Chef's Tips: Cooking with Brown Spirits

It’s a sad, sad day when brown spirits are neglected in the kitchen. The smoky caramel notes in a bourbon or toasted fruit loaf of a good American whiskey lend themselves effortlessly to being paired with meats, kicking up sauces or making desserts that knock your socks off.

Chef Paul McGreevy
Starbelly, Calgary

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“When I’m looking to pair game meats, such as venison or elk with brown liquors, I tend to play off the subtleties of the sauce,” Chef McGreevy explains. “The smokiness or sweetness of vanilla flavours in the liquor leads to some great combos.”

Cooking with spirits really boils down to keeping it simple and allowing the flavours to shine through. Generally, most of the alcohol content is cooked off, but what does remain will add a certain snap and brightness to your dish. Chef McGreevy says he enjoys experimenting with using dark spirits in their raw form, like making a vinaigrette to shine boldly on the plate.

“When using bourbon or brown liquors in raw form, I always use small increments and adjust seasoning accordingly,” he says.

See here for chef McGreevy's delicious recipe for Venison Carpaccio with Bourbon Dressing.

Chef Serge Jost

Fairmont Hotel MacDonald, Edmonton

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From High Tea to harvesting honey and everything in between, Chef Serge Jost is no stranger to impressing people.

If you wouldn’t drink with it, you shouldn’t cook with it. Chef Jost hazards against choosing “too cheap a spirit,” and says most of the time a bad taste will appear before a good one.

“You don't need to use the most expensive, but always go with a decent product,” Jost says.

To strike a perfect balance, he recommends cooking the spirit before adding it to a dessert.

“You want to have the flavour of the spirit, but not that strong alcohol taste, which is unpleasant,” he says. “Just boil the spirit so the alcohol will evaporate. You can add a little raw spirit to the dessert to have a little of the alcohol taste. It usually gives a kick, but it’s not aggressive on the palate."

Find Chef Jost's recipe for rich, chocolate brownies with a simple whiskey ganache here.

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