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Alcohol Substitutions in Cooking: What Works?


Dianabanana
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Emergency--I was planning to make steak with Madeira sauce (Madeira, anchovies, mustard, thyme, parsley, lemon, butter) substituting sherry for the Madeira. Now it turns out I'm out of sherry, too. Shaoxing wine is the closest thing I have. Will it work?

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I found a bottle of port I'd been saving and when I smelled them side by side the shaoxing smelled terrible! The port wasn't perfect but it was way better than the shaoxing would have been. Thanks for your help.

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  • 2 weeks later...

This kinda makes me wonder about alcohol substitutions in general. With older Westernized cookbooks for Asian food you see all sorts of things suggested for shaoxing -- sherry, of course, but I've seen whiskey, vermouth, and port all mentioned. Some seem like wacky ideas, and others not so weird.

Does anyone have suggestions for substitutions that have worked?

Chris Amirault

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Does anyone have suggestions for substitutions that have worked?

A quality, medium-dry sherry can sub for shaoxing. The difference is noticeable, but the food will be quite good. I like Lustau Amontillado.

In Chinese cooking "wine" may sometimes mean something stronger. There are no subs for "gaoliang liquor" or "rose wine", but Scotch can be quite good in some Shanghainese steamed pork dishes. Sometimes vodka is o.k. if the dish just needs some extra zip.

BB

Food is all about history and geography.

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  • 1 year later...

I make a bread putting with a mock whiskey cream sauce. I use Apple juice instead of Jack Daniels. It probably does not taste exactly like it would with Jack, but its delicious anyway and get's gobbled up wherever I bring it.

I know cooked for a while, the alcohol burns off inside a recipe, and I'm not opposed to anyone else drinking, its not a principle type of thing.

But I don't want to buy Jack, Cognac, Absinthe, wine etc. and keep it around. I do have a few bottles of non-alcaholic cooking wines which I use.

For recipes calling for beer, there are quite a few with almost no alcohol contend which I can use and do drink from time to time.

I would appreciate a list of substitutions you all have used, heard of and if you know of any written guides.

MAHALO

edited for grammar & spelling. I do it 95% of my posts so I'll state it here. :)

"I have never developed indigestion from eating my words."-- Winston Churchill

Talk doesn't cook rice. ~ Chinese Proverb

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This doesn't directly answer your question, but what I often do is buy miniatures. A few weeks back, I had to make an olive oil cake that included amaretto. If I'd bought a 750 ml bottle, 715 milliliters would have still been in it when the world came to an end. A two-buck miniature (50 ml/1.7 oz) solved the problem.

Dave Scantland
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You could get some of that fermented complexity out of using vinegar--it won't have the same exact effect (of course) as wine but if say you make a pan sauce for beef using stock and shallots then finish the sauce with sherry vinegar you might get some of the complexity you would get if you used wine to give one example.

nunc est bibendum...

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yes, a good vinegar will help the sauce. There's a Chinese black vinegar that's especially "winy". I like it a lot for cooking.

and you can sub beer, too--I've used beer many a time when the wine cellar was empty.

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Sounds like an interesting game for the home chemist :) Perhaps an alternative Jack might be concocted using the oak cubes sold for wine making, some vanilla essence and some caramel? A home made tincture of licorice root for pastis?

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Well, yes, an interesting experiment. The thing is, tinctures by definition are alcohol-based. And there's the rub: alcohol is a great solvent for many flavor molecules that water doesn't handle. If one is really trying to do without alcohol, I think Aloha Steve's implicit conclusion -- that a substitution can lead to something different but still very good -- is an admirable and less-frustrating path to follow.

Dave Scantland
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Eat more chicken skin.

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... and balsamic vinegar has its range of quality levels, with some very complex flavours in the high-end products. Of course stock is a liquid that has good flavour to use in the sort of amount one uses wine or beer; in desserts, orange, lemon and so on can do similar things to brandy or whisky. For brandy in, say, pate, there's all sorts of things to add a depth of flavour - browned onions, anchovy, paprika, curry powder or roasted cumin... juniper berries will give some of the character of gin.

To follow DerekW's point about wine & wood, much of the flavour in whisky or brandy comes from the (old sherry) casks.

If you're trying to keep an alcohol-free house (unruly kids ? drunken pets ?) as opposed to avoiding buying a whole bottle just for one shot, you could try buying the bottle, cooking off the alcohol and keeping the product.

QUIET!  People are trying to pontificate.

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If you're trying to keep an alcohol-free house (unruly kids ? drunken pets ?) as opposed to avoiding buying a whole bottle just for one shot, you could try buying the bottle, cooking off the alcohol and keeping the product.

Its unruly Aloha Steve :biggrin: LOL

Its avoiding buying the whole bottle and just having it lying around. Airplane bottles is a good one, thanks Dave.

I would rather substitute, come close to taste and what the alcohol needs to accomplish composition wise in the recipe.

