As I begin cooking more advanced recipes, I've stumbled across a few that required small amounts (tablespoons) of (expensive) spirits such as Cognac, vodka, etc. The problem is that I don't keep that kind of stuff lying around (Oh God, that would end SO badly). My question is this: When a recipe calls for small amounts of something expensive (like Cognac), what does it (generally) add to the dish? Also, what non-spirit related food items are good substitutes?


The primary purpose is for flavor. If it's the expense of a large bottle for a few tablespoons here and there you should be able to buy the mini bottles (as are served on airplanes) from a local liquor store.

If you don't want to use or have it around due to issues with alcohol then look for other items that have as similar flavor to substitute. Sherry has a sweet nutty flavor to it and apple juice can often work suitably well. Keep in mind you'll probably not find an exact flavor match but it can be close. A small amount of orange extract could be used in place of grand marnier. Depending on the item, you might also try flavored syrups that are used for coffee drinks. Remember that these have a lot of sugar in them so you'll need to compensate by cutting back on sugar elsewhere in the recipe and obviously don't use them where the sweet flavor wouldn't be welcome.

  • I disagree with the first sentence as written. If you meant the primary purpose for expensive liquor vs cheap, it makes sense, but I don't think things like vodka are added for flavoring. Aug 3 '10 at 3:10
  • @Tim Gilbert: It depends. I agree that vodka does not add flavor, but try a table spoon of Cognac in a light broth and taste before and after. It's a world of difference.
    – nalply
    Aug 3 '10 at 8:29
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    @Tim Gilbert: Vodka is only one of many liquors out there. I agree...I've never really understood Vodka & Tomato sauce myself but in the case of brandy, vermouth, amaretto, chambord, rum, kahlua, etc. they are flavoring elements. I wasn't even addressing "expense" side other than the size of the bottle vs. what is used. The amount of alcohol used is in most recipes so so slight that the choice of a more expensive brand over a cheaper one is never going to be noticed. Aug 3 '10 at 11:07
  • Mini bottle availablity will vary by jurisdiction, but even places that ban them will often sell pints. Aug 4 '10 at 14:43
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    @TimGilbert Vodka is used in cooking not for its innate flavor but for the flavors released due to chemical reactions when its added. Alcohol in food, in low quantities creates and releases fruit esters, aldehydes and other aroma molecules into the air. Since our eating experience is a composite of smell, taste and feel, we get an enhanced dish when we add a dash of alcohol, even vodka.
    – Mark
    Nov 20 '16 at 6:12

My guess is that most of those type of recipes get born out of someone experimenting with whatever is in their pantry.

For relatively small amounts compared to the whole recipe, substituting it with a cheaper liquor, vinegar, juice, stocks, syrup or extract probably won't have a large impact.

However, for best results, you need to be familiar with the type of liquor, and why it is a part of the recipe, in order to know what's is the best replacement for it. Is it included for the acidity, for the sweetness, for the boiling point, etc.

Here is a page that has some recommendations for substitutions. http://ezinearticles.com/?Clever-Substitutions-For-Alcohol-in-Recipes&id=3923408


You asked what does it [alchohol] add?

Vodka has good rep when using it in batter, I figure it's mostly because of it's neutral flavour and high alcohol content. See:


And: http://mysocialchef.com/2010/04/vodka-fish-and-chips/

The good news is that you probably don't have to buy a premium vodka to get the same effects. Also the Heston Blumenthhal recipe mentions that the Lager beer is pretty effective (because of the bubbles), so perhaps you can just get away with just the lager.

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    It's mentioned in the first link, but so it's recorded here in case of link rot -- one of the advantages to vodka in batters is that it won't develop gluten the same way that water would, so you'll end up with a more tender crust.
    – Joe
    Apr 6 '11 at 4:33

Cognac --> Brandy Sherry and Port, I generally find a decent inexpensive one - Emu Sherry, Kopke port.

As far as vodka goes, I don't bother. Vodka is typically added to batters so that the alcohol evaporating drinks some of the oil out of the batter.

A much better option is to use 150 proof Alcool or Grain Spirits. It's cheap, and works better. (Usually sold as a home-made liqueur base)


I recently made several batches of fig bread that called for soaking the cut up fresh figs in sherry, and I still had a little on hand. The leavening was baking soda. I found with just that as leavening the breads didn't seem to rise as nicely as with b. powder so I did some reading up on leavening. This said leavenings need an acid and this is more complicated than I can explain because apparently the fruit itself plays a role too, but my point is that in some recipes that are leavened if you substitute I would think you need an equally acidic substitute. In general cooking, sherry etc I don't doubt adds flavor.

As for vodka, I don't remember what cooking expert said this, but using it in making pie crust instead of water results in a superior pastry.

I don't think these things go bad so if you cook a lot they should keep. I have had this bottle of sherry for cooking for years.

  • The booze in pie crust thing is probably most famously attributed to Alton Brown (although he certainly didn't come up with it). It's all about gluten, and how alcohol doesn't make it when combined with flour. Good Eats Transcript
    – Jolenealaska
    Aug 15 '14 at 4:23
  • Ethanol is also frequently included in commercially made chilled puff pastry - and interestingly, these often taste strongly (unpleasantly) alcoholic to me when baked too thick, probably some of the alcohol vapor gets trapped... Jan 26 '16 at 22:44

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