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Cooking with spirits such as vodka, tequila, or bourbon adds instant oomph to dishes from savory to sweet. Purge your liquor cabinet with our clever ideas and delicious recipes.

July 24, 2017

From summer cookouts to winter holidays, it’s easy to build up a surplus in your liquor cabinet during the year. Unlike a bottle of wine or can of beer, a standard fifth or liter of hard alcohol can take some time to finish. Spirits have a long shelf life and don’t need to be used up right away. An open bottle will keep for six to eight months if stored properly, and an unopened bottle will last even longer. Sure, you can use extra liquor for cocktails, but you’d be missing out on a myriad of clever culinary uses. From preserving fruit to enhancing sauces and glazes, spirits can boost sweet and savory recipes by adding elegance and complexity.

Below, we explore nine simple ways to cook with spirits from whiskey to gin to tequila. With each idea, we offer tantalizing recipes to put your know-how to the test. Whether you call them spirits, liquor, or hard alcohol, our versatile guide is sure to spark inspiration in the kitchen. From boozy bourbon butter to a rum-infused pan sauce, here’s how to think outside the (martini) glass and harness the culinary capabilities of spirits.

 Photo: Jennifer Causey

1. Flavor Sauces

Simmering spirits with other ingredients such as stock or butter softens their fiery, alcoholic punch. What's left is pure aromatic, flavor that intensifies and brightens sauces for proteins, pastas, and more. 

  • Steak Diane: In this classic American dish, smoky-sweet Brandy adds kick to a rich, cream-based pan sauce. Full of intense, toasty caramel notes, brandy also pairs well with fruit desserts.
  • Shrimp Vodka Pasta: A splash of vodka adds brightness and balance to this traditional tomato- and cream-based pasta sauce.
  • Grilled Pork with Mango and Rum Sauce: Here, we simmer rum with sugar, salt, and lime to make a tangy-sweet sauce for Jerk-spiced, grill-charred pork tenderloin.
 Photo: Brian Woodcock; Styling: Claire Spollen

2. Make Tipsy Fruit

Marinating whole or sliced fruit in alcohol, a process known as macerating, is a quick way to elevate their flavors. Whether it’s fall apples and brandy or summer peaches and rum, macerating fruit also lets you enjoy seasonal bounty past its peak. You can eat the fruit straight from the bowl or jar, spoon it over ice cream, layer it into a trifle, or pair it with rich meats such as duck. Thin-skinned fruits such as berries or peaches will over soften if they sit in alcohol for too long, but hardier fruits such as figs will stand up longer.

 Photo: Jennifer Causey

3. Mix Into Brine

Soak meat in brine, a solution composed of salt, water, and other aromatics, to make meat juicier and more flavorful. Add a bold-flavored spirit such as bourbon into the mixture to make the flavors sing. Be wary of the amount of alcohol you’re adding, as the key to a successful brine is nailing the right proportions.

  • Honey Bourbon Spatchcocked Turkey: Bourbon picks up flavors and aromas from the oak barrels it’s aged inside—here, we infuse a simple turkey brine with this smoky-sweet spirit. 

See More: How to Spatchcock a Turkey

 Photo: YinYang/Getty Images

4. Keep Pie Dough Moist

Vodka is the secret dough whisperer. Adding a small amount with water to your dry ingredients when making dough makes it moist and easy to knead. The alcohol prevents the dough from drying out or becoming overworked. No need to worry about a vodka-flavored crust—the alcohol cooks out entirely when the pie is baked.

  • Cherry Almond Hand Pies: Make sure the vodka and water are chilled before adding to the dry ingredients. This ensures that the butter in the dough stays cold, helping the crust keep its shape later on.
 Photo: Sara Tane

5. Spike Your Pops

We know what you’re thinking—hard alcohol doesn't freeze! While liquor won’t turn solid in the freezer on its own, it can certainly be frozen with other ingredients in small amounts. With a few materials, homemade ice pops are super simple to make. Choose a spirit that naturally complements the fruit you're using, such as peaches and bourbon or pineapple and rum.

  • Watermelon Ice Pops: Watermelon juice, limes, and tequila are all you need for these super simple fruity pops. Tequila and lime are a natural match that complement juicy sweet watermelon.  
 Photo: Jennifer Causey

6. Make Preserves

Making preserves out of fresh fruit is another easy way to preserve seasonal bounty. Flavoring your preserves with spirits and other aromatics can make for provocative flavor combinations. Darker colored spirits such as bourbon tend to pop more than lighter varieties.

  • Honey Bourbon Peach Preserves: Sweet peaches and smoky bourbon are a match made in heaven, while fresh thyme adds earthiness that ties everything together. This jam is a perfect spread for biscuits, topper for baked brie, or sauce for meats.

See More: Our 10 Favorite Bourbons

 Photo: Jennifer Causey

7. Elevate Glaze

Whether brushed over meat during cooking or drizzled over sweets after baking, glazes lock in moisture and can add a caramelized component to foods. Adding spirits serve to heighten and intensify the flavors.

 Photo: Ryan Liebe; Styling: Mary Clayton Carl

8. Fold Into Butter

Pair butter, spirits, and others aromatics to create compound butter, a heavenly topper for cooked meats from hearty steak cuts to delicate fish filets.

 PHoto: grafvision/Getty Images

9. Flambé!

There’s something totally satisfying about lighting your food on fire. Flambé, or the act of adding liquor to sauce and then igniting it, cooks out the alcohol to create intensified flavor. Not to mention, it’s also a surefire way to impress your dinner guests. The best alcohols for flambé are darker-colored varieties such as brandy, cognac, and rum.

  • Brennan’s Banana Foster: This classic dessert combines bananas and vanilla ice cream with a rich sauce of butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, and dark rum. After the alcohol burns off, the remaining sauce is infused with a roasted banana and caramel aroma.