Thursday, March 3, 2011

Booze in my food

I have people, quite often actually, ask me about substituting alcohol in a recipe. It can be done, most of the time, by following a few simple rules. Alcohol enhances different flavors in food, such as tomatoes or other fruits, and can be used to add another dimension to flavorful sauces for meats and fish. It also occurs in desserts or other sweet dishes. At a restaurant where I worked they made a berry dessert by tossing mixed berries with some sugar and champagne. Many times, though, the addition of alcohol is purely because those consuming the food like the flavor. You see this when a recipe calls for a splash of alcohol at the end. It isn't really adding anything but the flavor of that particular alcohol.
As this addition is becoming more popular, the use of more particular alcohols is trending upward. For example, an apple cider brandy, or perhaps a hazelnut liqueur. When recipes call for more specific alcohols, you might have to change your plan a bit.
Ok, first off- always read through your recipe. I know that sounds basic, but I forget to do it sometimes. I am going to make a general guideline for substitutions, and write out some exceptions.
For savory dishes, i.e., main dishes or appetizers, if a recipe calls for hard liquor, like brandy,  you can usually substitute the amount evenly for vinegar. Apple cider vinegar is a good substitute. You generally don't want to use something like balsamic vinegar, because the flavor might overwhelm the dish. But, you might like it.
For wines, you can substitute a small amount of white wine or red wine vinegar. For example, if you are making tomato sauce for spaghetti, and the recipe calls for 1 cup of red wine, add a few tablespoons of red wine vinegar. Taste, and adjust. If you are making a sauce and it seems appropriate, you could substitute an equal amount of chicken or beef stock for the wine called for. In example, a beurre blanc for chicken may call for 1/2 cup white wine, add 1/2 cup chicken stock instead, and reduce your salt. For red wine, add beef stock. You can experiment with adding a hit of vinegar, too.
For desserts or sweet dishes, don't use vinegar. Most of the time you should just omit the alcohol. If it is a baked dish, like a pie or cake, you can add an extract like vanilla, hazelnut or orange. Grand Marnier is an orange-flavored alcohol that you could easily use orange extract for. Unless it calls for a lot. You also might be able to use orange water or orange juice. You get my drift. Use your head and common sense and it should all work out. Frangelico is a hazelnut liqueur. These are popular things that I keep seeing in recipes. If you are making a chocolate sauce that calls for white or red wine, you could probably use apple juice or grape juice, and reduce the sugar a bit.
There is also the increasingly common addition of beer. Unfortunately, I have not experimented very much with this. 'Beer' batter doesn't really need it. You can just skip it. If you are thinking of making a Guinness-less chocolate cake, you may just want to choose another recipe. With the volume it usually calls for, and the yeast reaction you are going to get with your 'reactors' your cake is probably not going to turn out very good.
If its a should probably leave it alone. There are many, many recipes for mixed drinks without alcohol. Get one of those. Many of them are delicious combinations of juice, syrup, soda, fruit, and grenadine. They make a great addition to a party. But don't try to make a virgin version of a drink that is 2/3 alcohol...its not going to work out.
Unsure about a recipe you have? I might be able to help. I have tried a lot of things....some work and some don't.
Bon Appetit

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