Wine & spirits: Give it a shot
When we think about flavouring the foods we cook, most of us reach for salt, pepper, lemon, garlic and other seasonings. Here's an inside tip from many a top chef: Wine and spirits can add a new dimension to your recipes, too.
For centuries, both wine and spirits have served as a tenderizing agent, preservative, food colouring, flavour enhancer, and even as a tool for cooking (see the Salmon Ceviche with Gin & Lime recipe). They're also used for basting and glazing foods while they roast, and for deglazing the pans afterward. Accomplished chefs use alcohol just as they would herbs and spices –- to achieve particular aromas and tastes in their dishes.
In cooking, wine is normally heated to a temperature that causes the alcohol to evaporate, leaving only subtle flavours in the dish (so don't even think of using up that lousy wine you've had kicking around!). Whether it's a slosh of port in baked beans, a sprinkling of dry white vermouth over scalloped potatoes or a sauté pan deglazed with Madeira, the right amount will enhance a dish, not overpower it. Spirits are often cooked out, too, but in some cases, as in Iced Bloody Mary Soup, they may be used "raw" to add punch to the finished product.
Whisky chicken with onion pepper confit
Score skin of 4 to 6 chicken legs in 2 places and rub all over with paste of crushed sesame seeds, crushed garlic, salt and pepper, 3 tbsp rye whisky, 2 tbsp olive oil, 2 tbsp clear honey and pinch of paprika. Roast poultry at 375°F for 40 minutes. Meanwhile, fry 2 large onions, sliced, in oil over medium-high heat for about 15 minutes. Add 1 green pepper, sliced. Season with salt and pepper, and sauté for 5 minutes. Add 2 tbsp whisky and flambé. Add 1/4 cup vegetable or chicken stock and simmer for 20 minutes. Serve alongside chicken.
Salmon ceviche with gin & lime
Cut 1 1/2 lb salmon fillet into thin slices and remove any bones. Lay slices in a single layer in large shallow dish and sprinkle lightly with sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Over top, scatter 1 red onion, thinly sliced; a few bruised chives; some fennel leaves; and a couple of parsley sprigs. In jug, combine roughly chopped rind (no pith) and juice of 1 lime, 1⁄4 cup gin and 3 tbsp olive oil. Whisk mixture lightly and pour over salmon slices. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least three hours but not more than six, turning occasionally. Serve salmon on a bed of greens.
Iced Bloody Mary soup
Roughly chop 1 lb ripe tomatoes, 1 red onion, 1 stalk celery and 1 clove garlic. Place in food processor with 3 cups chicken or beef stock and 1 tbsp tomato paste. Purée until smooth and strain into bowl. Add 12 fresh basil leaves, 1/2 cup vodka and 1 tbsp each lemon juice and Worcestershire sauce. (Since the liquor is added at the end and not boiled off, I prefer a full-bodied earthy potato vodka rather than a medicinal-flavoured grain-based one.) Season with salt and pepper and refrigerate before serving in chilled soup bowls with a cucumber or celery stick.
Grapefruit poached in Drambuie
Cut out grapefruit segments, leaving all the pith behind. Melt 1 tbsp butter in a hot pan; add grapefruit segments. Coat with 1/2 cup Drambuie and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and let mixture simmer for 2 minutes. Serve each person three or four segments, decorating each plate with a mint leaf.
Casa dos Vinhos
Five-Year-Old Madeira ($18)
Dow's Fine Ruby Port ($14)
Chopin Premium Potato
Noilly Prat Vermouth ($12/1 L)
Danfield's Private Reserve Small-Batch Canadian Whisky ($24)
Centennial Limited Edition
10-Year-Old Rye Whisky ($24)
Plymouth Gin ($25)
Tanqueray No. Ten Gin ($40)
*All sizes 750 mL, unless indicated