Following our exploration of the good principles and the errors to avoid in the food and whisky matching and cooking game (see WM95 for the first part), we will now examine some the techniques. In the first part, we listed the best ingredients we can use to concoct a whisky menu.
This is the first step and an essential one. But if the ingredients are not cooked appropriately, especially when whisky is added to the dish, your guests (and yourself) will be disappointed.
I have recently attended a “cooking with whisky demonstration” by a couple who own a restaurant in Scotland. They had a selection of fine local ingredients, including crab, langoustines, scallops, venison and a fine range of an excellent malt from one Islay distillery.
There was nothing wrong with the dishes they had selected but the way they cooked and the reasons they gave for having chosen that particular age, bottling, cask maturation for each recipe were far from being convincing.
They started their demonstration by stating that the most important in cooking with whisky is the food. Whisky only comes as a flavour enhancer. Just as well they did not see the face I made at this statement!
My thoughts are totally the opposite. I always start with whisky and more precisely from my tasting notes, looking at the aromatic delivery, the texture and picking the key aromas to use them as the matching anchorage point. But I would not say that food acts as a flavour enhancer for the whisky. It is much more intricate than that.
The other disagreement between their practice and mine was the cooking methods. I noticed that, in most dishes, whisky was poured when the ingredients were half cooked.
Although both restaurateurs insisted that whisky should not be cooked, they generously added a large dash of single malt in the pan while the scallops were not completely seared, which required an extra dash of whisky in the end as the flavours had almost vanished in doing so.
But that last minute addition finally overpowered the scallops and in the end whisky was wasted!
So we will accept as a basic principle that whisky must not be cooked. Let us have a closer look at the cooking techniques.
A categorical Don’t!
The old cooking school in France was very fond of “flambé”, considering that the flame took the alcohol away, just to keep the flavours of the cognac the chef was using. Well… no. The only advantage of this technique, as I have often said in these pages, is to provide the guest with a show, for instance when you pour a dash of Grand Marnier over a pancake and light a match to burn the alcohol. The “crêpe Suzette” show has certainly toured the word at Escoffier or even Paul Bocuse’s time but that does not mean it is an example to follow.
So let’s forget about flambé.
This is an excellent way to impart whisky flavours to raw ingredients, bearing in mind that macerating fish or meat in whisky for too long will result in “cooking” them and will give them an unpleasant greyish colour.
Marinate raw langoustines for ten minutes in lime juice, add two tablespoons of peated whisky (such as Caol Ila), a teaspoon of grated ginger root and grated lime and a pinch of chilli. Then cook them in a pan with a touch of olive oil. Deglaze the pan at the very end with the marinade.
Soak raw salmon slices (or smoked salmon) in whisky to make a carpaccio for example.
As explained above, whisky can be used to deglaze a hot pan. This is the way to get all the juices from the cooking. The pan must be very hot so that the operation can be done off the stove. A spoonful of cream or a large knob of butter will make a delicious sauce. Or for a sweet, a spoonful of maple syrup. Always use a wooden spatula to remove all the juices from the pan.
After having pan-fried pork chops, deglaze the pan with a Highland malt and add three tablespoons of organic apple juice. Stir energetically to take the juices off and put back on the gas 30 seconds to thicken the sauce.
Pour a large serving of whisky in the pan and let evaporate, cooking on a high heat.
This is more a tip than a technique but it works very well, specially for cakes. Or pan-fried meats and fishes. Just soak the brush in the whisky. Brush the surface of the cooked food.
To make a lemon drizzle cake shine, mix the whisky with a lemony syrup and brush the cake. You can stick the surface of the cake with a knife so that the whisky and the syrup penetrate better. For a barbecued leg of lamb, brush the meat with a mix of honey and whisky.
Use a high strength whisky as the alcohol will not evaporate quickly enough.
This is something I have discovered recently. Thanks to a talented London barman who prepared a non alcohol cocktail for me one evening. Knowing that I was a whisky fan, he was disappointed that I ordered an alcohol-free drink. He made a superb cocktail with fresh fruit and a delicious raspberry nectar, and at the last minute, sprayed some Ardbeg over the surface of the liquid. I could taste the smoke floating over the fruit.
Now I always have an atomizer filled with a smoky whisky by my stove. Very important: always do that at the last minute as the fragrances are evanescent.
Spray a peated whisky over a cream of parsnips and toasted almonds. Do the same over a summer fruit salad.
I can’t think of a don’t really! I would even try that with a hot chocolate.
Now, are you ready to do your own experiments? I would be interested by your own “do and don’ts”. Bon appétit.