From margarita chicken to chardonnay cookies, chefs are taking a bar-inspired approach to everyday foods. While not everyone looks forward to bourbon on the rocks or a pint of craft beer with dinner, adults crave the characteristic and complex flavors born from modern bar culture, and many are looking to the dinner menu to get a taste of the experience—whether inspired by the sports bar or the cocktail club.
“It is a way to have fun with food,” said Suzy Badaracco, president, Culinary Tides Inc., Portland, Ore. Melding the familiar with the unexpected gives diners the opportunity to step outside their comfort zone. “Alcohol flavors also allow a dish to move easily into ethnic, global and region-specific territories. But it has to make sense to the consumer, so if it’s a regional dish, for example, use a spirit from that region for the combination to resonate.”
At New York City-based bar Amor y Amargo, the seafood crudo with citrus, salt, sugar and white rum gives diners something to talk about. “Suddenly it’s a seafood daiquiri,” said beverage director Sother Teague. “And instead of whiskey-glazed barbecue ribs, I use whiskey, sweet vermouth and angostura bitters to make ‘Manhattan cocktail’ glazed ribs.”
Mr. Teague says guests are always delighted when he offers them a dish made with alcohol because his bar is already known for its carefully crafted cocktails. “They are compelled to order it, especially when I draw a distinct line between the two,” he explains.
A dash of bitters
Liquor made from aromatic herbs, bark, roots and fruits, bitters have long been used as a flavor additive for cocktails ranging from the Manhattan to the Old Fashioned. Now they are the latest foodie flavor trend to hit the kitchen, prized for their balancing and flavor-boosting effect.
Bitters, which vary in flavor profile depending on the herbal essences used in manufacturing, may add depth and flavor to all types of cuisine. They are used much like such flavor extracts as almond, maple or vanilla, but are more complex by design. They may be added at any point in food preparation, depending on the desired flavor impact.
“When you add bitters before cooking, the flavors are more integrated and subtle,” said Tobin Ludwig, co-founder of Hella Bitters, New York City. “The flavors will be more focused and intense when added towards the end of preparation.
“Smoked chili bitters work nice in chocolate desserts,” he said. “Citrus bitters can be used in pancakes, while celery bitters is great in salad dressings.”