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Do you cook with (unflavored) vodka? If so, why?

c oliver Jun 19, 2010 02:00 PM

I see here and on menus pasta dishes that have a vodka cream sauce. I drink vodka every day !!! but have never cooked with it or been served a dish with it as an ingredient. I've read that it enhances some flavors but get no elaboration on that. I cook with wine, beer and various spirits but never vodka. From what I've read, it's not used for its flavor. I just don't get it. Can someone please explain its purpose in cooking. Thanks in advance.

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  1. alanbarnes RE: c oliver Jun 19, 2010 05:30 PM

    There are some flavor compounds that are soluble in alcohol but not water. So adding vodka to a dish that has those compounds will allow them to "marry" with the rest of the ingredients rather than staying in the places they started. The most common application is a tomato sauce; if you don't want the flavor of wine or spirits in your sauce, adding a shot of vodka will improve the results.

    I'll also sometimes steep herbs and spices in vodka for a few hours or longer to extract their essential oils, then use the whole spices along with the flavored vodka when making a brine. My theory (and I'm stickn' to it) is that the vodka can mix with both the water and the oil, thus allowing the water to carry the flavors into the meat more efficiently.

    9 Replies
    1. re: alanbarnes
      c oliver RE: alanbarnes Jun 19, 2010 06:14 PM

      Re para. 1, yeah, that's what I read and I guess I should try it. Do you actually use it?

      1. re: c oliver
        alanbarnes RE: c oliver Jun 19, 2010 06:20 PM

        Yep. I never make a tomato sauce without adding a little alcohol. Wine often, vodka sometimes, scotch not so much...

        1. re: alanbarnes
          c oliver RE: alanbarnes Jun 19, 2010 06:24 PM

          My go-to tomato sauce for quite awhile has been Hazan's with tomoatoes, butter and an onion. I'll try a splash of vodka next time. Maybe :)

          1. re: alanbarnes
            ipsedixit RE: alanbarnes Jun 19, 2010 06:25 PM

            Just to add to this. When you want to make tomato sauce and all you have are unripe tomatoes, a bit of vodka really brings out that tomato-y flavor. The alcohol soluble flavor compounds in tomatoes are present, even in unripe ones, and come alive rather nicely with a bit of alcohol -- and vodka, being tasteless and relatively inexpensive, is the perfect conduit for that task.

            1. re: ipsedixit
              c oliver RE: ipsedixit Jun 19, 2010 06:27 PM

              I use canned tomatoes in that case.

        2. re: alanbarnes
          FoodFuser RE: alanbarnes Jun 20, 2010 09:24 PM

          Water and ethanol are two of the universal solvents, thus let the vodka flow, just like you say, to release components flavors.

          But sadly alky and oily are immiscible with each other. If they were miscible, we'd be barraged at the bar with emulsifications of olive oil martinis, lard-laden margaritas, and coconut oil coladas. Not to mention some bacon-grease and bourbon mixtures from the mid South. (Rebel Yell yielding Rebel Gel). Then the New England crew would counter with a rum, molasses and whale oil concoction. The Brits would send over a salvo of beef tallow mixed in Beefeaters gin and tonic, and probably the Canucks would counter with a maple syrup and moose oil elixir.

          Given those potential horrors, it's really a good thing, this immiscibility.

          But using vodka as a fuller flavor polar solvent is awesome.

          1. re: FoodFuser
            c oliver RE: FoodFuser Jun 21, 2010 07:35 AM

            I didn't like coladas BEFORE reading this :) Thanks, FF.

            1. re: FoodFuser
              alanbarnes RE: FoodFuser Jun 21, 2010 08:37 AM

              Ah, grasshopper, you've fallen victim to a high school chemistry experiment. Oil and ethanol aren't fully miscible, but there is a significant bit of solubility there. Why else would pouring a pint of rubbing alcohol in the gas tank get rid of water condensate in the fuel? And how could the local service station sell E10 gasohol?

              The degree of solubility depends on the purity of the ethanol (it's so hydrophylic that it really can't be fully anhydrous), the type of oil, and the temperature of the mixture. In order to figure out how much lard you can get in that margarita, you can use the attached graphs from RK Rao's 1957 article "Solubility of Lard in Aqueous Ethanol" from the Journal of the American Oil Chemists' Society. And here's a good recipe for bacon-infused bourbon (although it's from New York, not the mid-South): http://nymag.com/restaurants/recipes/....

