Who doesn’t enjoy sitting down to a nice dinner with a cocktail in hand? After a long day, a drink is a great way to unwind. Yet your favorite spirits can do more than just help you relax after work. By utilizing alcohol in the kitchen, you can enhance everything from how food tastes to your health.
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#1. Make Homemade Ice Cream More Scoopable
Perhaps the most frustrating quality of ice cream is exactly what makes it such a great summer treat: it’s frozen. Pulling out a carton of tastyhomemade ice cream can result in disappointment when the delicious dessert is so frozen you can’t scoop any out.
With its inability to freeze, booze is a great solution for tough ice cream. Vodka, for example, has enough alcohol to lower its freezing point to below what most standard freezers can produce.
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Former Chez Panisse pastry chef David Lebovitz, author of The Perfect Scoop, suggests adding a few tablespoons of liquor to DIY ice cream to ensure that it stays soft enough to scoop easily.
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Just be sure to mix all of the ingredients thoroughly so that the alcohol is evenly distributed.
#2. Keep Grill Steaks & Other Meat Toxin-Free
Cooking meat at high temperatures is a great way to remove any bacteria present. Yet there’s more than bacteria hiding in your pork chops—turns out grilled meat also contains cancer-causing carcinogens. Chemistry professors and researchers at the University of Porto (Portugal) and Vigo (Spain) discovered that carcinogens called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) form while your meat is browning on the grill.
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However, reducing them is as easy as adding some beer to your marinade, preferably a dark one, as the study above notes. Be sure to learn exactlywhich types of beer are best at preventing PAHs, along with other foods and spices you can use if you hate beer.
#3. Make Healthier Meals by Cutting Unnecessary Fats
Cream, butter, and oils are wonderful ingredients, but they’re also high in calories. If you’re counting calories but want to keep lots of flavor in your food, try using wine in your recipes instead.
Sutter Health Hospital of Sacramento recommends roasting, poaching, and stir-frying with wine to keep your food tasty and heart-healthy at the same time. So does Elaine Magee, MPH, RD over at WebMD (she even recommends using wine to replace some of the fat in baked goods). I’ve had great success using only wine and stock (or wine and water) to deglaze a pan for health-conscious friends.
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Meanwhile, Gourmet Sleuth has great tips on how to choose wines to use in recipes. The most important, in my opinion, is to only cook with a wine that you also want to drink. After all, the flavor of the liquid is going to end up in your food.
#4. Create Crispier Coatings on Fried Foods
Ever wonder why beer-battered fish sticks are so much better than regular ones? It’s all thanks to foam. Nathan Myhrvold and W. Wayt Gibbs, creators of the book Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking, explain that the foaming agents in beer create an excellent insulator, which prevent whatever’s inside the batter from overcooking. That’s especially important since frying temperatures reach 130° C (266° F).
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Meanwhile, the alcohol content in beer helps the crust get beautifully lacy and crisp, and also keeps the internal temperature of the food from getting too high. This is because alcohol-based batters evaporate more quickly than water- or milk-based ones, and require less cooking time.
#5. Enhance the Smell of Food
Alcohol is pretty darn aromatic, and that quality can make meals more enticing. Authors of The Science of Good Food et al. David Joachim and Andrew Schloss, point out that because alcohol is made of volatile molecules, its strong smell evaporates into the air almost immediately. This causes the fragrance of whatever it is mixed with to reach your nose quickly, piquing your sense of smell and your appetite, too.
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Just make sure you don’t douse your fruit salad in a bottle of Pinot or you’ll smell nothing but booze.
Don’t Worry: You Won’t Get Drunk
Now that you know just how helpful and delicious a dash of liquor in your food can be, start testing its powers in your own kitchen. Add some booze to your next marinade or rehabilitate bad wine and use it in a cake.
If you’re worried about the alcohol content of your cooked food, don’t. Most of it burns off during cooking. NPR explains that alcohol turns to steam around 78° C (174° F). Meanwhile, water does the same at 100° C (212° F), so bringing your food to a simmer means the booze will evaporate into thin air, leaving behind only delicious flavors.