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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