Cold weather and the winter holidays are closely associated with family, travel, food — and drink.
A fun variation on winter and holiday cuisine is cooking with wine, liquor or liqueur. Each alcohol can add a distinctive flavor or enhance other ingredients from your favorite recipes. Whether you’re cooking or baking something savory or sweet, alcohol can give your culinary dishes a festive element and taste.
Head Chef Jim Smailer of The Cork in Boulder says he uses boxed wine for dishes like Thanksgiving turkey, but follows a general rule-of-thumb when cooking with alcohol.
“You don’t want to cook with anything you wouldn’t drink,” he says.
The Cork serves pecan pie made with bourbon, chocolate mousse made with rum, and soups and reduction sauces made with wine.
“Our short ribs are made with wine by the glass — if you’re cooking something nice, cook with something you would drink,” Smailer says.
A French restaurant with Mediterranean-inspired dishes, Mateo on Pearl Street also features unique appetizers and desserts made with wine and liquor. Executive Chef Kelly Kingsford says many menu items are cooked with red or white wine.
“We make our mussels with Pastis, tomatoes, parsley, a garlic mix, white wine, butter, salt and pepper,” Kingsford says.
A participant of First Bite Boulder, an annual event highlighting Boulder’s dining scene, Mateo features Maple-Orange Pound Cake on its First Bite menu. The cake contains ricotta cheese, figs and vanilla rum sauce.
“The pound cake soaks up the flavor and combines the earthy roundness of vanilla with the syrupy sweetness of rum, while the figs get poached with the rum,” Kingsford says. “We change the pound cake out seasonally — we’ve done lots of different flavors.”
How the food is cooked will determine how much alcohol is retained in a finished dish. When foods are cooked at high heat for a long period of time, most of the alcohol will evaporate, but the flavor will remain. A lot of recipes that aim for a distinct alcoholic taste advise adding the alcohol near the end of the cooking process so that its alcoholic qualities are not lost to evaporation.
Bacco Trattoria & Mozzarella Bar in north Boulder uses various wines and imported liqueurs and liquors in its Italian-inspired dishes. Head chef and owner Marco Monnanni says most of the restaurant’s seaside dishes are made with a white or red wine sauce.
“Fra Diavolo is a famous Tuscany dish made with jumbo scallops, linguine and a spicy garlic tomato sauce that contains brandy,” Monnanni says.
Monnanni says he combines unique flavors in certain dishes, like Bacco’s polenta, a homemade cornmeal dish.
“We fry the polenta with jumbo shrimp and cheese and serve it with a tomato basil Sambuca sauce,” he says. Sambuca is an Italian anise-flavored liqueur.
Revealing a house special and secret, Monnanni says he uses an Italian aperitif for the Pere al Cioccolato — poached pears with white chocolate mousse.
“Not many chefs use aperitifs for cooking — I may be the only one,” he says.
Monnanni echoes Smailer’s alcohol rule when cooking.
“You want to use good wines in the kitchen,” he says.
Nothing’s more comforting on a cold day than a bowl of hearty soup, and there’s no better way to experiment with cooking with alcohol than a simple soup recipe. Try this white wine chicken soup recipe for a new twist on chicken noodle soup.
White Wine Chicken Soup
4 chicken breasts
2 parsnips, peeled and chopped
1 medium head of garlic, peeled
2 large onions, chopped
5 carrots, chopped
2 zucchini, chopped
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 potatoes, peeled and chopped
1 sweet potato, peeled and cubed
1 packet chicken vegetable soup mix
1 tbsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. paprika
8 cups water
½ bottle (or more, to taste) white wine Salt and pepper, to taste In a large soup pot, combine chicken, parsnips, garlic, onions, carrots, zucchini, parsley, celery, potatoes, sweet potato, soup mix, oregano, paprika, water, wine, salt and pepper. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Boil 30 minutes, partially covered, and then reduce to low heat and simmer another 90 minutes.