How to cook with alcohol, now that we can happily buy booze again

Beer adds an earthy note to savoury dishes.
Beer adds an earthy note to savoury dishes.
Image: 123RF/Dmitrii Stepanov

For the past two months of lockdown, my husband and I had been eking out our small reserve of wine and spirits.

There was no way I was parting with any of it for cooking — it was way too precious.

With the lifting of the booze ban I’m more inclined to use the wonders of wine — and beer, and spirits — to enhance many dishes and especially those wintry soups, stews and casseroles that are made better with a dash of the good stuff.

With that in mind, here are some tips for cooking with alcohol:

HOW TO GET RID OF THE KICK

Cooking doesn’t burn off all the alcohol in the booze added to a dish unless it is something that’s going to cook for hours, like a stew. Rather, cooking mellows the flavour of the booze - taking away its sometimes harsh raw taste, but leaving a residue of the alcohol behind.

When it comes to using spirits - which are great for gravies and other sauces - a tip is to first warm the alcohol in the microwave, then to pour it into the pan, stand back and carefully set it alight. This way the alcohol will burn off and the unique flavours remain.

DON'T OVERDO IT

The aim is to be judicious with alcohol: you want to add the flavour, but not overpower the dish. You can always add more booze to a dish, but you can’t remove what you’ve added.

FREEZE YOUR LEFTOVER SIPS

A tip is to pour leftover wine into ice trays and freeze it. Once frozen, store the cubes in a bag or container and use them in cooking. They're great added to stocks, soups, stews or sauces - or used to deglaze a pan.

You can do the same with leftover beer or bubbly - just allow it to go flat first.

PICK THE RIGHT WINE

In choosing wine to cook with, select something you like to drink - and allow a glass or two for yourself!

When a recipe calls for a dry white wine, it's best to use a sauvignon blanc as this versatile wine will work with most dishes. For red, merlot is a safe bet.

TRY WHITE WINE WITH MEAT

Wine is an excellent medium to marinate and tenderise meat, yet red wine can dominate and change the flavour of the meat. White wine will do the trick without overpowering the dish or leaving behind a red residue.

ADD SWEETNESS WITH FORTIFIED WINES

Sherries and ports add depth and sweetness to a dish. I find both good added to gravies, game and offal dishes, and used to deglaze pans. Give the alcohol time to reduce before removing the pan from the heat.

CHOOSE BEER TO ADD AN EARTHY FLAVOUR

Cooking with beer adds a deep earthy flavour to savoury dishes. In the same way as wine, beer can be added to soups, sauces and stews, or used for deglazing pans or marinating meat. 

Beer is great used in batters as the bubbles give great "puff" and lightness to the coating on deep-fried fish, for example. It's good in baking too.


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