Selecting To Pairing, 3 Chefs Teach How To Cook With Whiskey
Image Credit: Cooking whiskey, Shutterstock

Recently during one of my dinner outings in Bengaluru, I chose to have an Italian spread. This eatery was highly recommended by a friend known in our circle for his epicurean prowess. Clubbed with my fondness for Italian cuisine, it only reinforced my pick for dinner. I chose a creamy whiskey pasta with smoked lobster. Though pasta wasn't my first experience, its rich flavours hit my taste buds this time on a different level. Impressed by it, I enquired more about this dish and understood that since it has been whiskey-infused, it has the enhanced flavours. This led me to dive deeper into how culinary professionals have used whiskey or whisky and whether there are any secret tips that can come in handy. 

Chef Gaurav Ramakrishnan, Head Chef, Hyatt Centric MG Road Bangalore, has been an expert in this field. In his extensive career, he has created countless recipes and recreated many. How does he consider whiskey an ingredient to work with in cooking? Responding to it, he praises the alcohol and mentions that it has a rich culinary history, especially in meat-based dishes, due to its ability to enhance flavours. "Personally, I favour using Bourbon for meats and white spirit vodka for seafood pasta in my cooking. Bourbon's distinct flavour, featuring a touch of sweetness and smoky undertones, adds depth and richness to stews and marinades, perfectly complementing the meat."

Whiskey, the versatile spirit for cooking

Many chefs worldwide have always preferred to employ this ancient spirit in cooking. It goes well for marinades, glazing and even in sauces. 

Chef Angat Grewal, Executive Sous Chef, Bengaluru Marriott Hotel Whitefield, calls whiskey or whisky a highly versatile beverage. "It can be utilised in various culinary applications, adding depth and complexity to savoury and sweet dishes. 

Echoing similar thoughts, Chef Raj Kumar Nandy, Executive Chef Hotel Royal Orchid, Bangalore, shares his take on the subject. "While working with whiskey in my cooking, I highly value its ability to enhance flavours, its versatility, and its potential for harmonious pairings." He incorporates this highly treasured spirit as a seasoning, marinade, or sauces to add depth and complexity to his dishes. "I always ensure that the alcohol content evaporates during the cooking process and consider any alcohol sensitivities of my patrons."

Whiskey's best pair

Most of us associate this spirit as a preferred base for boozy libations. But the usage of whiskey goes much beyond that. What are the choicest ingredients that chefs and culinary enthusiasts like to pair with whiskey while cooking with it? "I enjoy cooking beef with whiskey, especially when making a stew. The slow cooking process allows the flavours to blend harmoniously, creating a rustic and satisfying taste that lingers on the palate," informs Chef Gaurav.

Whisky, a prominent spirit in Scottish culture, plays a significant role in Cranachan, highlights Chef Angat. It infuses the dessert with a distinctive and warming flavour. The whisky's unique characteristics complement the other ingredients and infuse a touch of sophistication into the dessert.

"I enjoy making Cranachan, a delightful Scottish dessert that showcases the richness of traditional flavours and textures. This delectable treat is crafted using a combination of fine toasted Scottish oatmeal, cream, whisky, and raspberries," shares the Executive Sous Chef. 

Smokey effect of an alcoholic drink, Image Source: Pexels

The scope of experimenting with rich alcohol like whiskey is endless. For someone who wants to try their hands with it around churning a unique libation, Justin Dias, Head Mixologist, RCB Bar & Café, Bengaluru, has some exquisite tips, "Adding peanut butter to whiskey is a terrific way to take it to the next level. Put four or five tablespoons of peanut butter and some whiskey in a decanter. Five days later, strain it to remove the sediment. Add whatever you like most, whether walnuts, hazelnuts, or dried fruits."

Pro tips for selecting whiskey 

It goes without saying that the best taste of a recipe comes from the quality ingredients. Of course, the skill to cook it with perfection is cardinal. Hence, all the elements are interdependent, and one can't succeed in the absence of the others. Considering these rules, a question that pops up is how to select a whiskey that complements a food? Sharing his pro tips, Chef Gaurav articulates, "For those seeking to choose a whiskey for cooking, I highly recommend Bourbon because of its unique qualities that offer a delightful blend of subtle sweetness and smokiness. These characteristics vouch for it being an excellent choice for elevating the flavours of your dish."

A bottle of whiskey, Image Source: Pexels

Does one need to shell a bomb to procure an expensive spirit? Chef Angat clearly defies it and shares, "When incorporating whiskey into recipes, there is no requirement to exclusively opt for the most expensive brands. While the quality and character of the whiskey can undoubtedly impact the overall outcome, choosing a whiskey whose flavour aligns with the desired flavour profile of the prepared dish is essential." According to him, the distinct notes and nuances of the whiskey can significantly contribute to the overall taste and aroma of the final dish, making it an important element to consider when crafting a flavourful dish.

He goes on informing about what works well for creating cocktails. Blended whisky combines different malt and grain whiskies and is often favoured for creating delicious cocktails. The harmonious blend of different flavours and textures in blended whisky lends itself well to mixing with other ingredients, creating diverse and flavourful whisky cocktails.

From his knowledge of culinary art around alcohol-infused dishes, Chef Raj Kumar recommends his expert tips to pick and use whiskey for cooking. "Choose a whiskey that complements the flavours of your dish. Opt for good-quality whiskey to achieve better results in terms of taste. Experiment with different styles of whiskey to discover new flavour profiles. Balance the intensity of the whiskey with other ingredients to create a harmonious blend."

Cooking with alcohol, Image

When to add whiskey?

Often, for someone who is debuting in the world of cooking with alcohol, a pressing question lingers- when and how to add it to the recipe. A minor mistake can ruin the entire dish. Chef Raj has a pro tip -" Start with a small amount of whiskey and adjust according to taste. Remember that alcohol evaporates during cooking, leaving behind the flavours. Add whiskey towards the end of the cooking process to preserve its distinct flavours." He also recommends considering pairing whiskey with ingredients that complement and enhance its flavours, creating a well-balanced dish.