Depending on your keenness and experience in the kitchen you may or may not have ever cooked with alcohol. Of course you don’t have to do so at all, but once you have you will find that the alcohol brings out the flavour of the food. This is because alcohol bonds with water and fat molecules in food, which enables the aromas from food to enter the nose. The sense of smell accounts for 80% of taste, which is why you can’t taste your food if you have a cold.
The type of alcohol you use in a dish will depend on the type of dish that you are going to use it in. In a dish such as a beef stew or casserole the liquid cooked in can have a transformative effective on the final result. Using a dark beer such as a porter or a stout will leave a very rich gravy that compliments the meat. The Curious Porter from the Chapel Down Winery is excellent for this very reason, the dark and nutty flavours combine with the beef to produce an incredibly smooth and rich gravy.
The choice of alcohol that you add to a dish can be to simply enhance the flavour, but sometimes it is not just an optional addition, but fundamental to the quality of the finished product. When making a risotto, using a good quality white wine is essential, as the wine is the reason for the distinctive flavour of the risotto. Because cooking a risotto for six people may require two glasses of wine some may be concerned about the alcohol content of the finished dish. This worry is unfounded, as when stirring the wine into the rice it is constantly at a simmer, meaning that any alcohol will evaporate simply leaving its flavour behind. A risotto requires a dry white wine, for this purpose a wine such as the Sara & Sara Sauvignon Friuli provides the taste and aromas required.
A common mistake people make when choosing a wine to cook with is to tend towards the cheaper end of the market. Whilst there is nothing wrong with this, you really should only cook with wine that you would be happy to drink, as fundamentally the quality you put in is going to equate with quality you get out. Dishes such as coq au vin, the classic French chicken casserole, rely heavily on the quality of the wine as an entire bottle of red wine is used, providing all of the liquid used in the casserole. The Guigal Côtes du Rhône works excellently with chicken. Some people also like to add a few tablespoons of brandy or Cognac to coq au vin to further bring out the richness of the dish.
Any meal would not be complete without dessert and this where liqueurs really come into their own. The traditional Italian dessert of tiramisu benefits massively from the addition of either Tia Maria or Baileys stirred into the mascarpone when assembling the ingredients. If you have never cooked with alcohol before, this is probably the best place to start.