What's a good cookbook for braising with something other than alcohol?
October 13, 2009 10:27 AM   Subscribe

I love cooking with my new dutch oven, but have never liked the taste of alcohol in food. I know I can always substitute, but is there a good braising cookbook that minimizes alcohol use in the recipes?
posted by boombot to Food & Drink (19 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
When you say the taste of alcohol, do you mean the taste of alcohol itself, or the other flavors of alcoholic beverages?
posted by craven_morhead at 11:02 AM on October 13, 2009

If you don't like the taste of the alcohol just let it simmer for a few minutes with the lid off. All the alcohol will boil off. It will even with the lid on anyway though. If it is the flavor of the wine, Vermouth etc. that you don't like then leave it out and since you didn't like it you don't really need to substitute for it. If it seems a bit bland, and it probably won't, then up some of the other flavors in the recipe a bit. If substitute you must, try apple cider, a bullion cube or grape juice.
posted by caddis at 11:26 AM on October 13, 2009

It's not necessary to use alcohol in a braise, I think anything that adds an acidic tang to the meal would do, say tomatoes, vinegar, what have you. The acid is desirable to cut/brighten the heaviness of the dish ... that is, given that braises are generally meat-centric and as such somewhat rich.
posted by Allee Katze at 11:31 AM on October 13, 2009

This question is a bit unclear to me. You dislike the taste of alcohol in your food, or you dislike the flavors that alcoholic beverages used in cooking impart?

If it is the former than you are doing it wrong as alcohol cooks off very quickly. If it is the latter then there are many many different options that cover a wide variety of flavor profiles and you ought to keep experimenting, dry sherry imparts a dramatically different flavor than reising.

Also if you wouldn't drink it you shouldn't cook with it.
posted by BobbyDigital at 11:34 AM on October 13, 2009

I've found that red wine can be replaced by pure cranberry juice (unsweetened) in many recipes.
posted by philip-random at 11:38 AM on October 13, 2009

Response by poster: That's my bad - to clarify, I don't really care for the taste of wine, red or white, in food. I'm not vehemently opposed, but I'd like to find a cookbook whose braises were designed with something other than wine in mind - I've found substituting to be unreliable, sometimes skewing a dish in a welcome direction.
posted by boombot at 11:42 AM on October 13, 2009

As an aside, alcohol doesn't boil off during cooking all that quickly.
posted by 6550 at 11:50 AM on October 13, 2009

Start watching Good Eats with Alton Brown and you'll have a better idea of how to experiment in the kitchen :)

As for your particular predicament, here's a response from a Q&A with him which should help you out quite nicely!

Rib Recipe Substitution #1 Question:
Hey, I want to make the rib recipe, but I don't know what to use as a substitution for the cup of white wine. (I want to make it non-alcoholic). Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Thanks! (Post 19)

Hi Phil, AB here. You can basically use any flavorful liquid that has some acidity to it. Try ginger ale with a shot of vinegar. (Post 19.1)
posted by StarmanDXE at 11:55 AM on October 13, 2009

Oh, here are some more Q&As I probably should have posted :P

Rib Recipe Substitution #2 Question:

I'm not much of a wine drinker so would a dry vermouth make an acceptable substitution in the baby back rib recipe? (Post 63)

Leave the vermouth, take the beer. (Post 63.1)

Rib Recipe Substitution #3 Question:
So, we're thinking of trying a modification of the rib recipe by substituting apple juice for the wine, and apple cider vinegar for the white wine vinegar in the braising liquid. My question is, would the apple juice be acidic enough to replace the wine 1:1, or would I have to sub some vinegar in there as well? (Post 203)

It would definitely be okay here in Cobb county, but down in Atlanta it might not be citified enough.

Seriously, it'll be great. (Post 203.1)
posted by StarmanDXE at 11:57 AM on October 13, 2009

Look into cookbooks focusing on Egypt, Morocco, Lebanon, and other Arab countries -- amazing braised meats and stews, but of course the recipes would not use alcohol, or would provide alcohol-free options.
posted by desuetude at 12:10 PM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

Question is still unclear. Can you please give examples of recipes you use, especially the process you usually follow when braising?

