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Sep 28, 2001 06:55 PM

substituting different liquor in recipes

  • w

Can any one tell me if it's okay to substitute different type of liquors in various recipes? I don't want to go out and buy a bunch of different kind. I have a big bottle of congnac, can it be used in placed of sherry, or brandy? The kind of recipes that I'm thinking about are things like pate, gravy, or even for baking.

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  1. c
    Carolyn Tillie

    I would say it depends ENTIRELY on what the recipe is. Sometimes sherry is called for because it is sweeter where cognac is not. If the recipe calls for brandy, than cognac can definitely be substituted. In baking, if the recipe calls for an orange liqueur and you don't have Grand Marnier lying around, Triple Sec works fine (both have an orange taste). An alternative to something like that would be to soak dried orange rind WITH the cognac but you still wouldn't get the sweetness.

    In pates and gravies, it probably doesn't make any difference except, again, if it calls for sherry. Some sherries can be substituted with port or madeira, depending on the flavor desired.

    By-and-large, I do a lot of substituting (ouzo for pernod, kirschwasser for cherry liquer, and the aforementioned Triple Sec... and that sort of thing).

    1. j
      Janet A. Zimmerman

      Here are a few suggestions that may help:

      First, cognac and brandy are interchangeable in cooking; cognac is simply a subset of brandy. Some of the best known liqueurs are flavored brandies, such as Grand Marnier.

      But even when brandy-based, liqueurs tend to be much sweeter than brandy, so keep that in mind when making substitutions.

      Brandy, like other liquors, is generally about 40 percent (80 proof) alcohol, whereas sherry, port, Marsala, and vermouths are much lower. (Liqueurs vary greatly, so it's best to check the label.) This means that if the dish is not cooked, and the recipe calls for sherry, the brandy will give it a much harsher flavor. Also, if a recipe ever calls for deglazing a hot pan, know that the brandy *will* ignite, whether or not you put a flame to it (trust me, I had the singed eyebrows to prove it).

      Finally, if the flavor of the liqueur is integral to the dish (hazelnut, orange, raspberry, etc.) you'll change the profile of the dish if you use something with a different flavor -- sometimes it works, sometimes not. The good news is that many of the liqueurs most commonly used in cooking are available in miniatures, so if you only need a few tablespoons, you needn't buy a whole bottle.

      I find that substituting sherry, Marsala, and Madeira for each other generally works. You can usually substitute dry vermouth for dry white wine with fair success. Substituting triple sec for Grand Marnier can work, depending on the recipe, but the Grand Marnier has a much more complex taste than triple sec (and it's sweeter).

      Hope this helps.

      9 Replies
      1. re: Janet A. Zimmerman

        Well said Janet.

        Here are some more groups I've broken down, off the top of my head, according to flavor.

        Triple sec, Grand Marnier, Cointreau, Curacao(orange liquers)

        Kahlua, Tia Maria (coffee liquer)

        Pernot, Ouzo, Anisette (licorice liquer)

        Creme de Cacao, Godiva Chocolate Liquer (chocolate liquer)

        Peppermint schnapps, Creme de menthe, Rumpelminz (mint liquer)

        Cognac, brandy (grape spirits)

        Rye Whiskey, Bourbon, Sour Mash (grain spirits)

        Lairds Apple Jack, Calvados (apple spirits)

        Unflavored Vodkas (neutral grain spirits)

        I've got way too much time on my hands tonight. But I hope this helps.

        1. re: 2chez mike

          Good list, and good idea, 2CM.

          But to "Pernot, Ouzo, Anisette", I'd add pastis, absinthe, and raki. also, don't forget grappa for grapes.


          1. re: Jim Leff
            Carolyn Tillie

            I can't imagine ever using grappa to cook with -- most of the stuff I buy is so expensive and I don't think its got much "grape" flavor, but the flavor of the grape of the wine it was grown to be (merlot, muscat...)

            1. re: Carolyn Tillie

              Yeah. Grappa has too distinct a flavor to be lumped in with cognac and brandy. It's not made from the grape itself, but the stems and seeds.

              1. re: 2chez mike


                Grappa is distilled from grape marc which is mostly grape skins, seeds and lees left after the newly fermented wine is pressed off the solids. Since the solids aren't pressed to complete dryness, there's some wine in there too.

                1. re: Melanie Wong

                  I won't even drink grappa, much less cook with it!

                  1. re: Jim H.

                    It's an aquired taste.

              2. re: Carolyn Tillie

                Carolyn---there are several wonderful uses for grappa in cooking, my fave of which is Istrian grappa sauce, traditionally served on fuzi pasta.


                1. re: Carolyn Tillie

                  Sounds like Concord is the flavor you consider "grape". (g) In the wine world, muscat is often referred to as the most "grapey".

          2. I like the idea of buying miniatures and experimenting.

            1. I have subbed various things for eachother with mixed results. Stick to generally similar or can usually be used in the same way and most things will turn out fine. I will deglaze a pan with many thing but I won't mix just anything with whipped cream for example.

              1. Nice informative thread. Here's a generalized substitution list I found on net in the process of finding one for brandy which is called for Elizabeth David's chicken pate.