Pairing spirits with food may be de rigueur now, but chefs have been mixing the two for decades. From desserts, like rum raisin ice cream and Crepes Suzette, to entrees, like lobster bisque and vodka tomato sauce, there’s a long culinary tradition of adding alcohol to recipes.
While at first it might seem like a waste of your liquor, don’t be afraid to pour a little off in the name of food. “Alcohol does a couple of things in cooking,” says Douglass Miller, lecturing instructor at The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. A major benefit is that “flavors dissolve in alcohol” and in a liquid form they can be easily incorporated into a dish. (There’s a reason why vanilla extract is about 40 percent alcohol.) Spirits can also be used to pull together a rich sauce. For example, in Bananas Foster the “banana liqueur not only adds flavor it emulsifies the sugar and the butter,” says Miller. Not to mention that the secret to the perfect flaky piecrust can be found inside your liquor cabinet. Some smart bakers now substitute vodka for water in their dough recipe. Why? Vodka adds moisture but, according to Miller, it keeps the flour from producing gluten. “The less gluten you have, the flakier the crust,” he says.
But there are a few keys to cooking with spirits. “The challenge is making sure the overall flavors of the dish are balanced and the flavor of the alcohol doesn’t overpower,” says Miller. One spirit to watch out for is gin, which has very pronounced juniper notes. “You want to utilize gin with strong flavored proteins such as salmon,” he says.
Before you pull out the Beefeater Gin, try Miller’s tasty recipe for marshmallows, which are flavored with your favorite liqueur. A truly spirited dish.
Contributed by: Douglass Miller
2 tablespoons Gelatin
1 cup Cold water
1.5 cups Granulated sugar
1 cup Corn syrup
.25 cup Liqueur (Crème de violette, Grand Marnier, Cointreau, Domaine de Canton)
Line a jelly-roll pan with parchment paper and lightly grease the paper with oil. Cut a second piece of parchment paper the same size, oil it lightly and set aside. Sprinkle the gelatin over half a cup of cold water and briefly stir to completely moisten it and break up any clumps. Let the gelatin sit in the cold water until it swells and softens (10 to 15 minutes). Combine the sugar and corn syrup with the remaining half cup of water in a heavy bottomed saucepan and stir to moisten the sugar. Cook over high heat, stirring constantly until the mixture comes to a boil. Immediately stop stirring and skim the surface to remove any scum that has risen to the top. Continue to cook over high heat, occasionally brushing down the side of the pan using a pastry brush and water, until the mixture registers 242 degrees on a candy thermometer. Remove the mixture from the heat and let cool to approximately 210 degrees. Place the gelatin in a heatproof-bowl over a pan of simmering water. Stir constantly until the mixture is clear and liquid. Mix the liqueur into the dissolved gelatin. Mix the gelatin into the cooked sugar mixture and transfer to a mixing bowl. Whip the mixture with an electric mixer on high-speed until medium peaks form (about eight to 10 minutes). Quickly spread the mixture onto the lined pan. Top the mixture with the prepared oiled parchment paper and use a rolling pin to smooth it into an even slab. Place the pan in the freezer for at least eight and up to 24 hours before taking the slab out of the pan. After chilling, gently peel off the paper from one side. Lightly dust the marshmallow slab with some cornstarch. Flip the slab over and gently peel off the parchment paper from the other side. Dust with cornstarch. Cut the marshmallows to your desired size. You can store the marshmallows in an airtight container in the freezer for up to four months.