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When cooking with wine or other booze does the alcohol have an affect on the cooking process?

Example: deglazing a pan or making a wine-based sauce. My understanding is that the alcohol evaporates quickly, so the booze is mostly there to add flavor and act as a liquid medium, and thus substitutible by another liquid, e.g. stock. Is there more going on than this?

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About alcohol effects in a dish;please refer to cooking.stackexchange.com/questions/18695/… –  MissesBrown Dec 24 '11 at 3:29
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The alcohol doesn't actually all evaporate that quickly, but it's still usually for flavor; there generally wasn't a ton of alcohol to begin with, and depending on the situation, a substantial amount may boil away. cooking.stackexchange.com/questions/659/cooking-away-alcohol –  Jefromi Dec 24 '11 at 13:14
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2 Answers

The alcohol aids in extracting flavour enhancing compounds which may be more soluble in alcohol than in water.

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Alcohol serves two functions, depending on your recipe: It is a solvent for certain compounds that do not dissolve as readily in water alone, and it is a mild acid. The former reason is why the "alla vodka" sauce uses vodka (the alcohol boosts the tomato flavor, completely overwhelming the subtle flavor of the vodka itself). The latter is why many cooks add a shot of brandy to beef stew shortly before serving, to "brighten" the flavor.

By the way, while much of the alcohol cooks off, unless you cook your sauce nearly dry, a good bit will remain. For a very boozy sauce (like the glaze for cherries jubilee), many cooks ignite the sauce to accelerate the removal of excess alcohol, but even then, a small amount will remain behind.

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I would dispute the "mild acid" claim. Alcohol isn't acidic in itself, and while some alcoholic beverages are acidic to some degree (beer, wine), it certainly isn't due to their ethanol content. –  rumtscho Dec 26 '11 at 15:24
    
@rumtscho: I'll yield to your point that the pure chemical ethyl alcohol isn't itself the source of the acidity, but the reason for adding wine, beer, or liquor is in large part due to the acid content, so there really isn't much point in distinguishing them. –  Bruce Goldstein Dec 26 '11 at 21:23
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