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Raid Your Bar for Cooking Inspiration

From liqueurs to bitters, a well-stocked bar can jazz up your home cooking

Various colorful tinctures and jiggers set up on a bar counter. Shutterstock

It’s not surprising to find a bartender in the kitchen. Many drink recipes call for eggs from the refrigerator, spices from the cabinet, and every manner of cooking appliance to create specialized cocktail ingredients. Bartenders at restaurants have been known to pilfer kitchen scraps for ingredients to infuse tinctures and syrups, not only reducing waste but opening up new spectrums of flavor to drinkers.

A few recipes make creative use of bar ingredients — ouzo-scented orange cake, pozole made smoky with mezcal, or sweet potato crumble dashed with Angostura — but they’re outliers among the “boozy” clickbait recipes (which inevitably cook off any alcohol) “spiked” with a dash of bourbon, rum, or vodka. Booze may affect the consistency of a dish, and readers may want to avoid cooking with pricey bottles, but blurring the line between bar and kitchen opens up all sorts of experimentation and fun. Here are a few ideas to get you started.

Use Bitters in Place of Zest or Spices

The craft cocktail boom of the aughts and teens spawned a booming bitters industry that slowly, like the Blob, absorbed every herb, fruit, and wood on this green Earth. You can now zhuzh up a drink with bitters made from prickly pear or winter melon, black pepper or chile pepper, lavender or rose, oak or palo santo, mole or Jamaican jerk.

Depending on the application, bitters infused with an ingredient serve perfectly well in place of that ingredient or something similar. They offer a quick, intense hit of flavor, and since they’re powerful in such small quantities (for example, a dash or two in the dough will flavor an entire tray of cookies), you can often use them without significantly altering the composition of a delicate baked good or finicky sauce. They’re also relatively shelf stable, with alcohol acting as a preservative, though, like spices, their flavor may degrade over time. For an easy entry point, try swapping citrus zest with a few dashes of citrus bitters or putting celery bitters in your next soup.

Use Liqueurs in Sauces, Stocks, and Marinades

When you stop thinking of liqueurs as cocktail ingredients, it’s easy to see how their floral, nutty, fruity, or herbal notes could play well in a wide variety of recipes. Unless you’re dealing with a particularly finicky recipe, like a delicate sauce vulnerable to breakage, you can apply liqueurs fairly flexibly to any dish where you might add sugar or another sweetener. When a soy dipping sauce calls for honey, try amaretto or nocino. Add some nuance to a marinade with Chartreuse. Temper acidic tomatoes in a pasta sauce with a bit of Cynar. Energize your tahini dressing with a touch of coffee liqueur. Amp up salsa with ancho chile liqueur.

Look Beyond the Usual Suspects

Adding a touch of alcohol can perk up a recipe, but it’s hard to find excitement in that cheap bourbon you use in every single marinade. Many recipes default to whiskey, vodka, or rum because they’re crowd pleasers, but they’re hardly the only appealing flavors on the back bar. Swap those humdrum options for cachaça (awesome in banana bread), aquavit (great in pickle brine), or peaty Scotch (excellent for a smoky braise).

Opt for a Jigger

Stop shuffling between measuring spoons and combine all those tools into a single jigger. With a little practice, jiggers are quicker to use than spoons, and it’s easy to find a model that fits your hand well. (I personally prefer a heavier jigger, which I totally unscientifically believe prevents spills by giving the ingredient physical weight in my mind.) Converting from liquid tablespoons and teaspoons to the ounces on jiggers is pretty clean, as long as you don’t mind a little mental math.

Shake Your Cream

In addition to mixing up daiquiris, a cocktail shaker is an excellent tool for whipping cream. Unlike a whisk, which can be hell on the wrist, a shaker is a much more ergonomic and efficient tool for the task. Acclaimed barman Jim Meehan suggests removing the spring from a cocktail strainer and adding it to the shaker with the cream, which speeds up the whipping action. Cooling the cream and the shaker helps too.

Serve Dessert in a Coupe

For hundreds of years, coupe glasses were used to serve Champagne. While that horrible idea was eventually rectified (the wide opening of the glass lets all the bubbles float away), the elegant curve of the vessel still befits a post-dinner treat, like ice cream or pudding. Skip the dessert dishes and serve everything in coupes like sweet, classy nightcaps.

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