Liberating Libations

Finding new uses for those forgotten bottles
By Joel Harrison
Lennon and McCartney. Posh and Becks. Islay and whisky. Food and drink. Great pairings need no introduction. But when it comes to the latter one must dig a little deeper. To simply say drink goes well with food, is to say that breathing goes well with being alive. The two are so intertwined, so supportive of each other that it is difficult to imagine a world with just one of the pair.

Of course you'll be aware of the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein and his private language theory, right? You know, the one where he talks about different groups in society having their own private language...? For example, if you say the word 'Scotch' to a gruff Norwegian fisherman, he may well think of something heavy, oily and peaty, a classic glass of Islay whisky, maybe. However, say the same word to a New Yorker staying in a top hotel in Hong Kong and they may think of the sweet, honeyed nature of The Balvenie. Each of us, from our own personal experience, has a different interpretation to each and every word we hear.

So what of the word 'food'? What does that conger up in your mind? Maybe you have just returned from a business trip to Japan, where food means small plates of raw fish. Or maybe you're fresh off the plane from completing the Bourbon trail, where food means huge portions of barbecued meat. Now let's take it a step further; what about the word 'ingredient'? Depending on where you are from in the world, or even which region you are in, in your own country this word will mean something utterly different to each of you reading this article; but I bet that hardly any of you are thinking of a liquid.

But from stocks to soups, roux to jus, liquid is vital in cooking and you may have a cupboard in your kitchen which, for sheer selection of bottles, may resemble your drinks cabinet. Hot sauce, HP, Worcester, that bottle which someone brought you back from Texas that one time... it's all there, no doubt going nowhere fast.

If you're bored with all these slow-to-be-used additives backing up on your shelf, it may be time to turn your attention to the bottles in your drinks cabinet to give your cooking a little more, well, Dutch courage.

Firstly, grab some whisky and drag it into the kitchen: whisky is one of the world's finest drinks because it is ram-jam-packed with flavour. It doesn't have to be just in glass, anyone who has visited Islay and stood by the Sound of Jura, watching fresh scallops being pan-fried in foaming butter, lemon juice and a healthy pour of Bunnahabhain cannot deny the usefulness of whisky in cooking. If the rain is lashing down, the steaming bowl will warm your hands like Bovril at a football match. If it's sunny and warm, the lemon juice and whisky sauce provides one of the world's most refreshing treats; a food for all seasons.

While you're rummaging around for the bin-ends in your collection to add flavour to your dish, why not pick up that most forgotten of items: the Angostura aromatic bitters bottle.

Any self-respecting whisky drinker should have bottle in their collection, hiding away behind its oversized label, with a yellow cap shining out like a beacon. If you haven't used it in a while, remove the top and simply breathe in and you'll find an aroma which you can never forget. A key ingredient in many classic whisky cocktails, if you decide to reward you, or your friends, one evening with an Old Fashioned or a Whiskey Sour, this is what you need. Don't you go giving me all that "the only thing that goes with whisky is more whisky" party political broadcast; no, Sir. I don't care who you are, there is always a whisky which you'll want to mix, be it a top end single malt (your choice) or that bottle of supermarket blended whisky your nephew got you last Christmas... there is usually a utility dram in everyone's portfolio.

Far from being an important component in cocktails, and a hell of a right-hand man to whisky, Angostura bitters also makes a great ingredient in food. Seriously.

So much so, that top chef and presenter from Channel 4's Sunday Brunch, Simon Rimmer, has put together a selection of recipes using the bitters. A man who knows food and drink pairings (he has his own range of beers to pair with different dishes), Rimmer says: "When it comes to whisky I'm always drawn to the really smoky end of the market. I love that intensity of flavour." With cooking and whisky, Rimmer says he and his team have been mesmerised by the diverse flavours involved in the liquid. He adds: "At my restaurant Earle, we became a little bit obsessed with making jellies and did things like orange and whisky jelly and we did a cured salmon with whisky which was beautiful." With his favourite cocktail an Old Fashioned, it seemed an obvious leap for Rimmer to embrace Angostura bitters as a key ingredient in some experimental recipes, a selection of these creations will soon be published on the brand's website and youtube channels.

As a result, Victoria Grier has created a tribute recipe taking inspiration from Simon Rimmer's most loved cocktail, the Old Fashioned. Remember: those bottles in the back of your drinks cabinet? Not useless punch fodder after all.

Move them into the kitchen, remove the pourer and have some fun!

Warm duck and whisky cherry summer salad

By Victoria Grier

British cherries are a real summer treat. Due to the hot sunny weather we have been experiencing we're now seeing better British cherries than we have for a few years. Sweeter than their foreign counter parts, British cherries add a lovely colour to summer salads not to mention a tartness which complements juicy duck.

To bring these flavours together we are using The Balvenie 12 Years Old DoubleWood from Speyside. Matured in Bourbon casks this softens the character of the whisky and then it is finished in sherry casks which brings out a sweetness and an earthiness in the cherries. In addition we are soaking the cherries in Angostura aromatic bitters. As a flavour enhancer used in Caribbean cooking this enhances the natural flavours of the ingredients in this recipe, giving a nod in the direction of the Old Fashioned cocktail.

Serves 4



  • 2 Gressingham Duck Breasts (Skin on)

  • 200g mixed British salad leaves (rocket, watercress, lambs lettuce or spinach)

  • 10 cherry tomatoes, halved

  • 4 spring onions, finely sliced

  • 250g fresh British cherries, halved

  • 2 tbsp Angostura aromatic bitters

  • 2 tbsp The Balvenie DoubleWood 12 Years Old


  • 1 orange (zest and juice)

  • 3 tbsp olive oil

  • 2 tbsp Dijon mustard

  • Salt and pepper

1. First of all, place the cherries in the bowl with the whisky and bitters. Allow to soak for at least two hours.
2. Assemble your salad leaves, tomatoes and spring onions on a serving plate.
3. Whisk together the olive oil, juice of an orange, Dijon mustard, pinch of salt and pepper. Set to one side.
4. Lightly score the skin of the duck breasts, then season well. Place skin side down into a hot pan for five minutes until golden brown and crispy. Turn over and cook for a further five minutes if you like your duck rare. A further 10 for medium and 15 for well done.
5. Leave the duck to rest for five minutes and slice diagonally. Tumble the cherries over the prepared salad and lay the duck over the top. Finish with the orange dressing and zest of an orange.