Although I don’t like to drink any alcoholic beverages, I certainly cook with them quite a bit. Wine, rum, liqueurs, etc. add so much depth and flavor to different dishes, both in savory and baked goods too. I believe one of the secrets of incredible flavors is using wine in your food, or adding different liquors to baking, frostings, etc. They elevate food from ordinary to SHEZAM – AMAZING!
One of the top questions that I get asked in the comments section of the blog or by e-mail is: What kind of wine do I use?
I know how overwhelming it can feel when you’re standing in an aisle stretching with hundreds of different bottles or even worse if you’re in a liquor store and don’t even know where to start looking.
When you’re looking at the pictures, don’t pay attention to the name brands, because I certainly don’t and don’t always buy the same brands. Just look at the name of the wine or liquor. I also realize there are so many more choices out there, but I’m keeping it simple with just a few basics.
Before I get into more details, let’s get one thing out of the way that is another common question:
Can I omit the wine/rum/anything alcoholic in a recipe or use something else instead?
By all means, YES. You’re cooking for yourself and your family, not me, so use your own judgement. I don’t want you to go against your religious or personal convictions on something as trivial as a recipe. If, on the other hand, you just aren’t familiar with it, I would highly recommend giving it a try. You might be surprised by how delicious your food will taste with just a splash of wine and a spoonful of liqueur.
For omitting/substituting alcohol in a recipe:
Example Recipe: 1 cup chicken broth, 1/2 cup white wine. Use 1 1/2 cups chicken broth.
You may be wondering if all the alcohol cooks off during cooking. Most of it does, but not all of it. It will definitely not be enough to make you drunk, have no fear:). It’s there to flavor the dish and that’s the function that it serves.
#1 My all time favorite wine and the one I use most often in cooking:
Sauvignon Blanc – this is a dry white wine and perfect for deglazing the skillet, adding to sauces, poaching seafood, poultry, etc. It’s crisp, bright, and very flavorful, while at the same time tastes vey clean and doesn’t overpower the rest of the dish but complements it well.
Some other white wines that I recommend:
Pino Grigio, Riesling, Chardonnay.
The one I usually buy is Pinot Noir.
I can’t forget Marsala wine. It is a sweeter wine and is phenomenal in desserts and the all-time famous Chicken Marsala. I buy it specifically for this dish, since it happens to me my husband’s and my Dad’s favorites:).
I would not recommend using “Cooking Wines”. They are made from a mixture of cheap wines, that is thin and weak and they have salt and food coloring added to them. Nah. You can do better than that.
Next, I’ll talk about distilled alcoholic beverages, that I use in sauces or add to cakes, cupcakes, pastries and especially frostings.
All of these beverages are spirits produced by distilling wines. I often add a splash to Homemade Barbecue Sauce. They add a bit of sweetness to the sauce and a really great taste.
Whiskey is a distilled alcoholic beverage made from fermented grain mash.
Fun fact: During the Prohibition, staunch Christian women would secretly add a bit of the “evil liquid” to frostings! It was their secret ingredient but they made sure it wasn’t written down in the family recipe book, just whispered it to the daughter that they were passing the recipe on to.
Vodka has a very clean flavor. One of the most well loved sauces is the Vodka Cream Sauce. In fact, Rachel Ray calls this sauce “You Won’t Be Single For Long” vodka cream sauce. It’s so delicious. I think it tastes very mild, but definitely enhances the flavor of the tomatoes.
Vodka also has another great function – in baking. In some recipes, like pie dough, or cakes, where you wanted tender and flaky results, the most important step is not to add too much water. However, that is difficult to do, because when there isn’t a lot of liquid, the dough is hard to work with. By adding vodka, you are adding more liquid, but vodka doesn’t create gluten, and as it bakes, some of the alcohol will evaporate and you will have the perfect texture – tender and flaky. Also, since vodka is very flavorless, it will not make your baked goods taste funny at all.
One of my favorite easy desserts is to make Bananas Foster and serve it with a bowl of vanilla ice cream. It takes 5 minutes to make and is absolutely delicious. Another favorite recipe is the Rum Glazed Pork Tenderloin.
There are SO many different liqueurs. If you think of any kind of flavor, there is probably a liqueur with that flavor. I love adding them to cakes and frostings, since they will give so much flavor and accentuate the flavor that you want to achieve.
Here are a few of my favorites:
- Chocolate Liqueur: This stuff is incredible. I love it. I love it. I love it. I add it to almost anything chocolate that I make.
- Hazelnut/Coffee Liqueur:
- Limoncello: Can I just say that limoncello smells SO good! I would wear it like perfume, if I could. It gives such a delightful lemony flavor and aroma to anything that it’s added to.
- Strawberry, Peach Orange, etc.
As you can see in the pictures below, I often brush a syrup made with water, sugar and some kind of liqueur on each cake layer to give it additional flavor.
Many of you might be surprised by this one, but vanilla is actually alcoholic based, unless you buy the imitation vanilla. Otherwise, real vanilla extract is made by soaking vanilla seeds and vanilla beans in alcohol, usually vodka. Vanilla extract contains at least 35% alcohol. I always think it’s funny when someone asks if they can substitute vanilla for rum, cognac or liqueur, etc. because they don’t want to use alcohol:).
Where to Buy:
That depends on where you live.
In Florida, I can buy wine in all grocery stores. The rest, I buy at a liquor store. They usually have really great prices at the liquor store, usually even better than at the grocery stores, so I stock up on wine there as well.
When I lived in NY, we had to buy all alcoholic beverages in liquor stores, since they weren’t sold in regular grocery stores.
Do you use alcohol in cooking? What kind of wines and other liquors do you use?
I hope this post was helpful to you and clarified some things about cooking with alcohol. I encourage you to give it a try:).