Versatile alcohol for cooking
November 28, 2007 2:40 PM   Subscribe

Yes, I know each recipe is best with a specific type of alcohol, preferably from the region that the cuisine originates from. But it simply not economical to have so many different bottles of alcohol If I only could have half a dozen bottles of alcohol to cook with, what would they be? Any specific vintage/brand recommendations. Bonus question: How to solve the "wine goes bad in a few days" problem, when I don't drink on a regular basis?
posted by jytsai to Food & Drink (20 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Keep cheap screw-top bottles (or boxes, depending on how much you cook and/or imbibe) of red and white wine around for making beurre blanc et beurre rouge. Keep a half-pint of 151 on hand so you can set stuff on fire. I keep vodka around cuz I make a kickass penne a la vodka with grilled salmon. For flavoring stews, soups, chili, and for braising, nothing beats a bottle of dark beer. Kahlua is useful in desserts.

Do not buy "cooking sherry" or crap like that. It's salted and awful and an abomination.

If all you are doing with your booze is cooking with it, buy the cheapie four-pack screwtop truckstop wine (unfortified, of course), it's all gonna taste pretty much the same after the alcohol evaporates unless you are a finicky supertaster foodie poser. It'll last for weeks unopened.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 2:51 PM on November 28, 2007

cheap vodka. run through a brita filter a couple of times so no one knows that it's cheap. a couple bottles of red and white wine, preferably nothing too dry, because as someone once noted, no one really likes to drink dry wine, they just like to say that they do. and maybe a bottle of kahlau like BitterOldPunk suggests.
posted by buka at 3:07 PM on November 28, 2007

While there's no point in cooking with the Chateau Margaux, make sure that inexpensive wine you cook with has a flavor you personally enjoy. Rotgut wine will impart nasty flavors to your food.

I find that wine pumped & sealed with a wine-saver gadget (e.g. Vacu Vin) can be drinkable for a week or more if refrigerated.

Also, I've not tried this myself, but I've heard you can pour leftover wine into ice cube trays and use the resulting wine cubes for cooking.
posted by magicbus at 3:11 PM on November 28, 2007

Best answer: I use vermouth instead of white wine. Keeps forever and does a fine job.

We've always got a fresh supply of leftover red wine now (keeps longer in the fridge, by the way), but when I didn't, I used boxed wine for cooking.

I find cognac a very useful cooking wine, also. A splash in cream, reduced, plus ground pepper makes the easiest impressive cream sauce ever. And it pairs nicely with any of the redder meats, too.

Nthing to not buy cooking sherry or crap like that.
posted by desuetude at 3:18 PM on November 28, 2007

It'll last for weeks unopened

For those little bottles of wine, remember that this says "weeks" and not "years"...they don't age well and you'll be disappointed when you want to use a bottle one night and it's gone bad.
posted by cabingirl at 3:25 PM on November 28, 2007

I need:

* A bottle of drinking sherry. Right now I have some $9 Sandeman's Amontillado that I think is fine.

* Vermouth. Like desuetude says, you can use it in place of white wine in many cases, and it won't spoil. I just use whatever's on sale -- Martini & Rossi at present.

* Beer, both dark and light. I drink plenty of it, but if you're not drinking it, you don't have to refrigerate it.

Julia Child would consider this sacrilege, but whenever I open a bottle of wine that I deem too nasty to drink, I put it in the fridge for cooking. It will last several weeks, though it doesn't exactly improve.

I have plenty more alcohol, but it's mostly used for drinking, not cooking. Maybe add a good bourbon or whisky for the odd hard sauce or sweet potato souffle enhancement if you're devoted to rounding out your collection.
posted by climalene at 3:41 PM on November 28, 2007

(One warning: while dark beer is wonderful for cooking with, hoppy beer is often too much. The bitterness can overwhelm whatever else you're cooking if you add more than a spoonful or two — and I like hops.

A dash of good IPA in a cream sauce is heaven, though. So don't rule it out, just don't go overboard.

