For recovering alcoholics, the temptations are everywhere. At parties. Restaurants. Sporting events. Wedding receptions. The liquor store down the street. And their own kitchens. That liter of marsala for veal marsala? Poison. The tiny bottle of vanilla extract? A setback waiting to happen.
Don’t think for a minute that this stuff will cook out when it’s heated, either.
“You hear it all the time — the alcohol will burn off,” says chef Liz Scott. “In reality, the original amount of alcohol contained in a recipe may be as much as 85 percent.”
Scott knows all too well about alcohol’s dangers and the temptations that lurk in the kitchen of a recovering alcoholic. For 10 years, she counted on alcohol to perk up meals she created for her catering company in New York. For many of those years, she also counted on alcohol to “reward” herself for the hard work and frenzied activity at the end of the day.
“When my counselor looked me straight in the eye and said, ‘You may have to find a new career,’ I realized what I was up against.”
Not willing to leave her passion for cooking in exchange for putting down the bottle, Scott decided to use her culinary training to create a cookbook for those struggling to stay sober. The result: A cookbook for recovering alcoholics, with tips on how to make substitutes for ingredients that contain alcohol and recipes adjusted to eliminate alcohol.
Cooking without alcohol is the same as for any other dietary restriction — leave it out and look for a flavor substitute.
It might take a bit of experimentation, because booze is a staple cooking ingredient, particularly for people who like to make recipes with a gourmet touch.
These are the cooks who cherish their recipes for beerbattered shrimp, brandy-laced tiramisu, bourbon marinade and stout-braised short ribs. They reach for wine to deglaze sauté pans and make killer flan with alcohol-based vanilla extract. They love to impress their dinner guests with cherries jubilee doused in brandy and set ablaze.
But, as Scott points out time and again, heating doesn’t completely erase the alcohol. In one test, the U.S. Department of Agriculture made a sauce using Grand Marnier, an orange-flavored liqueur, and determined that 83 percent to 85 percent of the original alcohol remained after adding it to boiling liquid.
When a stew made with burgundy wine was simmered for 2 1 /2 hours, researchers found that 4 percent to 6 percent of the alcohol remained. When a cherries jubilee recipe was flambéed, nearly 78 percent of the original alcohol content remained.
In the case of the stew, it might seem silly to worry about such a small amount of residual alcohol. But Scott says the aroma and taste can be enough to trigger a craving in an alcoholic, which is why she is a stickler for complete abstinence.
Scott is even cautious about using wine vinegars, which, despite the name, are alcohol-free.
“From the French words vin aigre, meaning ‘sour wine,’ you might think vinegars would have alcohol,” she says. “But the alcohol is converted to acetic acid, leaving no trace of alcohol.” Still, she says, the mere mention of “wine” vinegar might be a trigger for a recovering alcoholic. She suggests using vinegars infused with other flavors, such as raspberry.
It’s also imperative to stay away from vanilla and other extracts containing alcohol, she says. True, the amount of extract usually used in baking is so small, and is so well distributed through mixing, that it could be considered inconsequential. But just having it on hand could cause problems.
“If (recovering alcoholics) are the ones doing the cooking or baking, holding an open bottle of vanilla extract could be as dangerous as holding a hand grenade,” Scott says. “The aroma can set off a trigger in our brain. For that reason, an alcohol-free kitchen necessarily means eliminating alcohol-based extracts.”