Sunday, November 29, 2009

In Vino Veritas; A guide to using alcohol in food

Translated to English: "In wine there is truth." I'll continue to add that in wine there is flavor, in wine there is value, in wine there is conversation. It doesn't matter if you share the wine with friends or family; if you add it to your stock, your marinara sauce, your desserts, your breakfast. I'll amend the saying further to make it this: In wine there is true flavor. The alcohol in the wine acts as a solvent, allowing essential oils and aromatic properties to fully bloom in your recipes. Without it, all classic recipes seem to fall flat. You find its use in every major food culture. The Asian cultures use rice wines, plum wines, and rice whiskey in their cooking. The Europeans use every variation of fermented and distilled beverage to produce exceptional flavor in their cuisine. Central Americans use beer, tequila, and sugar cane-based liquors to bring out the fullness of their recipes. Americans use, well, whatever we can get our hands on--we like it all.

I'm not going to give you specific recipes this time. A proper nudge in the right direction will serve you just fine. I want to encourage all of you to branch out in your own style, and mimicking me won't get you there. On that note, let's begin.


Say you're making a beef roast for a Sunday dinner. You brown your roast, add your vegetables, and cook for a few hours until tender. Normally you would make a gravy. Try this instead: takes 3 cups of red wine, and add them to the drippings while the pan is very hot. Add 1 cup of beef broth and reduce the whole mix by 75%. When reduced, turn the stove to low, and add one stick of butter cut into small cubes, a few cubes at a time. Use a whisk to stir the sauce. This is a basic Buerre Rouge, or red butter sauce. It is vastly superior to gravy in every way, and a little can be stretched much further than gravy can, as it is very intensely flavored.

You can do the same with roasted chicken just by substituting white wine for red, and chicken or turkey stock for the beef. What you end up with then is a Buerre Blanc.

The same follows with any meat. If the meat is dark, use red wine; for light meat, use white wine.

For family gatherings, I like to meet the recipe in the middle, just reducing the liquid less, and adding Roux (a cooked mix of 50% flour to 50% butter) to thicken the gravy. Just make sure to cook the gravy long enough that the raw flour taste is gone. DON'T USE CORNSTARCH! IT RUINS SAUCES!


Try poaching Salmon in Pinot Noir--It's delicious and healthy.


BBQ sauce

I think that any BBQ sauce worth making needs two things to be special: a pint of whisky and a pint of beer.

Put both in a pan and reduce by 50%, then add some tomato (sauce, fresh, ketchup--it doesn't matter). Next add your choice of spices: mustard powder, chilies, cumin (necessary), coriander, black pepper, chipotle (necessary), chili powder (necessary), garlic, onion (both necessary). You can really add anything that you want. Next, thin the sauce by adding 2 cups of cider vinegar and a half-cup of molasses.

This a basic BBQ sauce. I add two times this many ingredients to mine to make it taste the way I want. The variations are all up to you. Just make sure to put it in the blender at the end to get it smoothed out.


Scottish Ale Chowder

1 lb thick, center cut bacon, cut into 1 inch pieces
2 lbs fingerling, Yukon Gold, or red potatoes, cut into 1 inch pieces
2 large red onions, 1/4 inch slices
1 quart heavy cream
2 22-oz bottles of Pikes Kilt Lifter Ale
16 oz of chicken stock
1/2 stick butter
4 oz. each of the following: blue, sharp cheddar, Parmesan, and swiss cheeses.
salt and pepper
4 oz roux

Brown the bacon in a large stockpot, then add the butter and sliced onion. In a separate saucepan, bring the cream to a simmer and whisk in the roux. Let the cream thicken (3-5 minutes) and add the cheese, letting it melt. To the bacon add the beer, potatoes, and chicken stock, and reduce by 1/2. Slowly add the cream mix to the beer, stirring to incorporate. Let this mix reduce by an additional 10-15%; by that point the potatoes
should be fully cooked. Season with salt and pepper, and the soup is ready to serve.


I hope this gives you some further inspiration in the kitchen. I apologize for taking so long to add this article, but working as a chef again is taking most of my time and energy. Get out or stay in, just eat!

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