to serve it separately, in a glass? Those are probably the most common questions begging to be asked when the topic gets brought up. They are not quite justified, though. The culprits of the entire confusion are the physical-chemical properties of alcohol. It’s them that cause beverages with high alcohol content to work so great in the kitchen. First of all: alcohol particles tend to go upwards, causing them to trigger our smell receptors which allows them to sense the food’s scent faster. Secondly: alcohol in a similar way to salt, as in it separates and strengthens the flavor of different ingredients used to make a particular dish. On top of that, the molecules of different products often dissolve better in alcohol than in fat or water. Since alcohol evaporates faster than water, some of the drinks (like beer) make a great addition for the coating – they make it more crispy. When it comes to cakes (especially pies) it’s a good idea to add alcohol due to the fact that it causes wheat flour to create less gluten. When it comes to meats, on the other hand, this additive makes them crunchier and softer, as drinks with high alcohol content dissolve proteins.

The alcohol most commonly used in the kitchen is, obviously, wine. Its popularity is for a reason: wine is good for a whole lot of dishes, for example it can enrich risotto, marinates, stews, creamy soups or fish dishes. Probably every one of us at least once in their life has gotten a chance to enjoy the French onion soup or pasta with a wine-based sauce. It is worth noting that white wine goes best with poultry and fishes, whereas the red one – with red meat.
Vodka is mostly used to marinate meat (mostly the red and fat ones). Adding this drink makes meat more soft and crunchy. It is worth noting that the higher the alcohol content in a particular drink, the less of it should be added to the marinate and the shorter the time of keeping meat in it. Vodka also works as preservative for jams and preserves. One should make sure, though, not to add to much of it – otherwise it will overwhelm the preparations’ flavor.
Speaking of preparations, great for storing them in jars is spirit. On top of a jam, stewed fruits, veggie or meat preparations, a less than a teaspoon of a 95-percent spirit should be added, then set on fire, and once the fire spreads all over the inside of the jar, seal it quickly. Thanks to the vacuum created in there, the cap will get sucked. Spirit tends to also be added to angel wings batter – such addition causes it to absorb less fat during frying, making them tastier.
Very effective are the so-called dishes on fire, or Flambé. Probably every one of us has seen at least once how great ice cream on fire look. Food can be set on fire both right before serving as well as still on the frying pan. The best for that purpose are drinks with high alcohol content, as well as flavored drinks that also enrich the dish’s flavor on top of it. Thanks to setting food on fire, we can quickly reduce the excess fluids, with the dish not losing much of its flavor as a result. We should remember to put the fire out after just 20-30 seconds and perform the entire „operation” as carefully as possible – when done improperly, food burning may end with setting hair or clothes on fire!
Whiskey will work great for marinating meat such as wild meat, pork or beef. Cognac, on the other hand, can be used not just to make meat softer but also as a flavor additive for sweet dishes. One can soak sponge cake with it, as well as add it to creme. Desserts also taste great with all kinds of liqueurs. We may also surprise our guests and use another trick by adding a little sweet liqueur (like amaretto, nut, chocolate, coconut or creamy) to coffee. Such treatment will give it a slightly sharp yet intriguing sweet flavor.