Tag Archives: Food

Cooking with Alcohol – Combining Wine and Ingredients

pic 2When cooking with alcohol, not everything works in everything… One needs to pay attention to combinations; of alcohol and main ingredient as well as alcohol, main ingredient and herb and spice flavourings.

When choosing a combination of alcohol and main ingredient, it is important to remember that every alcohol is true to the ingredients it started out from. So each type of Alcohol not only pairs best with select vegetables and meats as accompanying drinks to courses, but brings its own flavours to a dish it is cooked with as well. As confusing as this sounds, it isn’t. Here is a tip, follow the general rule, of wine matching – white to white and red to red.

pic 3Just like vegetables are challenging to pair with alcohol, combining vegetables and alcoholic beverages in cooking is equally challenging. At the mildest end of the spectrum white wines generally pair better with vegetables than reds, thanks to their complementary herbal, grassy aromas. The cooking process also makes a difference. For salads with raw greens and vegetables, I like to add my wine to the dressing; a green salad calls for a light vinaigrette and I like using the Sula Riesling with its perfect balance of low acidity and slight tinge of sweetness for this. But my preferred choice of white to cook vegetables in is the Sula Sauvignon Blanc whose herby green pepper notes dance with greens whether you are sautéing them in olive oil, or smothering them in butter!

pic 4Most red wines however overwhelm vegetables because their tannins clash horribly, making them taste bitter and metallic. For rich vegetable dishes such as eggplant or root vegetable dishes especially those in which vegetables are being roasted spicy medium-bodied wines such as the Reveilo Chardonnay are ideal, they are more supple and less tannic. But more than wine I prefer to use brandy with roasted vegetables because it complements the caramel notes of the roasting process.

The rules get a little less stringent with meats but one still needs to have a care. White wines are best to marinate and cook seafoods and white meats like chicken, and for nut enriched cream or white cheese based sauces. But they would be overwhelmed by heavier meats. Vodka is a little more flexible, ideal with lighter meats, but because it has no real flavour of its own, able to hold its own with heavier meats and also able to work with red tomato or more spicy sauces. Red wines are great with some seafoods such as shark meat and will work with all red meats but are really sublime with lamb. Sherry, Brandy and Rum though most commonly used in desserts, are also favoured as deglazing liquids in pan sauces for steak and other meats. They are ideal for cooking poultry, lamb and even mutton but my experience has been that Bourbons make the best alcohol to cook mutton in and rum is best suited to pork.

CointreauBut the alcohol that I am totally sold on cooking with is Cointreau. And surprisingly, I find that this triple sec that is the heart of many famous cocktails and desserts, is amazing in savoury recipes as well! Cointreau’s rich and complex flavours derive from essential oils of sweet and bitter orange peels it is distilled from. And ever since I discovered it, not only have I doused Gulab Jamuns and my annual Christmas cake in it but I have also used it to make delectable dishes including an Oriental Duck with Cointreau, chilli and Star anise, Chicken in a Rosemary Cointreau cream sauce and a mouthwatering Lamb in Cointreau, green peppercorn sauce.

Rushina Munshaw – Ghildiyal

Cooking with Alcohol – Chicken Stir Fry, Naga Chilli Vodka style


Naga Chilli Vodka

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!

naga chilli
Naga Chilli Vodka

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…..

Naga Chilli Vodka


Rushina Munshaw Ghidliyal

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.