Cooking with alcohol is one of those things that seems a little daunting, especially if you are new to cooking in general. Alcohol brings flavor to a recipe by heightening the flavors of the other ingredients. However, before you start cooking with alcohol, you should know a few basic concepts.
Tips for Cooking with Wine:
In the basic sense, wine is fermented grapes. However, there are several varieties of grapes, along with several ways to make wine from combining certain grapes to the actual fermentation process. I will not get into the ins and outs of wine because that information will fill a book (or several books). I will, however, give you the most basic information regarding wine and cooking.
Wine Pairing: I took a wine tasting class from a sommelier who told us that while there are rules for pairing wine with food, it does not always matter. He said to drink the wine you like with whatever food you make. That’s probably why I drink Pinot Noir with nearly everything. But… if you are really curious about the rules of wine and food pairings, check out Food and Wine’s article.
Tips for Cooking with Beer:
Brewing beer involves making a mash with grains (like barley), adding hops and yeast, and then allowing it to ferment. Hops is one of those ingredients that has taken over the world of microbrew. Every microbrewery makes pale ales or IPAs that are incredibly bitter and hoppy. I may be in the minority here but I would rather have a beer that is dark and full bodied and sans a lot of hops.
You can successfully cook with beer but you need to be choosy as to what you use since some beer can get bitter when cooked.
For a good, simple guide to beer, check this out.
Tips for Cooking with Spirits:
Spirits include all those hard liquors that might be taking up room in your liquor cabinet. Aside from doing shots or making martinis, some spirits add that something extra to certain recipes and are well worth using in the kitchen.
Whiskey or Bourbon – Made from fermenting grains like barley and then aged in barrels. Any good tasting Whiskey will make a great BBQ sauce or even a bourbon crème anglaise (white sauce for desserts like bread pudding).
Vodka – made from distilling cereal grains or potatoes. Can be used in cooking light meals or sauces. Most popular recipe is Vodka Pasta Sauce http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/food-network-kitchens/penne-with-vodka-sauce-recipe.html
Tequila – Made from the Agava plant grown in Mexico. Use tequila instead of white wine in fish dishes, especially dishes that are made with shell fish and are spicy. (Tequila Lime Scallops, anyone?)
Brandy or Cognac – Made from distilling wine. Cognac is distilled in a particular region in France. Brandy is the same thing except made elsewhere around the world. I like to add a splash of brandy to a sauce at the very end of cooking. It adds that something "extra."
There you have it. The basics of cooking with alcohol. Now, go forth and impress your friends and family by making Coq au Vin (recipe coming soon, I promise!).