Cooking Shortcuts from a Surprising Source

Cooking in the Liquor Cabinet

Back in the days of BYOB (bring your own booze) parties, an abandoned bottle of Vermouth languished in my liquor cabinet for ages. Came the day I planned to roast some cut up chicken in white wine only to discover we were out of white wine… except that Vermouth. I never used wine again! Over the years since, I have gone through cases of Vermouth without ever drinking a drop.

So, of course, one day the chicken faced the oven with no Vermouth in the house. We do drink margaritas which means we had Triple Sec on hand. Surprise! Triple Sec behaves completely differently from Vermouth – it thickens into a rich golden syrup! And the orange flavor was divine.

A world of possibilities danced before me. We moved the liquor storage into the pantry.

Triple Sec has proven a versatile cooking sauce all by itself. You can fricassee chicken breasts or pork chops in it. Sear the meat on both sides, toss in sliced onions to brown, turn down the fire and pour in Triple Sec to a depth of about half an inch. Cover and simmer ’til the meat is tender and the sauce is thick and shiny. (Don’t let it burn dry! It becomes hard as glass and you may lose the skillet.)

Simmer bananas (sliced lengthwise) or pear halves in Triple Sec, with no added sugar. Or better still add the fruit to the skillet minutes before the chicken or pork chops are done. Simmer any fruit in fruit flavored liqueur or wine, say peaches in plum wine or apples in berry flavored vodka.

Sometimes I fricassee pork chops in tequila, vodka or bourbon. Burgundy has joined my list of alcoholic cooking staples. It makes a great base for marinating beef and is the only liquid I ever use in pot roast. My father once resurrected some hardened raisins with vodka, but more about that later.

The beauty of cooking from the liquor cabinet is that alcohol boils at a much lower temperature than water so it evaporates quite quickly, leaving only a rich, complex flavor. Alcoholic recipes tend to be very simple with few ingredients while tasting very extravagant.

Liqueurs like creme de menthe (mint), creme de cacao (chocolate) or apricot brandy can be used instead of vanilla to flavor cakes, desserts and sauces. Try boiling one down to a syrup with nothing else added.

Experiment! But beware, successful experimentation depends on close observation. Add the flavor a little at a time and taste as you go, especially when flavoring sauces or batters. Don’t wait until the cake is baked to discover it needed more flavor. Do make notes on your recipes as you develop liquor cabinet variations on them.

Now about Dad’s raisins. He put them in a jar, covered them with vodka, and left them for a month or two. It certainly revived them but I found the taste a bit overwhelming. Still it was a great concept. I used, you guessed it, my trusty Triple Sec. The raisins soon thickened the Triple Sec and stained it a deep caramel. After two months it was my favorite topping for ice cream. Eight months later it was still scrumptious.

I would advise against the impulse to replenish as it dwindles. Start another jar well before you run out. And use a decorative jar, it’s pretty and keeps forever without refrigeration. Since this is never cooked, the alcohol will remain full strength.

These alcohol based suggestions require no recipe:

  • Roast or fricassee chicken in white wine, fruit flavored wine, fruit flavored liqueur, bourbon, tequila, or vodka.
  • Use red wine instead of water for pot roast or beef stew. The potatoes and carrots will also taste wonderful.
  • Simmer fruit in white wine, fruit flavored wine, fruit flavored liqueur. Serve on a slice of pound cake or angel food cake. Top with whipped cream.
  • Dress up chocolate sauce or brownies with liqueur like creme de menthe or Kahlua instead of vanilla.
  • Simmer liqueur down to syrup and cool before pouring over ice cream. Pour it over pound cake or bread pudding while still warm.
  • Flavor whipped cream with liqueur.

Beef Fondue

With a very special dipping sauce...

My favorite non-recipe using alcohol I learned this one forty years ago as a dipping sauce for beef fondue.

It has only three ingredients but the proportions cannot be predicted due to variations available in their flavors. You must start with a small amount of each and add first one and then another, tasting after each addition, until you cannot distinguish any of the three flavors.

The ingredients are

  • honey
  • soy sauce and
  • bourbon.

Once you have balanced them so none dominates, it will keep indefinitely. Too strong for chicken, it works well with beef or pork as a baste while roasting or served as sauce.

Later my dad roasted a whole hog over an open pit fire using this concoction for his basting sauce. Heavenly!

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