It’s common for customers to ask us to recommend a wine or cocktail to go with a certain food or special dish. We’re also asked to make recommendations about essentials for keeping a well-stocked home bar.
Even though Colonial’s Henrik Thostrup is a certified chef and food/wine consultant, we rarely get questions about cooking with distilled spirits. Henrik believes the concept of “pairing” can be taken a step further; he also believes in the versatility of distilled spirits when used in baking, cooking and marinating, and that the art of cooking with spirits is overlooked and underutilized.
Professional chefs have always used spirits to unify, amplify, and boost flavors. The pros argue about whether or not spirits marinade actually will break down fiber in tougher cuts of meat, but there’s no argument that it adds interest and flavor not achievable by any other method. The use of spirits is no longer limited to a soaked-down rum cake. Chefs are now using gin, whisky, vodka and other spirits in everything from braised meats to barbecue and pasta sauces.
You can do the same. Whether you’re preparing dinner for two, a Sunday luncheon for family and friends, or a cookout at the lake, look for exciting recipes that use spirits in the formula. The internet has lots of quick, easy and delicious recipes that will amaze you and your guests. Here are some of Henrik’s tips to “spirit up” recipes in a way that adds flair, flavor, and fun.
• Spirits are added for inherent flavors – and for synergy and the combined effect on the dish.
• Pork dishes work best with white spirits like vodka or gin. Pork can also work just as effectively with Bourbon, Scotch and Irish whiskey.
• Chicken is a great match with tequila, rum, and gin.
• Lamb and game works well with Scotch and Irish whiskey.
• Spirits aged in oak will impart smoky, nutty, and caramelized notes.
• White spirits like vodka and gin can be used in place of white wine in a recipe, adding freshness and richness.
• Alcohol has a lower boiling point than water. Simmering for 15 minutes will reduce alcohol content by 60 per cent; two hours reduces it by 90 percent. But while the alcohol is gone, the delicate, interesting flavors that make the difference linger in the finished recipe.
When first starting out cooking with spirits, find a good recipe as noted above and branch out from there. A simple rule to follow is the same rule that often applies when pairing wine with food – lighter spirits with lighter foods and darker spirits with heartier foods. For example, try using vodka or tequila in a seafood scampi sauce and use dark rum for a nutty caramel or chocolate sauce.
• 1/4 cup Maker’s Mark Bourbon
• 1/4 cup Dijon mustard
• 4 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
• 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
• 1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
• 1 ½ pound flank steak, well-trimmed
Marinade: Combine Maker’s Mark, mustard, Worcestershire, salt, and pepper in a shallow nonreactive dish and mix well.
Place flank steak in a shallow dish and rub with marinade. Make sure to coat completely. Allow to marinate at room temperature for a minimum of 30 minutes. (Henrik recommends it be marinated for up to 24 hours covered and refrigerated.) Once the flank steak has marinated, bring an outdoor grill to medium heat. Grill flank steak for 5 to 6 minutes per side for medium rare. Remove and allow to rest for 10 to 15 minutes. Season with additional salt and pepper, slice thinly against the grain,and serve.
• 12 bratwurst
• 4 bottles Sierra Nevada Nooner IPA
• 1 large onion, diced
• 2 Tbsp. grape seed oil
• 2 tsp. red pepper flakes
• 1 tsp. fresh garlic, minced
• 1 tsp. salt
• ½ tsp. ground black pepper
Preheat and prepare grill to medium heat. In a large pot, add the grape seed oil, pepper flakes, garlic, salt and pepper. Add onion and sautee until the onions become clear and tender. Add beer to the pot and bring to a boil. Add bratwurst and watch closely until the boil resumes. Adjust the heat to a very slow simmer. Boiling will break the skin, causing much of the brat’s flavors to be lost. Simmer for 10 – 15 minutes. Remove the bratwurst. Grill the bratwurst on the preheated grill turning only once.