Life & Work

Spirited cooking: Bringing out food flavours with alcohol


Fairmont Norfolk Hotel Executive Chef Aris Athanasiou. PHOTO | FILE. PHOTO | FILE

Food is all about the flavour and what better way to bring out this in your dishes than with alcohol.

Forget food pairings, bring up the cooking prowess and sharpen the palate by incorporating the alcohol in the marinating and cooking process.

From dainty starters, savoury main courses to creamy desserts, cooking with alcohol is a way to bring out and complement the flavour of the food.

According to Chef Aris Athanasiou, the Fairmont Norfolk Executive Chef, the different dishes determine the type of alcohol and the combination used.

For meats like duck and beef, Chef Aris advises marinating them overnight in alcohol of choice to soften the meat.

The meat is placed in a marinade with alcohol, spices and choice flavour additions to not only soak up the alcohol, but make it tender and easier to cook.

Cook out the alcohol

Wines and spirits are flambéed to cook out the alcohol. “Once the alcohol has cooked out, you are left with the flavours but not the sharpness of the alcohol,” he says.

The process of flambéing is one that needs the cook to be prepared for the large flame that takes over the pan while flaming the alcohol.

Alcohol can be incorporated in pan-seared dishes but can also be used in stews. Instead of water for the broth, you can use wine and stock.

Wine can also be used to deglaze the pan after making a steak or sautéing. The wine will pick up the flavour of the dish and can be accentuated with some garlic and onions or fruits to make a sauce.

Pork and duck can carry sweet sauces. The wine can be used with fruits to make a compote that tops the meal. The addition of orange juice and orange zest will also bring out the freshness and the flavour.


Desserts, unlike main courses, usually have a larger percentage of the alcohol still left in them. In savoury dishes, the cooking process helps a part of the alcohol to evaporate while desserts sometimes have it in its raw form.

Fruit cakes and Christmas puddings are traditionally fed with brandy for weeks before they are consumed. The fruits also used in the baking process are soaked in the choice liqueur before being incorporated into the batter and baked.

Sponge cake in gateau are also soaked in fruit- flavoured drinks before being layered with fruits and cream.

For mouse or whipped cream, a cream based liqueur, a dash of brandy or rum is used to bring out the alcohol flavour.

This is in small quantities to ensure that the taste does not become overpowering in the dessert.

Cooking these dishes can take a few minutes or a couple of hours.


Duck a l’Orange marinated in cognac


(By Norfolk Executive Chef Aris Athanasiou)
Orange juice
Marinade the duck in cinnamon, orange juice and cognac overnight. This will add to the flavour, aroma and soften the meat. Duck usually takes long to cook.
Sear the duck in a hot pan on both sides and finish off in the oven. Place duck back on the pan and add some cognac and the marinade the juice.

Duck breast with Cointreau


(By Crowne Sous Chef Kennedy Musyoka)
Orange Liqueur (Cointreau)
Salt and pepper
Assorted vegetables to serve
Season the breast on both sides. Sear it on a hot skillet on both sides. Coat the duck with the juices and fat it will release into the pan and place it in the oven for 5-6 minutes to cook through. Return it to the gas and add the orange flavoured liqueur and flambé. Take off the flame and let it rest before cutting and serve with assorted vegetables or choice accompaniment.

Sea food cooked with champagne
(ByAris Athanasiou)
Fennel- has a lemony flavour which pairs well with the seafood dishes
Onion and garlic
Lobster, prawn or scallops
In a pan saute seafood with butter, some garlic, fennel and onion. Add the champagne, vodka, bisque and finish off with a touch of cream. Garnish with lemon zest, lime and parsley. The dish pairs well with champagne or white wine.

The alcohol is to showcase elegance in flavours,”sayss Aris. One can add extra flavour with orange zest or apple.

Fish fillet coated in beer batter
(By Aris Athanasiou)
Fish filet
For the batter, use the flour, egg and beer and season with salt and pepper.

“The yeast in the beer makes the coating for the fish crispy,” says Aris. Dip the fish in the batter and deep fry in hot oil until golden brown. This fish goes well with chips. According to Aris, you can use the left over batter to make “mandazis” or coating other items like zucchini, eggplant or tomatoes or your choice food and deep fry them.

“For the mandazi, the yeast in the beer works as a raising agent. It would be like using regular yeast,” he says.

Pineapple in orange cognac caramel topped with mango sorbet
(By Aris Athanasiou)
Pineapple slice
Orange Juice
In a pan, cook the pineapple in the sugar and cognac and pineapple juice. The liquids and sugar will form a caramel around the fruit.

Serve the pineapple topped with a sorbet of choice like mango sorbet. It offers a refreshing note to the palate.