Alcohol Substitutions

There are many chefs who don’t consume alcohol and so many recipes which call for it – what’s a chef to do? The common myth (yes, myth) that alcohol burns off during cooking won’t work in this game.

Okay, to clear the myth before I go on – yes, a large portion can burn off–if it’s an open skillet, wide bottom, and lots of time. If you’re cooking with the lid on, exactly where do you think the alcohol is evaporating to? Exactly. Right back into the pot. Even after an hour of open pot cooking (depending on quantity) not all the alcohol is gone. So, if you’re really abstaining from alcohol, this won’t work any more, will it?

Now, back to our regulary-scheduled post – what to do if you abstain (which you might do now, after reading the paragraph above). Well, we go back to basics! What is wine? Well, in crude terms, juice and alcohol. So, if we remove the alcohol, we can just add juice, right? Unfortunately, no – the fermented juice has a high acidity, so if we omit alcohol, we’re omitting the acidity which plays a very vital part in recipes, too. Now, about that juice –

Sometimes subbing juice will be an option, others, not. Really, you have to step back and consider what’s in your recipe. If you’re making a nice chicken soup and your recipe calls for 1/4 cup white wine (to deglaze the pan), how sweet would you want that chicken soup? Enough to add 1/4 cup of white grape juice? Well, that’s a preference thing, so here’s a few options: no matter what, start with a little lemon juice (in this case, 2 teaspoons should do), then the rest of the liquid could be any combination of water, more chicken broth or white grape juice. There are other options, such as dealcoholized white wine and alcohol-free wine. I’ve never given these a try, so I can’t vouch for them. I can say to avoid “cooking wineâ€? (all this is is real wine with 1.5% salt. Yuck! Again, if you’re abstaining from alcohol, not the best choice. And, hey, if your’e not, use the real thing. The extra salt is just the quickest way to ruin a dish.

So, if you’re too tired to read the whole post and skipped to the last paragraph (hey! thanks for coming!), here’s the bottom-line: skip “cooking wineâ€? and go for some freshly-squeezed lemon juice and a nice bottle of Welch’s White Grape juice (or apple, red grape, etc – whatever complements the dish the best), or take the cheap route and use the good ‘ol tap water. Cheers!

Edit to add [March 12, 2007]: By the way, here is my favorite chart for alcohol substitutions.

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