Holiday festive cooking often involves dishes where alcohol is added to the dish. But many people would prefer not to cook with alcohol for a variety of reasons.
Why do we cook with alcohol?
Alcohol is a part of certain dishes such as coq au vin and beer can chicken. Often, alcohol is used in sauces to add flavor and liquid to a dish.
Those who like the taste of alcohol find all kind of dishes to use alcohol whether that be vodka-infused pasta sauce or beer-battered fish.
Some will argue that alcohol brings an intense flavor that can't be matched with a non-alcoholic liquid.
Do you really have to cook with alcohol?
You see a great recipe where alcohol needs to be added. But you don't want to cook with alcohol. You could skip the step but are concerned that the dish will fall short without the ingredient.
Those who enjoy cooking with alcohol are adding flavor within a liquid to the dish. So the ingredient brings a liquid and flavor. Water is a liquid but doesn't add flavor.
Alcohol has properties that other liquids do not have.
Are there alternatives to cooking with alcohol?
Some recipes such as coq au vin or beer can chicken really need the alcohol or a reasonable facsimile. A non-alcohol beer or a sparking wine will come close enough.
The easiest answer is to use a stock, such as beef, chicken, or vegetable. Flavor and liquid are what stocks are all about. And you can add that flavor for a lot cheaper.
As a substitute for rum, you can use white grape juice, pineapple juice, or apple juice/cider. Ginger ale or sparkling juices work instead of champagne.
Since cooking with wine is very chic, you can pinch-hit pomegranate juice or red wine vinegar for red wine. White grape juice, lemon juice, and white wine vinegar can step in for white wine.
What if you don't like the taste of alcohol?
I don't have a principled stance in using alcohol personally. No religious, no moral objection. In fact, you might serve me a sauce with alcohol in it that may be better as a result. But I don't like to use alcohol in dishes because, well, I don't like the taste.
The maxim is to use an alcohol that you would want to drink. Wine is a logical choice, but most wines are okay in terms of taste. I can drink chardonnay all day long but most wines aren't comfortable with my palate.
I do enjoy alcoholic ciders for the taste but haven't seen too many recipes where you can cook with cider. The fruity taste of ciders may clash in a dish, but if you thinking fruit juice as an alternative AND you don't have any other objection to alcohol, ciders are a nice option.
You have good options with alcohol or can make non-alcohol choices to add liquid and flavor to a dish. Add for what you think will taste well in a dish within your own personal parameters.
photo credit: BettyCrocker.com