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TIP OF THE DAY: Cooking With Alcohol (Spray On The Booze)

This mini spray bottle is a good size to fill
with spirits. It’s available online. Photo
courtesy Tolco.


Last week we published a ham crust recipe in which Alton Brown demonstrated one of the secret ingredients: spraying the crust with Bourbon! We asked our consulting chef, Johnny Gnall, to consider how the spray-on booze technique can enhance other recipes. His report follows. If you have questions or suggestions for tips, email Chef Johnny.

Alton Brown has pointed out that a spray bottle is a terrific way to apply Bourbon when roasting and glazing a ham.

  • The sugars in the bourbon caramelize and crisp, creating, a sweet, flavorful crust.
  • The spray bottle is ideal because it creates a balanced dispersement of a little bit of booze at a time. This allows for even cooking as well as excellent control over a very potent product. Too much alcohol can really overpower a dish, so being able to apply a very small amount over a wide surface area is ideal for a recipe like a roasted ham.

    That had me thinking: In what other ways could one take advantage of a spray bottle full of liquor? I came up with ten everyday uses. Before you dig in, here‘s the big picture:


    1. MIST. Make sure your bottle has a setting for mist before you get started. Otherwise, you’ll end up shooting a concentrated stream of alcohol, which is the opposite of what you’re going for.

    2. DISTANCE. Hold the bottle at least 12 inches from the food to get an even spread.

    3. SPRAY LIGHTLY. Avoid over-saturation. Nobody wants their food drunker than they are.


    CLAM CHOWDER. One of the first dishes I learned in culinary school was clam chowder, and I quickly found out that a key to making my chowder exceptional was figuring out the right amount of dry sherry (you want just a hint of the flavor but you want it in the background, not overpowering your palate up front). A fun way to bring this flavor to chowder or other soups is to make homemade croutons and spritz them with a touch of sherry; then float them in the soup immediately prior to serving. The sherry’s flavor should be subtle, and the crispy chunks of bread are a fun vehicle by which to present it. Moreover, its aroma will waft to your nose along with the chowder, creating a lovely and intoxicating (no pun intended) bouquet.

    GRILLED FOODS. Grilling and spirits have been pals for quite some time. Standing around a summertime barbecue, grilling meats and enjoying the company of friends, almost demands a glass of something spirited in your hand. Moreover, many of the sauces and marinades on those meats use the same spirit, wine or beer as an ingredient. So why not up the ante just a bit more? A few spritzes of a dark liquor, such as rum or whiskey, can add punch and flavor to your favorite grilled meat. Just make sure to use caution when spraying alcohol around an open flame. Maintain a safe distance and don’t go overboard, or your meat may go from “grilled” to “on fire” to charred and inedible.

    MEATS. Alton already showed us what a spray of Bourbon can do to a ham, but don’t stop there! Roasted meats are great with a variety of spirits. You can glaze lamb chops with Cognac, or a pot roast with Cabernet Sauvignon. Just make sure you take the meat out of the oven before you spray it. This will allow you to spay an even coating all around the meat, as well as keep your oven clean.

    SEAFOOD. Most shellfish take nicely to getting a little boozy, no matter what kind of cuisine you’re working with. Even a few tiny spritzes right before serving can work well; but remember to be extra careful about over saturation, particularly with the delicate flavors of certain shellfish. If you’re serving lobster out of the shell, you can hit it with a mist of Champagne, a pairing seemingly perfect for celebrating. (EDITOR’S NOTE: We love sherry with shellfish.) Or try shrimp with a spritz or two of Tequila or mezcal and a fresh pico de gallo. Mezcal has smoky notes, so it works particularly well if you plan on grilling the seafood.



    BISCOTTI. Biscotti and coffee are a just-about-perfect combination. But a good liqueur can make anything just a little more perfect, right? While Italians traditionally have a glass of Sambucca with their coffee and anisette biscotti, instead of drinking the liqueur you can spritz your biscotti with it. If the biscotti have hazelnuts, use Frangelico; if they have almonds, try Amaretto, and so forth. Take a nibble of the biscotto and then sip your coffee. Try not to smile too much.

    CAKES. Cakes and spirits have one big thing in common: celebrations! Add more hip-hip to the hooray of your cake in one (or both) of two ways.

  • First, use the spray to moisten the layers of a layer cake as you build it (vanilla liqueur like Navan, or spiced rum, which has vanilla hints, work with many cakes).
  • Then, when your cake is built and iced, give it an all-over misting to take things to the next level. Kahlua or Bailey’s with a chocolate icing are a match made in endorphin heaven.

    Turn an innocent scoop of ice cream into an adult indulgence. Photo by B. Rebca | CSP.


    CANDIED FRUITS. Creating confections at home is fun. Make candied fruits or candied nuts using simple syrup or this recipe. Or make chocolate-dipped treats (recipe). Then, make them even more delectable with a spritz of your favorite spirits. With candied items you may want to go with a liqueur (Grand Marnier is a great choice). For gin lovers, the juniper notes work nicely with many fruits.

    FRESH FRUITS. A spritz of your favorite cocktail spirit enlivens fresh fruit. Use your boozy fruit to decorate a parfait, as a cocktail garnish, or just snack away. Try white rum with pineapple, Grand Marnier with strawberries, and brandy with cherries.

    ICE CREAM. This one may seem extra naughty, but the next time you’re going for that guilty pleasure scoop of vanilla ice cream before bed, hit it with a spritz of Bourbon or Scotch. Better yet, keep a few whole vanilla pods in a pint of your favorite Bourbon for about a month, then use that in your spray bottle. You’ll do more than scream for this ice cream!

    KETTLE CORN. For a killer late-night snack, spray kettle corn with a complementary liqueur, be it Cognac, Kahlua or other favorite. Remember, however, that different brands of kettle corn can have different flavor profiles. Be sparing and careful when trying one for the first time. If you need help figuring out the right match, eat a piece of the kettle corn and then taste a drop of the liqueur in question; you’ll know right away if they go together. What works best will depend on your preference, but you’re best off sticking to flavored liqueurs, as opposed to hard spirits like rum and whiskey.


    Share your spray-on successes with us.


    Related Food Videos: For more food videos, check out The Nibble's Food Video Collection.

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