Dining In 3 minutes 21 October 2021

Restaurant Secrets: Cooking With Alcohol 101

Discover new ways of blending food and drink. Strong drink, that is.

alcohol cooking Michelin at Home

Good food is a culmination of many things. Understanding ingredients, pairing flavours, selecting the right seasonings, and perhaps adding a little creativity, all go into a dish. While cooking, most people remember salt, pepper, sugar, and other kitchen staples, but many forget about wines and spirits. They’re not only good for the occasional glass or two, but they’re also excellent ingredients as well.

Cooking with alcohol is not new. If you go to a French restaurant, you’ll find that almost every course has a little booze. It is there to enhance flavours and aromas, such as through a sauce to complement the main components of a dish.

We asked two chefs from one MICHELIN Starred restaurants in MICHELIN Guide Thailand 2021, Chef Wilfrid Hocquet of Blue by Alain Ducasse and Chef Dan Bark of Cadence by Dan Bark, to share their tips and tricks to cooking with wine and liquor so that you can add spirits to your home-cooked meals.

The American-born Korean chef. (© Cadence by Dan Bark)
The American-born Korean chef. (© Cadence by Dan Bark)

What dishes at your restaurant feature wine or liquor?
Chef Bark: We offer Atlantic mussels cooked in white wine with some aromatics. The mussels are plated with strained natural yoghurt, burnt kiwi, pickled cucumber, and spiced bread crumbs. It’s finished with gazpacho that uses the wine reduction from cooking the mussels.

Chef Hocquet: At Blue, we are doing a red wine poached Dover sole with white asparagus. This dish is inspired by a classic French recipe, Turbot au Chambertin. The fish is braised on a bed of minced shallots and Chambertin wine (Pinot Noir). What is important to note for this recipe, beside the Grand Cru wine, is the need to reduce the wine to realise the sauce. By reducing the wine, we concentrate the flavours as well as the colour, maximising the taste of this amazing bottle. If you have to pick one ingredient which is in most French recipes, it will be booze. In France, you can find as much alcohol as you can imagine in sauces. And sauces are the cornerstone of French cuisine!

Borderless cuisine at one MICHELIN Starred Cadence by Dan Bark. (© Cadence by Dan Bark)
Borderless cuisine at one MICHELIN Starred Cadence by Dan Bark. (© Cadence by Dan Bark)

What’s your special technique for cooking with alcohol?
Chef Bark: I think the first important thing to do when cooking with booze, just like with all ingredients, is to spend time understanding how the science of it works. Once you think deeply about the effect it will have on the final product, you can use it with purpose.

If you want to make sure you’ve cooked all the alcohol out, the best technique is through smell or sensation. When you inhale, if there is still alcohol in the dish, you’ll feel a burning sensation in the bridge of your nose.

Sometimes you don’t want to cook the alcohol out because you want that bitter boozy finish in your sauce or the dish. In that case, I would suggest treating the alcohol like a seasoning agent, adding it at the end and at serving temperature. Food will taste different at different temperatures, so always do a final seasoning at serving temperature.

If you're cooking with beer, be careful with hoppy beers. The hops will turn very bitter once they go above 83°C. But in applications like sous vide, where you can do precise low temperature cooking, hoppy beers can add interesting green, pineapple, minty flavours to your dish.

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Chef Hocquet: What I like the most is using marinade to tenderise meat. The day before, I prepare a marinade with aromatics and alcohol, rub the meat with spices, and cover it with the liquid before placing it in the fridge overnight.

The next day, I separate the meat, the liquid, and the garnish. I cook the meat the way I like, then use the same pan or pot to sweat the vegetables. Then I deglaze it with the marinade, which I then reduce to the right consistency/taste and add a bit of French butter.

You can glaze your meat with the sauce or serve it on the side, but it’s a simple technique to add flavour to any type of meat. I prefer white wine or vermouth for white meat (poultry, pork, etc.) and red wine or brandy for dark meat (beef, game, etc.).

What’s a good type of booze for beginners?

Chef Bark: Wine is good for beginners. It’s probably the most applicable to lots of recipes, so it’s also something good to learn.

Chef Hocquet: I choose wine because it is not too concentrated and will not overpower the final result.

How should we flambé at home?
Chef Bark: Lots of home kitchens use electric instead of gas heat, so you’ll have to use a lighter to ignite the alcohol in the pan or pot. Just stay calm and composed when you do.

Chef Hocquet: You have to make sure the alcohol is brought to a good temperature, which is around 80°C. If it’s not hot enough, it will not ignite. If it’s too hot, the alcohol will evaporate. Bring the alcohol to a good temperature in a flambé pan, pot, skillet, or cocotte with deep, rounded sides and a long handle. Then ignite with a long match and tilt it directly onto the product you want to flambé. Serve immediately.

Chef Wilfrid Hocquet's red wine pekin glazed sole and white asparagus. (© Blue by Alain Ducasse)
Chef Wilfrid Hocquet's red wine pekin glazed sole and white asparagus. (© Blue by Alain Ducasse)

What do we need to be careful of when cooking with alcohol at home?
Chef Bark: Cooking at home should be fun and full of mistakes. Even with flambé. The flame could get big, but if you leave the pot alone, it will quickly die down so that the chance of you burning the house down is low. Just have fun with it and make mistakes. But if you want well-executed cooking, go support your favourite restaurants.

Chef Hocquet: Make sure to use the proper pan, and always remove the pan with the hot liquor from the heat source before igniting to avoid burning yourself. I also advise having a large lid ready to cover the pan in case the flames seem out of control.

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