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How To Cook Alcohol-Free

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Updated August 11, 2009

Whether you have an alcohol allergy or whether you're abstaining for other reasons, knowing how to replace alcohol in recipes is important. Although most recipes are naturally alcohol-free, some use wine, beer, or spirits to boost the flavor of other ingredients or to make complex sauces. Read on to learn how you can replace alcohol in recipes for pan sauces, tomato recipes, savory recipes, baked goods, and desserts.

Difficulty: Average
Time Required: n/a

Here's How:

  1. Replacing alcohol in pan sauces. Some recipes for steak or chicken call for the meat to be removed from the pan, followed by the addition of alcohol to the hot pan, usually combined with vigorous scraping of the cooked-on bits of meat (or fond). This technique is called deglazing, and it's useful for making quick sauces. Luckily, while alcohol is traditional in pan sauces, it's not necessary. You can substitute broth, stock, or fruit juice (if it works with the other flavors in the dish). Even water will deglaze adequately if you're adding other ingredients like herbs or vegetables to the sauce.

  2. Replacing alcohol in tomato recipes. Many tomato sauces call for vodka or red wine. The reason? There are flavor compounds in tomatoes that are released by cooking with alcohol, so a sauce with a small amount of alcohol will have a richer flavor than an identical alcohol-free sauce. If you are allergic to either vodka or wine - but not the other - feel free to substitute an equal amount of whichever is safe for you. Otherwise, you can leave it out; the recipe will still work. You could add a small amount of concentrated tomato paste to boost flavor, but it's not necessary.

  3. Replacing alcohol in savory recipes. Some recipes use alcohol not to deglaze but for its own flavor. You can virtually always substitute another liquid with a neutral or complementary flavor to the dish and still come out with a fine result. Risotto recipes are a good example: they often call for wine before you start adding stock or broth. Feel free to leave the wine out and replace the liquid with additional stock, or another liquid with complementary flavors.

  4. Replacing alcohol in wine-based sauces. White clam sauce and other sauces for pasta or fish often call for large amounts of white wine. You can make an alcohol-free clam sauce by doubling the amount of clam juice called for in the recipe and adding a little broth or stock. To substitute in other sauces, consider melted butter -- it's perfect with garlic or herbs.

  5. Replacing alcohol in batter-fried recipes. The beer in beer-battered seafood recipes has two purposes: taste and carbonation (the bubbles in beer make for a light, crispy batter). You can adapt beer-battered recipes by using another carbonated beverage in place of beer. Soft drinks work but may clash with your food, so you'll want to fry a small batch to test for taste before you cook a whole meal. Seltzer or sparkling water are other options that work well, although you'll want to season your batter more strongly.

  6. Replacing alcohol in baking extracts and liqueurs. Some cake and cookie recipes use small amounts of liqueurs or rum for flavoring. You can generally replace these without ill effect; look for alcohol-free flavored extracts at health food or specialty stores (or online) as a replacement. Do be aware that these products are not as strongly flavored as extracts made with alcohol (the alcohol in most extracts helps bring out flavors).

  7. Replacing alcohol in alcohol-based desserts. A few cakes are soaked in alcohol -- babas au rhum and fruitcake primary among them. While there are alcohol-free fruitcake recipes, and while you can certainly make the cakes for babas without the rum sauce, be aware that alcohol is really essential to the character and chemistry of these recipes. This is one instance where you should consider a different dessert.

  8. Replacing alcohol in sweet sauces. Flambées do require alcohol, but few of us light food afire on a regular basis. More often, small amounts of liqueurs or spirits are simmered in sauces for ice cream or with fruit. Unless the recipe you're looking to convert is more than about 25% alcohol, feel free to substitute more of the base liquid or another liquid that works with your dessert. Do be aware that alcohol is sugary and cooks away quickly, so if you do choose to substitute something else, you may need to adjust for sweetness or to add a little more thickener (such as cornstarch) to a gel-like sauce.

Tips:

  1. Not every substitution will work the first time you try it. That's okay! Keep notes on what works and what doesn't.
  2. When in doubt, chicken or vegetable stock is often a decent substitute liquid for savory dishes.

What You Need

  • Recipe
  • Substitute Ingredients (alcohol-free extracts, cooking liquids, etc.)
  1. About.com
  2. Health
  3. Food Allergies
  4. Cooking Tips
  5. Alcohol-Free Cooking - Alcohol-Free Cooking for Alcohol Allergy

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