Alcohol - from wine to Jim Beam - can spice up home cooking.
You may enjoy a nice glass of wine with your dinner. But how about a nice glass of wine in your dinner? Professional chefs rely heavily on wine and liquor to enhance the flavor of the food they prepare. You may be surprised how many dishes you order in restaurants are cooked with a little bit of wine because the ingredient is often omitted from the menu.
But don’t expect to get tipsy off your entree. Most of the alcohol evaporates during the cooking process.
“Most of the alcohol does burn off -- about 90 percent of it,” said Steven Sullas, executive chef for Gimme the Skinny in Norwell.
Chefs say alcohol is an ingredient they couldn’t live without, but many people cooking at home tend to shy away from adding wine or liquor to their creations.
For one thing, it can be tricky to cook with alcohol. Most liquors, including brandy or bourbon, will ignite when you pour it in, so if you’re sauteing with alcohol, it’s important to use low heat, take the pan off its burner, add the alcohol and stand back a bit before you put the pan back on the stove.
“Home cooks are a little hesitant to use alcohol because they don’t understand the technique,” said Steve Uliss, owner and executive chef at Firefly’s, which has a location in Quincy. “But it’s very simple, and the more people try it, the more they will enjoy it.”
Each type of alcohol enhances food in a different way, local chefs say. For example:
Cooking with bourbon gives food a woodsy flavor, Sullas said. He loves the complexity Jim Beam gives to dishes like apricot chicken or pan-seared scallops with bacon bits.
Bourbon and rum work well in many desserts. Wahlberg makes chocolate ice cream with Jack Daniels, which gives the dessert a charcoal oak-like flavor. He also makes a mousse trio that includes chocolate mousse made with dark rum, rhubarb mousse made with grand marnier and coconut mousse with coconut-flavored rum.
Brandy gives an entree a rich flavor. Wahlberg makes a butternut squash ravioli with a brandy cream sauce, and the brandy gives it a hint of vanilla.
Beer can be a tasty substitute for water. For instance, Sullas once did a hot dog party for 300 people and steamed the dogs in beer. And of course beer works well in a fish batter as well.
Sherry works well with fish and seafood. “One of my favorite things in the world is just lobster and sherry,” said Kevin Long, executive chef at Tosca in Hingham. “It’s incredible.”
Wine is perhaps the most widely used alcohol in foods. It is often used to deglaze a pan and enhance a sauce. The liquid picks up the bits of food that have stuck to a pan and blends those ingredients back into the dish to add flavor.
Typically, white wine is paired with fish and red wine with chicken and beef. White wine adds a lightness and often a touch of citrus.
Red wine gives a sauce a deep, rich flavor, and provides a hint of cherries or raspberries.
“I always add red wine to my tomato sauce, no matter if I’m cooking with chicken or beef,” Sullas said. “I use a cabernet or merlot. It really enhances the flavor.”
For every quart of marinara Sullas makes, he adds between a half a cup to a cup of red wine.
“You can do too much. I always tell my cooking classes, you can always add more later, but you can never take out,” he said. “Adding wine is just like adding salt and pepper. It should enhance the flavor, not take it away.”
“You don’t want to taste raw alcohol, like someone spilled wine on your food,” Long agreed.
You don’t have to use a top-notch wine in your food, but you also shouldn’t go dirt cheap either, chefs say.
“Don’t use a crazy $90 bottle of wine, but you don’t want to use Boone’s Farm either,” Sullas said. “Get a $7 to $10 bottle at a liquor store.”
And keep in mind, whatever wine you use in the food will often be a good choice to drink with the meal.
Sullas said: “I always tell my cooking classes: You can’t lose with booze.”
Chef Steve Sullas of Gimme the Skinny sautees fresh scallops with turkey bacon in chicken stock, maple syrup, kosher salt, coarse black pepper and Jim Beam. Ingredients for the bourbon scallops include turkey bacon, maple syrup, kosher salt, coarse black pepper and Jim Beam.
Dina Gerdeman may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.