I use alcohol in my cooking very frequently. Cooking with alcohol enhances the taste and smell of many dishes.
In savoury foods I mostly add wine or wine-based beverages and spirits. Liqueurs are mostly for desserts, although I rather like the orange taste in Cointreau for pan fried duck breasts, duck or chicken livers and pork fillets. When I want a taste of fennel or anise, as for example in fish, Pernod is a favourite.
Using different herbs and spices are also very apparent in my cooking to impart different flavours and aromas.
One of the most common and simplest ways I use alcohol is to deglaze the pan after pan frying or sautéing meat, fish, vegetables or fruit. For example when cooking chicken or duck livers, once cooked, I remove the contents from the pan, pour in the alcohol and start scraping the sides and bottom of the pan – this dislodges all the tasty, caramelized bits ….I evaporate the liquid and the result is a very flavourful sauce.
Generally my most common types of alcohol for deglazing are wine, vermouth, brandy, Marsala Fine or Cointreau. Each of these beverages will add different flavours.
I need to say that my Sicilian relatives do not use much alcohol in cooking.
This brings me to my use of Grappa in cooking adding a subtle complexity to food. It is equally effective in savory and sweet dishes. Worth doing.
Grappa, the Italian spirit is produced from distilling the skins, seeds and stalks of grapes after making wine. It is drunk and used widely in cooking in the northern regions of Italy.
In Trieste it was a favourite drink for many Triestines and it was a common ingredient when making pastries and sweets like frittole, crostoli and apple strudel.
When my family arrived in Australia there was no Grappa, but we soon met some people from Trieste and found that they were using hot water units with copper piping to distil Grappa in their homes. A very slow process, but how ingenious.
Illegal of course, but we were able to buy flagons of Grappa from these people.
Being interested in my roots – Northern Italian and Sicilian – I have recently reintroduced Grappa in some of my cooking.
Here is a simple recipe:
You can see from the photo, the ingredients are what they call Lovely Legs (chicken), Italian pancetta, sage, rosemary, Grappa, extra virgin olive oil and butter, and although Juniper berries go well with gin, I thought they would be good with Grappa as well.
The process is very simple.
Marinade the chicken legs (there were 5) in some oil, herbs, juniper berries and pancetta cut into smaller bits for about 2 hours or longer.
Add butter to a pan, place the marinated legs and contents in the pan and gently brown the contents. Add a splash of stock or water, cover and cook until the chicken is cooked.
Remove the contents, add a liqueur glass (about 2 tablespoons) of Grappa. Scarpe the solids from the sides and bottom of the pan and let it bubble for a minute or two to amalgamate the liquids.
Place the contents back in the pan to coat them with the flavourful sauce, and there you are.