At the weekend Great British Chefs blogger Urvashi Roe (aka @BotanicalBaker) visited The Courvoisier Institute of Cocktails. It was a theatrical and interactive experience designed to guide visitors through the history of this infamous cognac. This got her to thinking about alcohol and how it’s used in cookery. Read on to find out more about the event & Urvashi’s tips for cooking with booze!
Blog post & photgraphy from the Institute of Cocktails by Urvashi Roe
At the Institute we were greeted by scientists handing out jam jars of lovely punch. We learned about the aromatic spices and sugars used in the creative process from a rather strange Arab.
This dapper chap then led us through the different varieties. We had to scarper when he started disputing a minor detail rather loudly!
We met more scientists who helped us understand the smells, tastes and sounds of making cognac in beakers that took me back to school labs.
It was a rather surreal but enjoyable experience and it prompted me to wonder about using cognac – or rather alcohol in cooking. I’ve seen many a chef flambé or deglaze, marinade and reduce and it can be rather confusing.
How do we home cooks go about using alcohol in everyday cooking?
Tenderising - Wine is often used in sauces and with meats to tenderise or soften it. My scientifically oriented and carnivorous husband tells me this has the same effect as bashing the meat with a meat hammer. Red wine for red meats works well and often involves a long period of ‘marinading’ like these Lamb Shanks with Tomato and Rosemary by Martin Wishart.
Sauces or Jus – Red or white wine can be used in making sauces or ‘jus’, or simply enriching the flavour of stews and casseroles. Don’t be tempted to use wine you would not be prepared to drink as this will impact your end result. For example Chris Horridge uses the best Cabernet Sauvignon in the jus for this Monkfish pictured above, and Shaun Rankin uses white wine as a key ingredient in these Cockles.
Batter – Beer is a wonderful ingredient to use in batters. The yeast in the beer aerates the batter and makes it expand while cooking so you get a light and fluffy texture. Nathan Outlaw uses ale in his Fish and Chips whereas Josh Eggleton prefers lager.
Fondue – Melted cheese can carry a variety of alcohol. The Swiss traditionally use Kirsch to flavour and sweeten their Emmental and Gruyere cheeses whereas Cornish Cheddar Fondue uses Sharps Doom Bar Beer or a similar bitter ale.
Moving on to my favourite – desserts!
Trifles - Across the globe, fortified spirits are used to flavour desserts. In England sherry and brandy have long been used for adding an extra kick to trifles. This gorgeous Raspberry Trifle by Paul Heathcote pictured above uses sweet Sherry. If you fancy something more boozy try this Rhubarb Trifle by Dominic Chapman which has Sherry, Brandy and Cider!
Tia Maria is an essential ingredient in Paul Ainsworth’s Tiramisu.
Cakes and soufflés - One of my favourite spirits to add in baking is whisky – especially paired with chocolate which Bruno Loubet uses in his Hot Chocolate Soufflé – perfect for our very cold and wet British Summer. If you’re adding spirits in baking, be sure to do it slowly so your mixture doesn’t split.
Jellies – Finally back to our Courvoisier Cognac. This, like most spirits, works incredibly well in jelly form to add an extra flavour to a dessert plate. Pascal Aussignac pairs his countrymen’s cognac with Roquefort and Cinnamon Doughnuts and White Chocolate
Blog post by Urvashi Roe
Do you use alcohol in cooking? Which dishes do you think are enhanced by alcohol? Let us know over on Great British Chefs Facebook Page.