Beyond Barbecue Sauce: New Ways to use Whiskey in the Kitchen

Image: Black Market Liquor Bar

For sure, the sweet, smoky, tangy notes in a sauce slathered on smoky ribs or chicken drumsticks serves as an easy, natural, expected segue into cooking with whiskey. And we wouldn’t dream of bashing the deliciousness of the summertime staple which is not only capable of adding tons of irresistible flavor but can also forgive meats that have spent a few minutes too many on the fire. However, it’s a mere sliver into the versatile application of using Scotch, bourbon, Japanese whisky and single malts from the beginning to the end of the meal.

Garde manger (“keeper of the food”) chef Andy Sherwood at The Langham Huntington takes a different tack for the sauce for a dish at the property’s bar, The Tap Room. For his Chicken Katsu Fries with Kikori Whiskey Gravy, he starts with a Japanese spirit distilled from rice, along with lots of garlic and veal stock. “The Kikori Whiskey gives the gravy more complexity by adding sweet notes and hints of smoke and oak which really complement the dish,” he says.

Chicken Katsu Fries with Kikori Whiskey Gravy at The Tap Room at The Langham Huntington

He tenderizes chicken breast, coats them in butter and miso paste, rolls and flattens them, and fries them. French fries are coated in a mixture of turmeric, garlic powder, ground cumin, fresh thyme and ground coriander. The dish is served by assembling the seasoned fries on a platter, topping them with the chicken, and pouring the gravy over the entire dish. “Using whiskey to make sauce and desserts makes the dish[es] rich.” For desserts, Sherwood turns to Scotch, which he frequently uses to make caramel budino, an unctuous Italian pudding.

On the flip side, the briny notes in Scotch and Japanese whisky can be a match for oysters on the half shell. At Black Market Liquor Bar, executive chef Antonia Lofaso serves them on a bed of crushed ice with a variety of accoutrements, including lemon wedges, cocktail sauce and hot sauce, as well as a small bottle filled with Japanese whisky dispensed via an eye dropper; staff suggests adding a few drops (or more) to each shucked bivalve before enjoying them.

Kikori Whiskey and oysters on the half shell by Antonia Lofaso at Black Market Liquor Bar

“Since oysters naturally have an ocean quality to them and Irish and Scottish whiskeys usually have that same ocean quality, they highlight and complement each other while bringing out the brininess of the oyster,” she points out. Lofaso prefers Kumiai, Kusshi, Kumamoto and Skookums, but says any oyster can be paired with whiskey.

She also believes whiskey works well in braises, especially for pork shoulder slowly cooked over the course of three to four hours, which gives the alcohol time to cook down and develop deep, complex flavors in the meat. Spicy, peppery rye is perfect for desserts like date cake with fresh cream, while sweet bourbon cozies up to an artisanal cheese board with raisins, pistachios, honeycomb and Fuji apples.

Brenne Whisky, a French spirit distilled in copper alembic stills using two kinds of organic heirloom barley and aged in French Limousin oak barrels and Cognac casks, is a fruit-forward expression with notes of crème brûlée, burnt caramel, bananas, tropical fruits and baking spices. At The Beatrice Inn, it’s used to age a 160-day tomahawk ribeye steak, where it helps to break down and soften the protein and muscle in the meat, and add flavor. The steak is seared, then topped with lobster butter, smoked vanilla, Australian winter truffles and thyme.

And you definitely shouldn’t overlook the synergy that whiskey has for what’s to come at the end of the meal. Executive pastry chef Pierino Jermonti at Bashi at Terranea Resort says using it in bread pudding is a classic combination. His recipe has a twist though: a punch of umami in the form of miso paste.

“We picked Suntory Whisky for its vanilla oak and citrus,” he says. “This pairs well with the sweet and salty notes you get from the brown sugar and miso paste we use in the bread pudding base and sauce.” He beats whisky, sugar, heavy whipping cream and an egg, pours the mixture over chopped up croissants, and lets it soak overnight. It’s baked in individual ramekins, then topped with brown butter miso sauce and served with brûléed bananas and vanilla bean gelato.

And even a sticky childhood favorite treat gets elevated with a shot of whiskey. When Matt Jergens, chef at The Gwen, a Luxury Collection Hotel, wanted a smoky dessert to go with the hotel’s glamping package, he turned to overly-peated Laphroaig Scotch, which he likens to “drinking campfire ash.” Taza chocolate squares and housemade cayenne marshmallows (or store-bought ones sprinkled with cayenne pepper) are sandwiched between graham crackers and topped with a caramel sauce made with Laphroaig, sugar, butter, heavy cream and a pinch of salt.

The vast number of whiskey categories means there’s a bottle for every course and every dish, Jergens believes. As with wine, use a bottle that you enjoy drinking as well—not something you are looking to get rid of because it’s not very good. “It’s also very easy [for whiskey] to overpower a dish, so start slow when adding to a recipe and constantly taste until it is where you want it.” He reaches for bourbon for sweet, round applications like desserts, sauces and marinades, as well as anything with chocolate or smoked meats. Scotch and rye can add depth, grassiness and smoke to fish and brined pork.

The kitchen just became a much more spirited place.

Japanese Whisky Brown Butter Miso Bread Pudding by Pierino Jermonti at Bashi

Japanese Whisky Brown Butter Miso Bread Pudding

Recipe courtesy of executive pastry chef Pierino Jermonti; Image: Bashi, Terranea Resort

Serves 4

For the bread pudding:

  • 2 oz. Japanese whisky
  • ¾ c. Sugar
  • 3 c. Heavy whipping cream
  • 1 Egg
  • 5 Medium croissants, chopped into medium-sized cubes
  • Butter or cooking spray, for greasing ramekins or pan

Combine the whisky, sugar, cream and egg until well combined. Add the croissant cubes to a casserole dish, pour the whisky mixture on top, and soak overnight in the refrigerator. Scoop into 4 individual ramekins that have been greased with butter or sprayed with cooking spray. Bake at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes or until golden brown. Top with brown butter miso sauce (see recipe below).

For the brown butter miso sauce:

  • 1 c. Heavy whipping cream
  • 5 Tbsp. Butter
  • 1 Tbsp. Vanilla extract
  • ¼ c. White miso paste
  • 1 c. Brown sugar

In a saucepan on medium heat, melt the butter until it’s slightly browned, stirring often. Add the heavy cream and bring to a boil. Add the brown sugar, vanilla and miso paste, stirring constantly until thickened. Pour over the bread pudding while both are warm.

Kelly Magyarics, DWS, is a wine, spirits and lifestyle writer, and wine educator, in the Washington, D.C. area. She can be reached through her website, www.kellymagyarics.com, or on Twitter and Instagram @kmagyarics.