It's Not About Getting Tipsy, It's About Flavor and Science. We've talked before about the fact that alcohol doesn't completely cook out of food. However, that doesn't mean that the reason behind using it is because we just can't get enough alcohol. There is science behind cooking with alcohol.
Alcohol actually enhances the flavor of foods in two ways. First, it helps carry aromas from the plate to our noses, which plays a larger role in our experience of “tasting” food than we might think. Like salt, alcohol brings out the flavor in food. Whether you’re cooking with wine, beer, or liquor, the alcohol in those beverages improves flavor perception in at least two important ways: by evaporation and by molecular bonding. Let’s take them one at a time.
Molecules and Gaps
Secondly, alcohol bridges the gap between fat and water molecules. This means that alcohol helps us taste and smell things we wouldn’t otherwise be able to perceive quite as well. In a marinade, brines, and bastes, alcohol is also able to penetrate the meat better than other liquids, and it carries flavor into the meat itself. The meat winds up tasting much more rich and seasoned than it would otherwise.
One of the other surprising bits of information you may not know is just how little alcohol it takes to do all of this. Sometimes just a tablespoon of vodka in a marinade or a shot of port in a braise will make a definite difference in flavor.
Read this Article! – Alcohol’s Role in Cooking by David Joachim and Andrew Schloss in Fine Cooking, Apr/May 2010.
You remember back in chemistry class how you wanted to pour in a little of this and a little of that to see what would happen? Rekindle that curiosity in the kitchen. Start with just a dash, let it cook and then taste it. Some of our best recipes have come from mixing our desire to cook and still wanting to be a scientist.