Since alcohol is not technically required for braising, I wonder at what step in the recipe are you using the alcohol and how much are you using?

This is actually sounds like a technique issue, but a poor recipe may be exacerbate the the problem and get in the way of tasty slow-cooked results!!

As suggested above, you can easily substitute vinegar or another acid (lemon juice, tomato, etc.) to brighten the flavor and heighten the complexity of the finished product. But if the amount of acid added is excessive, or the timing of the addition is inappropriate, the resulting dish will not turn out delicious.

Please clarify further so we can give the right advice:)
posted by jbenben at 12:16 PM on October 13, 2009


"might exacerbate the problem"
posted by jbenben at 12:18 PM on October 13, 2009

Second the request for the recipe(s). Most that I have seen (and used to good suggest) are actually combinations of broth or stock and wine with wine being a smallish fraction of the total braising liquid. While it does bring flavor to the liquid, the resulting fluid doesn't taste like wine. Also the wine is often used to get at the alcohol solube flavors that are in your dish.
posted by mmascolino at 12:38 PM on October 13, 2009

I disagree. Recipe is unimportant. The purpose of the wine is simply to add a liquid with some acidity. So, replace it with some other liquid with acidity (and a flavor you like) and you're golden!
posted by StarmanDXE at 12:45 PM on October 13, 2009

You can replace wine with good vinegar and water. Dilute the vinegar with the water until you achieve an acidity similar to that of the wine you'd be using. Use red wine vinegar to substitute for red wine, and apple cider vinegar for white wine. Don't use distilled white vinegar... it's foul. Balsamic has too much sugar, and too strong a flavor.

The key part is that the liquid added must be acidic, must be mostly water ("water type", as Alton Brown puts it), and should contain little sugar. Vinegar and water works consistently for me. Fruit juices are too sweet (think caramelization), and impart too specific a flavor. Stock contains too much protein and fat, and again, imparts too specific a flavor. Water on its own works kind of okay, but the acid is missing.

One thing that you should keep in mind is that the alcohol itself in wine does serve a purpose: it liberates a number of flavors that can't otherwise be liberated. There are lots of volatiles (flavors) in foods that can only be extracted with a non-polar covalent solvent (alcohol), especially in spices. If you omit the alcohol, you'll find that those flavors do not infuse into the rest of the dish, and stay trapped within the ingredient.

[Oils can also liberate those flavors, but oils are far less efficient than alcohol. They also don't mix with water, meaning that the flavors won't distribute through a stock, sauce, or braising liquid. Furthermore, they don't vaporize at a reasonable temperature, so the flavors stay trapped in the oil instead of wafting into your nose where you can taste them.]

Incidentally, you say you dislike the flavor of both red and white wine in your cooking. Are you using reasonably decent wine? Which varieties are you using? If you use shitty or overly complex wine, I'm not surprised that you don't like it. I don't buy the premise that you need fine wine to cook, but I do agree that you should be able to drink a glass of it without making faces. I should think it goes without saying that "cooking wine" is just absolute horsepiss that you should avoid at all costs; but, as I learned yesterday, some people actually do use it.

Personally, I use a $10 bottle of a pinot noir and a California chardonnay for my cooking wines. I use the white about five times faster than the red; the red I almost exclusively reserve for beef dish reductions.
posted by Netzapper at 1:02 PM on October 13, 2009

I made this one this past weekend and it's fantastic. No searing and no added liquid (except for a little beef stock at the very end). No, it's not a typo. The stock is not added until the very end and then only to give it the sauce the consistency you want.

Hungarian Beef Stew; Serves 6. Published November 1, 2008. From Cook's Illustrated.

Do not substitute hot, half-sharp, or smoked Spanish paprika for the sweet paprika in the stew (see our recommended brands at right), as they will compromise the flavor of the dish. Since paprika is vital to this recipe, it is best to use a fresh container. We prefer chuck-eye roast, but any boneless roast from the chuck will work. Cook the stew in a Dutch oven with a tight-fitting lid. (Alternatively, to ensure a tight seal, place a sheet of foil over the pot before adding the lid.) The stew can be cooled, covered tightly, and refrigerated for up to 2 days; wait to add the optional sour cream until after reheating. Before reheating, skim the hardened fat from the surface and add enough water to the stew to thin it slightly. Serve the stew over boiled potatoes or egg noodles.