Also, anecdotally, I have a few treasured recipes that specifically call for the cheapest, sweetest, fruitiest rosé wine you can find. The good stuff has its uses, but it's not always what you need.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 3:50 PM on November 28, 2007

nthing vermouth
posted by pammo at 3:54 PM on November 28, 2007

Best answer: I've had good luck with black box wines. Tastes like a good $10 a bottle wine. I drink infrequently and a box will keep for for a month. Cost plus market sometimes carries it.
posted by sisquoc15 at 3:57 PM on November 28, 2007

nthing box wine. The collapsible plastic bag does an excellent job of keeping air out so that the wine will last much longer.
posted by nedpwolf at 4:04 PM on November 28, 2007

What desuetude said, is very close to how I've stocked my pantry
posted by nola at 4:06 PM on November 28, 2007

i've frozen wine with good results. actually, since it stays a little slushy even in the freezer, i freeze it in those tiny disposable gladware containers they make for transporting dip or dressing in your lunchbox. i think it works out to about a half or quarter cup.

i wouldn't do this with anything you plan to drink, but it's great to take one or two of these containers and toss them into a beef stew or whatever.

i usually keep vodka, whiskey, and sherry around, too. nothing fancy. i should keep some brandy around, but i never know what to buy.
posted by thinkingwoman at 4:20 PM on November 28, 2007

Best answer: Triple Sec for orange, Calvados for apple, brandy for innumerable dishes, white and red wine in boxes, and sherry. Your basic six.
posted by Neiltupper at 4:41 PM on November 28, 2007

My most-frequented liquor store has decent Marsala in half bottles for about $7. Another alternative to sherry, lasts a good long time, and finds its way into lots of recipes.

El cheapo red wines, just barely good enough to drink, are perfectly fine for sauces.

Amaretto, inexpensive rye whisky or bourbon, a good flavored rum are typically around when I'm baking. Grand Marnier is great for flavoring fruit salad and things; triple sec works too (but I can taste the difference).
posted by gimonca at 4:45 PM on November 28, 2007

because as someone once noted, no one really likes to drink dry wine, they just like to say that they do

Oh don't be fatuous. Plenty of us like dry wines, because we find many sweet wines (as opposed to dessert wines, which are a different animal) abhorrent.

It's a really good rule of thumb for a reason: if you wouldn't drink it, don't cook with it. The freezing idea is fantastic for dealing with this.

That doesn't mean you need to go buy expensive wine.. a decent drinking plonk is absolutely fine. Just don't buy total crap, because the crap flavour is what you're going to get in your dish.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 4:47 PM on November 28, 2007

I just pulled out my sherry while making soup, and it's oloroso, not amontillado. My apologies.
posted by climalene at 5:07 PM on November 28, 2007

Best answer: I keep Powers Whiskey on hand - I like a glass, it works for Irish coffee or other drinks, works for most anything calling for a whiskey in a recipe. Perks up barbecue sauce, maybe a little in a stew, or even to deglaze a pan to go over a steak or pork... Basically, one bottle for several things. Same with wine, or brandy/cognac. If you're going to keep a bottle around, keep something that you can use for everything.

6 bottles, I'd say a red and a white (most of my frineds are comfortable with say, Yellow Tail, so I hang on to those, and cook with them if needed), Maybe a Christian Brothers brandy (or whatever the not cheapest but just above is for you, not sure where you are in the world), the bottle of Whiskey, a bottle of vodka (again, something ok to drink, but don't go crazy), and maybe Grand Marnier/Triple sec. If you want to go crazy, throw in a bottle of amaretto, a bottle of gin, and a bottle of vermouth, and you have a pretty decent small bar if company shows up and wants a drink, as well as stuff to cook with.
posted by pupdog at 6:08 PM on November 28, 2007

The $10 vacuum sealer wine saver does an excellent job - it has little fake corks that sit in the bottle and a tiny hand pump to extract the air. The wine is typically good for at least a week.
posted by true at 6:30 PM on November 28, 2007

I like to infuse vodka with herbs, especially thyme. Great in anything that involves tomatoes. Also, if you store your ginger peeled in sherry, the sherry picks up a nice flavor.

As for the "wine goes bad" problem, there are some surprisingly good bag-in-box wines these days. Oxygen is kept out of the bag really well, so you can keep one of those things around for about a month. (A little does permeate the bag; some folks are working on a technical fix for that, and if they succeed, you should be able to keep a box of wine around pretty much forever.) And when you consider that each 3-liter box has about four bottles' worth of wine in it, they're a lot less expensive than an equivalent bottled wine, just because they're so much easier to store and ship. A couple of brands that have been around for a while are Tindindi and Black Box.
posted by sculpin at 7:12 PM on November 28, 2007

If you're a fan of sake, you can substitute it for white wine in any recipe. It keeps longer to boot.
posted by pmbuko at 9:04 PM on November 28, 2007

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