It all began on a whim (but then that’s how most good ideas start, don’t they?). I’d infused vodka with spices and a Naga chilli and forgotten about it. And happened upon it while rummaging in my kitchen cupboards, for something to spice up a chicken stir fry with. Not finding anything else, I cautiously stirred a couple of tablespoons of this potent mix into my marinade and was blown away by the aromas that burst forth. And the dish turned out like never before. The chicken’s outer surfaces were perfectly golden brown and it was more succulent than it had ever turned out. I realised just how well the flavours of the spices and chilli had been drawn into on tasting it. It was more intensely spiced than if I had marinated it with the spices themselves!
Just like that I was fascinated by the idea of cooking with alcohol. And the rest as they say, is history! The contents of my home bar; Wine, Vodka, Rum, Bourbon and Cointreau and more traversed my hall, entered my kitchen, flirted shamelessly with ingredients and spices resting quietly in my pantry and ended up in flagrant delectability on my plate! I was thoroughly intoxicated and completely addicted! My kitchen became wonderfully aromatic with the aromas of spice infused alcohols as dish after delicious dish made its way to my table; Kaffir Lime drunken Prawns with a hint of Sesame and cream, Chicken in Citrus infused White Wine sauce, Mutton slow cooked in Rosemary and black pepper infused Bourbon, Lamb in clove and black Cardamom scented red wine…
Cooking with alcohol is not a new concept. Many recipes call for alcohol as an ingredient. Not just to impart flavour, but also for chemical reactions they create in those dishes; beer for instance contains yeast that leavens breads and batters, white wine and vodka bring down the boiling point of a dairy based dishes, preventing them from splitting. And most alcoholic beverages break down tough fibers in meats enhancing their flavour, a classic example is red wine. Its tannins bind with protein in meat resulting in richer, smoother flavour and taste. Infusing alcohol is also by no means a new concept, of course. After all, the finest most intense vanilla and other extracts, are alcohol-based because alcohol is one of the rare substances that has the unique ability to extract both taste and aroma molecules from ingredients thanks to the ethanol it contains.
If things have sounded logical so far, here is the twist, not everything works in everything… One needs to pay attention to combinations; of alcohol and ingredient as well as alcohol and herb and spice flavourings. I spent an intoxicating year discovering this and I’m going to share some of that with you via this column. Join me as I unravel some of my discoveries….
Untill then, I will leave you with an illustrated recipe for my Naga Chilli Vodka. This is also great to make cocktails with just a drop will spike up anything. I use it to make a chilli lemonade, guavatini and lots more in addition to using it to spice up food…..
Rushina Munshaw-Ghildiyal is a corporate food consultant, food writer, food stylist and author with more than 12 years of experience in the Indian food industry. She began her food career in 2004, as one of India’s pioneering food bloggers. Today she heads A Perfect Bite® Consulting, a premier food consulting firm and India’s first home cooking studio – the APB Cook Studio®. Her first book, A Pinch of This, A Handful of That, released in December 2013.