Cooking With Liquor: Get Into the Spirit of It
Spirits such as tequila and whiskey can be a powerful way to add depth and flavor to winter’s rich sauces, dishes and desserts.
“I like to drink spirits, so taking that and moving that into the food world makes it exciting,” says Tim Love, chef and owner of Lonesome Dove Western Bistro, Woodshed Smokehouse and Love Shack in Fort Worth and Queenie’s Steakhouse in Denton, Texas.
“I love the variety of it,” adds Mr. Love, who cooks with spirits at home at least once a week. “One carrot is going to taste the same as the next carrot, but one bourbon doesn’t taste the same as the next, so there’s this whole variety you can play with. One bourbon may have tons of vanilla, while another may have real woody and oaky notes.”
When experimenting with spirits in cooking, he sticks to one basic rule: “Lighter spirits with lighter foods; darker spirits go with darker meats like game, venison, duck, lamb, beef,” says Mr. Love, who is co-host of CNBC’s “Restaurant Startup.” “If you stick to that, you can’t go wrong.”
For starters, Mr. Love never cooks with vodka. “It’s really pointless to use; it has no flavor,” he says. He rarely cooks with gin because it has the opposite problem of being too flavorful. “Gin has so many flavor notes to it, which are fun, but it’s really tough on food because it’s got so much flavor on its own,” he says.
Tequila, on the other hand, is a big favorite. “I’ll make a margarita and poach some fish in it. It cooks very quickly and is beautiful,” Mr. Love says. “I like to do ceviche with an old, aged tequila. It gives a real woody note to it.” He favors Don Julio 1942 or a Herradura for such a treatment. “You can also make a marinade with [one of those tequilas] for some fish. It’s got real oaky, almost whisky-like characteristics but also great tequila flavor.”
One thing to remember about using spirits in marinades: “Most spirits have a very high acid content and anytime you add acid to meat, it starts to cook the meat,” says Mr. Love. He doesn’t leave his meats in a spirit-inflected marinade for more than an hour. “It starts to break the meat down too much and you start to get a mealy texture to it,” he says. He suggests no more than 15 minutes for fish.
Sometimes, Mr. Love uses tequila as a substitute for white wine in dishes, such as a classic beurre blanc sauce. “If you use tequila instead of wine in that, it goes really nicely with shrimp. It’s got a roastiness to it that you don’t get out of white wine,” he says. He notes you’ll get a little of that with any basic tequila but “a Mezcal is even smokier.”
Bourbons are especially versatile for cooking, says Mr. Love, who sometimes uses smoky versions to add a little taste of char to gas-grilled steaks, for example. “You’re not getting that woody note from the grill but you’re getting it from the wood in the spirit,” he says. “You’re taking the notes of the spirit and pushing them into the food. It adds a bit of life to the dish.”
Sometimes, Mr. Love uses bourbon in smoking. He’ll roast a pork shoulder while it’s in “a pool of Maker’s Mark and Coke. … You get nice caramel notes from the Coca-Cola and bourbon,” he says.
Sweet liqueurs can work well in basting sauces, Mr. Love says. “Take an orange liqueur, steep some chilies in it and cook it down a bit, then use it to baste pork ribs and you’ve got this beautiful, sweet lacquer on it,” he says. “You could get real fancy and use something like Grand Marnier.”
Spirits with slightly bitter notes can work well with fatty meats, says Mr. Love, who likes to work Aperol into the sauce for seared foie gras or elk sausage, for example. “The bitterness is to combat the super fatty foie—you need something to cut that,” he adds.
Appetizers and desserts are places you can add splashes of spirits, too. Mr. Love likes working them into soups in particular, saying tequila adds lovely smoky notes to a blackberry gazpacho, for example. He also likes to do a monkey bread, a sticky, soft cake, served with pineapple slivers basted with Forty Creek whiskey. “The sugars start to burn and caramelize the pineapple,” he says. “It adds a second level of flavor,”
Vegetables work well with spirits, too, says Mr. Love. He likes to poach beets in a “really woody Scotch. They absorb that smoky flavor.” Or, he’ll mix together tequila, white wine vinegar, olive oil, lemon zest and mustard or roasted garlic to create “a great vinaigrette that you can put on grilled green beans or asparagus.”
Having underage guests at the dinner table shouldn’t be a deterrent, Mr. Love says. “There’s not enough booze in anything to really hurt someone,” he says.
What he does refrain from, however, is using spirits in too many courses. “Unless the dinner is completely about a certain spirit, then use it as a surprise,” says Mr. Love.
Tan, C. (2015, February 4). Cooking with Liquor: Get into the Spirit of it. The Wall Street Journal. P.8. Retrieved from http://www.wsj.com/articles/cooking-with-liquor-get-into-the-spirit-of-it-1423078014