Hitting the sauce with wine, beer, and whisky
Lots of people like to cook with a glass of wine in their hand, but when the glugs are going into your pot and not down your gullet, the results can be delicious. Here are some suggestions for adding a little tipple to your cooking.
No one will notice if you cheap out on the wine you cook with, right? Gilles L’Heureux, head chef at Les Faux Bourgeois (663 East 15th Avenue), emphatically disagrees. “The quality of the wine should be at least drinkable,” he says by phone. That’s because after you reduce a wine-based sauce, a subpar vintage will become even more apparent. So much for impressing the in-laws”¦
L’Heureux suggests that home cooks think of wine as an ingredient and not as the focus of a dish: “It just brings another depth of flavour,” he explains. He says that although tasting and experimenting are key, rules like whites with white meats and seafood and reds with red and braised meats are a good starting point.
Case in point: for beef bourguignon, he prefers a red Burgundy that’s robust and full-bodied enough to stand up to the richness of the braised beef, pearl onions, mushrooms, and bacon. He adds that in general, wine should be added early on so that it can be reduced with sauces and the bitter alcohol note burned off.
At Italian restaurant Q4 (2611 West 4th Avenue), executive chef Bradford Ellis figures that more than half of the dishes incorporate alcohol, including beef tenderloin braised in Barolo. For white wine, he likes Pinot Grigio for its light vibrancy. “It adds a sparkle to any dish,” he says during a phone chat. Instead of lemon for freshness, he adds a splash of Pinot Grigio at the end of making linguine with mussels, prawns, fresh tomatoes, tarragon, parsley, and basil.
If you’re ready to go beyond wine in your culinary dabbling, the ultimate event is on right now. Hopscotch—a celebration of Scotch, whisky, and beer—runs until Sunday (November 22). All events are sold-out (join the mailing list at www.hopscotchfestival.com/ to get an early heads-up about next year’s event); those lucky enough to have scored tickets to the Grand Tasting Hall on November 19 and 20 will get a chance to taste food that incorporates alcohol.
That’s where Ryan Wellington, executive chef at the Regal Beagle (2283 West Broadway), will be serving a slow-roasted beef brisket basted with Sleeman’s specialty bock brew. The beer has a smooth, full body, as well as caramel-toffee tones and a malt aroma, and imparts great flavour to roasted or grilled meat. “A lager would get lost. A beer like a bock has a stronger flavour profile,” Wellington explains during a phone interview.
The booze cooking wouldn’t be complete without Scotch. Marcus von Albrecht hosts dinners that include Scotch dishes as president of the local chapter of Companions of the Quaich, a single-malt-whisky appreciation society. (For the foodie word geeks out there, the quaich is the shallow two-handled cup traditionally used in Scotland for drinking whisky.) Over the phone, he says, “There are no bad Scotches. They all have very distinct personalities.” He explains that Scotches with sea salt and peat traces are especially flavourful for cooking, since the salt heightens food flavours and the peat adds a smoky note.
At a recent Quaich members’ dinner held at Beyond Restaurant and Lounge, Laphroaig’s 10-year-old Scotch was used in a dish of slow-cooked fallow venison with a dark chocolate and Scotch demi-glace. Von Albrecht explains that this peaty Scotch from the island of Islay was used in the dish because of its chocolate finish; it also works well in desserts like panna cotta.
Ian Millar, global brand ambassador for Glenfiddich Single Malt Scotch Whisky, is also keen on cooking with Scotch. Glenfiddich’s Highland Scotches are delicate in flavour, with fruity notes that Millar feels are easy to incorporate into food and cocktails. His one rule: “Never use [it in] spicy food that bites your tongue. If you bring whisky onboard, it bites even more.” So no adding Scotch to curry.
The right flavour combinations, on the other hand, can be lovely. For example, Millar says that because the 21-year-old Glenfiddich whisky is finished for four months in rum casks, it has banana and toffee hints that are perfect for adding flavour to your crí¨me brí»lée. “It’s just stunning,” Millar says by phone.
It’s all just a matter of letting the flavours guide you from the bottle to your stove.