Most people are familiar with boozey desserts, such as brandy soaked Christmas pudding, vodka jelly or Irish Cream cheesecake-but I like to see the look on dinner party guests’ faces when I inform them that their savoury starter or main has an unusual alcoholic ingredient. Quirky recipes are interesting to cook and amusing to serve, and cooking using booze opens up a whole host of possibilities.
In cooking using booze, much of the alcohol burns off, leaving you with the flavour but not the intoxicating effects-though the degree to which this is so is debatable, so use your own judgement if cooking for minors or those who are alcohol-averse.
There are lots of options out there (and in fact even an online cookbook Cooking with Booze) but these are four of my personal favourites:
Pernod, the liquorice/ anise liqueur, has a bit of the ‘Marmite’ about it-people tend to like it or hate it. I personally don’t care to drink it straight, but have found that it adds a very unusual and delicious flavour in some cooking. Oysters Rockefeller is a famed Cajun starter most commonly associated with New Orleans. However I prefer to make it with crab. Buy the best crab you can as a less robustly-flavoured meat will be overpowered by the other ingredients. The recipe can also be made substituting shrimp. The recipe for “Crab Rockefeller” at the Crab Shack is a good starting point.
Vodka isn’t just for tonic! Although its flavour is subtle when used in savoury cooking, it can add a nice depth to certain dishes, my favourite being pasta sauces. Nigella Lawson suggests penne alla vodka, which is a lovely vegetarian main (and I have found that the sauce in this recipe also nicely compliments meatballs). Personally I prefer to go easy on the tomatoes for a desliciously creamy dish.
Chicken cooked in wine, such as coq au vin, is a sophisticated main, but personally I prefer the more rustic and homey combination of chicken and apple cider. In particular I love Hugh Fernley-Wittingstall’s recipe for chicken and cider stew with rosemary and dumplings. The slow cooking process makes for a wonderfully tender meat in a slightly sweet cider sauce, complimented by the slightly salty and peppery dumplings.
Cooking with Guinness is great, though I usually purchase double the amount required as much of it ends up gone from the kitchen and into peoples’ glasses if I turn my head for too long! Nothing beats a lovely Guinness and steak pie, and the best recipe I’ve found is straight from the source, on the Guinness website. On the website they also suggest using leftovers in a pancake with smoked cheddar cheese, which is quick and tasty.
Combining food and alcohol in a single dish is sheer brilliance; there is little room for error in putting two of life’s greatest things together… Plus it’s a treat to see the look on your guests’ faces when you tell them they’ll be eating vodka for dinner…