I'm taking notes thanks to all who responded so far, and will.

edited for grammar & spelling. I do it 95% of my posts so I'll state it here. :)

"I have never developed indigestion from eating my words."-- Winston Churchill

Talk doesn't cook rice. ~ Chinese Proverb

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For fruit liqueurs, I sometimes sub fruit juice concentrate (i.e., the frozen sort). Coffee Bar syrups can sub for nut liqueurs; some of these are also available in 2 oz bottles. But for general cooking which calls for alcohol, usually I will purchase the smaller 6 or 13 oz bottles. The Airplane bottles are difficult to find in my neighborhood, although the 6 oz. flasks seem almost common.

Karen Dar Woon

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Wine in a box (i.e. a vacuum bag in a box) is a super-convenient way to keep 'opened' wine fresh and accessible. Vacuum stopper sets like 'Vacuvin' aren't much more trouble. In general, as you say, you'll cook off the alcohol. Insofar as the alcohol is cooked off in any recipe, you're just looking for flavour components, aren't you ? With the vast range of alcohol flavours, it's hard to answer your question - mostly you'll want to investigate what makes the flavours in the drink. What makes Vermouth ? What vodka ? What Noilly Prat ? And so on. What are the main alcohols you cook with ?

Jack Daniels always tasted like bubble gum to me. Probably the best substitutes for brandy and whisky are each other - so you could choose your poison and stick with it, particularly if you choose one of the smoother ones - in blended Scotch, Teachers and Grouse are good value, and pleasant to drink too, particularly split with some good water at room temperature, IMO.

Back to wine again, if you're making a lot of reductions, I'm speculating but I imagine you could reduce a whole bottle and freeze that in cubes, the same way you can do for stock (spirits particularly won't freeze solid with their alcohol still in them, will they ?). It's never seemed enough of a problem round here to have an opened bottle of wine - or have to open one :rolleyes:

In some recipes - particularly cold desserts - you keep the alcohol content intact, don't you ? Traditional India had it's Bhang Lassi... sometimes the only substitute for one alcohol will be another.

Edited by Blether (log)

QUIET!  People are trying to pontificate.

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Its unruly Aloha Steve :biggrin: LOL

I guessed that might be what lay behind the question, but was pussyfooting around the issue since it wasn't my business :smile:

If you want to go homemade then I'd still suggest tinctures, as being too flavour concentrated for concern. Making them might place temptation in the way though.

Commercially, there are numerous concentrated flavourings available intended for home brewers [and home distillers where that's legally allowed, e.g. NZ].

I'd look at those; although I have my doubts about their effectiveness in converting homebrew to Cognac, they might be a useful cooking product. Available hereabouts from homebrew suppliers.

Edited by DerekW (log)
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Ah. Well, if it's really about keeping a low-alcohol house - for whatever reason - I still like the idea of buying your wine, whisky or brandy, boiling off the alcohol from the whole batch and keeping the result. Surely that will give the most authentic alcohol-free substitute. Ethanol boils at 79C / 172F, so use a thermometer and heat until you get the liquid a few degrees past that and you'll know the alcohol's gone, or alternatively look for, for example, a 40% volume reduction if your spirit is 40% alcohol / 80 proof.

Normally, wine exposed to the air goes off as the alcohol slowly turns to vinegar. Now I think about it, I'm not sure why the alcohol in spirits doesn't. Is the action in wine bacterial ? Either way, I don't know what would be the keeping properties of a de-alcohol'ed wine, whisky or brandy, but freezing should be possible and refrigeration might even suffice.

In the supermarket's baking section you can normally find little bottles of alcohol-free 'brandy' or 'whisky' flavouring. I wouldn't be surprised if they are prepared from the source spirits in just this way.

As for Absinthe, that's already a de-natured pastiche of something else - a pastiche of something of which Pastis is probably a previous pastiche. If sweetness is OK, the French make 'Anisette' which is a fruit-cordial equivalent of Pastis in the way a raspberry fruit cordial is non-alcoholic Lejay Framboise.

Substitutions. Nothing in any dish is indispensable, is it, other than good main ingredient(s) and a judicious amount of salt ? Spot the quote:

"... try simplifying a recipe which calls for rather a lot of ingredients down to the barest essentials. You may well find that the dish is more pleasing in its primitive form, and then you will know that your recipe was too fanciful. If, on the other hand, the dish seems to lack savour, to be a little bleak or insipid, start building it up again. By the end of this process, you will have discovered what is essential to that dish, what are the extras which enhance it, and at what point it is spoilt by over-elaboration. This system is also useful in teaching one how to judge a recipe for oneself, instead of following it blindly from a cookery book".

QUIET!  People are trying to pontificate.

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"... try simplifying a recipe which calls for rather a lot of ingredients down to the barest essentials. You may well find that the dish is more pleasing in its primitive form, and then you will know that your recipe was too fanciful. If, on the other hand, the dish seems to lack savour, to be a little bleak or insipid, start building it up again. By the end of this process, you will have discovered what is essential to that dish, what are the extras which enhance it, and at what point it is spoilt by over-elaboration. This system is also useful in teaching one how to judge a recipe for oneself, instead of following it blindly from a cookery book".

Thanks Blether for this, it rings true in a lot of instances.

edited for grammar & spelling. I do it 95% of my posts so I'll state it here. :)

"I have never developed indigestion from eating my words."-- Winston Churchill

Talk doesn't cook rice. ~ Chinese Proverb

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