1 (3 1/2- to 4-pound) boneless beef chuck-eye roast , trimmed of excess fat and cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes (see note)
1/3 cup sweet paprika (see note)
1 (12-ounce) jar roasted red peppers , drained and rinsed (about 1 cup)
2 tablespoons tomato paste
3 teaspoons white vinegar
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 large onions , diced small (about 6 cups)
4 large carrots , peeled and cut into 1-inch-thick rounds (about 2 cups)
1 bay leaf
1 cup beef broth , warmed
1/4 cup sour cream (optional; see note)
Ground black pepper
1. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Sprinkle meat evenly with 1 teaspoon salt and let stand 15 minutes. Process paprika, roasted peppers, tomato paste, and 2 teaspoons vinegar in food processor until smooth, 1 to 2 minutes, scraping down sides as needed.

2. Combine oil, onions, and 1 teaspoon salt in large Dutch oven; cover and set over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions soften but have not yet begun to brown, 8 to 10 minutes. (If onions begin to brown, reduce heat to medium-low and stir in 1 tablespoon water.)

3. Stir in paprika mixture; cook, stirring occasionally, until onions stick to bottom of pan, about 2 minutes. Add beef, carrots, and bay leaf; stir until beef is well coated. Using rubber spatula, scrape down sides of pot. Cover pot and transfer to oven. Cook until meat is almost tender and surface of liquid is ½ inch below top of meat, 2 to 21/2 hours, stirring every 30 minutes. Remove pot from oven and add enough beef broth so that surface of liquid is ¼ inch from top of meat (beef should not be fully submerged). Return covered pot to oven and continue to cook until fork slips easily in and out of beef, about 30 minutes longer.

4. Skim fat off surface; stir in remaining teaspoon vinegar and sour cream, if using. Remove bay leaf, adjust seasonings with salt and pepper, and serve..
posted by webhund at 3:01 PM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

Incidentally, you say you dislike the flavor of both red and white wine in your cooking. Are you using reasonably decent wine? Which varieties are you using? If you use shitty or overly complex wine, I'm not surprised that you don't like it. I don't buy the premise that you need fine wine to cook, but I do agree that you should be able to drink a glass of it without making faces. I should think it goes without saying that "cooking wine" is just absolute horsepiss that you should avoid at all costs; but, as I learned yesterday, some people actually do use it.

Yes. This really is key. You would do well to find a local winery or store which will let you taste-test so you can find a wine you like. (Personally, I tend towards the sweeter wines. Riesling, Niagara, Geisenheim, to name a few... But I know there are people out there who prefer the drier, more sour varieties.)
posted by StarmanDXE at 8:12 AM on October 14, 2009

Not only is cooking wine awful wine, it's usually salted. It's really just not good for anything. I would definitely try some recipes with some decent wine. Have you had wine braises in restaurants? If not, try that too. Most of my best braises use half wine and half stock.

No help on the cookbook, but I have a recipe for braised pork shoulder (pulled pork) that has no wine and is fantastic. Preheat oven to 350F. Cut about 10-15 slits in a pork shoulder and insert slivers of garlic. Liberally add salt and pepper. In a pan that's large enough to contain the whole thing with the lid on, brown on all sides on the stove (without the lid), then remove from the pan and add a cup of chicken stock. Boil a bit and scrape the bits off the bottom, then add the pork back and another 2 cups of stock. Cover, put in the oven, and cook until fork tender, probably 3-4 hours. Pour off the liquid and defat, break up the meat with a fork, and stir in the liquid. Also great with your favorite bbq sauce.
posted by Caviar at 3:10 PM on October 14, 2009

Just stumbled upon this thread. I love cooking with alcohol, as it's easy, but the substitutions with ginger ale, vinegar, or cider have worked for me as well.
posted by lazaruslong at 7:08 PM on October 19, 2009

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