Food & Drink

A Necessary Crash Course in Cooking With Booze

Booze can be used to add flavor to everything from popcorn to Bananas Foster, but cooking with alcohol isn’t as easy as simply dumping a few shots into a pan. If used correctly, alcohol can add depth, flavor and richness to your favorite meats, fishes, sauces and desserts. Here, five tips on how to properly cook with booze. Learn them by heart and you’ll be making the perfect penne alla vodka in no time.

Color-Code Your Meals

Generally, lighter alcohol pairs best with lighter dishes—and, conversely, darker alcohol pairs with richer dishes. Beers like pale ales or pilsners, white wines and spirits like blanco tequila or vodka, tend to go well with lighter proteins and sauces, like grilled chicken, steamed mussels or linguine with clams. While darker beers like stouts or porters, red wines and spirits like aged rum or bourbon are best paired with red meats and richer sauces—think beef Bourguignon or pork ribs glazed with a sweet-smoky whiskey glaze. That said, this isn’t a hard and fast rule (as coq au vin proves), so feel free to experiment if you’re a seasoned cook who knows your way around the kitchen.

Quality Matters

When cooking with alcohol, you should never use a wine or spirit that you wouldn’t drink on its own—but you also shouldn’t waste a high-end bottle by pouring it into a pot of whatever’s on your stove. Opt for something that’s both well-crafted and affordable.

Beware of Flames

As you probably know from downing a Flaming Dr. Pepper shot or slurping from a Scorpion Bowl, alcohol is very flamabe, so it’s important to use caution when using it in your cooking. Never leave your stove unattended when a recipe calls for alcohol, and make sure to have a working fire extinguisher someplace where it’s easily accessible. When you’re adding booze, lower the heat or pull the pan off the flame completely to prevent unsightly flare-ups. If the dish in question does accidentally catch on fire, quickly use a lid or wet dish towel to smother the flames.

Give It Time

Alcohol isn’t something you can just throw into a dish at the very end. It needs time to incorporate into the sauce, braise or whatever else you’re dishing up. Whether you’re working with wine, whiskey, brandy or beer, always give an alcoholic ingredient time to reduce so the alcohol burns off. This ensures that only the aromatic flavors are left behind. Because no one wants their food to taste like a cocktail.

Say No to The Slow Cooker

The slow cooker is a wonderful invention, but it’s not the best choice if the recipe in question calls for booze. A slow cooker’s lower temperatures don’t allow for the alcohol to cook down and burn off, so your food could taste way too strongly of the booze in question. If you insist on adding red wine to, say, a pot roast, first brown the meat and deglaze the pan with wine on the stovetop before adding it to the slow cooker. The high heat will cook off the alcohol and you’ll be left with nothing but deliciousness.