              Anyhow, suffice it to say that a half-cup of vodka will extract a significant amount of essential oils from a few allspice berries, peppercorns, and/or fennel seeds. If you doubt me, just try it - black pepper vodka is wonderful in a Bloody Mary, and you'll have no doubt that ethanol can dissolve the irritant oils in the peppercorns when flames start coming off your tonsils...

               
              1. re: alanbarnes
                FoodFuser RE: alanbarnes Jun 25, 2010 08:13 PM

                Grasshopper, my ass. Such a statement could "shiver me timbre of me chirp, and me spiracles."

                Lots of fun and instructive things to be explored along this theme. Vodka is just the tip of the iceberg. A few more vodka tinctures include juniper, cumin, and caspsicums. Careful the capsicums: I use that most for spraying areas for squirrel control.

          2. mrbigshotno.1 RE: c oliver Jun 19, 2010 05:41 PM

            I'm with you c, don't get it and don't like it either. Hard liquor's for drinking. 'course than again I like cherry bombs

            3 Replies
            1. re: mrbigshotno.1
              c oliver RE: mrbigshotno.1 Jun 19, 2010 06:17 PM

              Isn't a cherry bomb a firecracker? Don't get me wrong. I use brandy, bourbon, rum, tequila (frequently). But it's to add that particular flavor.

              1. re: c oliver
                mrbigshotno.1 RE: c oliver Jun 20, 2010 06:42 AM

                Mariciano(sp) cherrries marinated in high proof vodka or everclear = cherry bombs. You can also make jello using vodka/alcohol, cut into 1" squares, they call those "glow plugs" (when they dissolve in your stomach you feel a "glow")

                1. re: mrbigshotno.1
                  c oliver RE: mrbigshotno.1 Jun 20, 2010 07:41 AM

                  Don't like cherries so I'll pass on that, thanks. We call the other "Jello shooters." When my husband and I had to have colonoscopies (not at the same time!), we fixed lemon jello shooters as part of our prep diet. (There wasn't an absolute [or would that be Absolut?] prohibition against alcohol.)

            2. c
              CocoaNut RE: c oliver Jun 19, 2010 06:24 PM

              I have never understood the use of vodka in cooking with the exception of using it in place of a portion of water in making a tender and flakey pie crust - and that only in theory as it sounds logical.

              http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/20...

              1. chef chicklet RE: c oliver Jun 20, 2010 02:58 PM

                No why waste good vodka are you kidding?

                Seriously, I have been tempted to try adding vodka to my pastry dough to see what happens. But then does it make a huge difference, anyone done that?

                17 Replies
                1. re: chef chicklet
                  bushwickgirl RE: chef chicklet Jun 20, 2010 03:38 PM

                  I don't know if it makes any discernible difference, flavor-wise, but the resulting crust is the best I've made. It is also a great crust for people who are crust-challenged (not me.) Note the high fat to flour ratio. The scientific expanation for using vodka is that it adds liquid without added water, therefore less gluten formation, which water and flour create when combined:

                  2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (12 1/2 ounces by weight)
                  1 teaspoon table salt
                  2 tablespoons sugar
                  12 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch slices (1 1/2 sticks)
                  1/2 cup chilled vegetable shortening, cut into 4 pieces
                  1/4 cup chilled vodka
                  1/4 cup very cold water (I use less water)

                  See CocoaNut's link for the instructions; be sure to read all the user reviews before you decide if this is something you want to try.

                  1. re: bushwickgirl
                    sbp RE: bushwickgirl Jun 20, 2010 05:54 PM

                    I now always make my pie crust with half vodka, but no, I don't use anything expensive. Just the cheap, cheap, cheap domestic stuff. It does make a difference. What I've found in doing the Cooks Illustrated recipe is that the dough is too loose, it falls apart when I try to transfer to pie plate. Instead of working in more flour, I use a bit less liquid to start.

                    Also, the Cooks Illustrated version is based on a food processor. But I just like the texture of cutting the dough in a bowl with a pastry cutter (the food processor version doesn't have the swaths of butter, large grainy texture that seems to produce flakier crust).

                    1. re: sbp
                      bushwickgirl RE: sbp Jun 21, 2010 06:29 AM

                      Georgi is my cheap, cheap vodka choice for this crust.

                      Yes, I routinely use less liquid then called for in the recipe, which is always the case with crusts, flour being what it is. I've never found one that can definitively state "use 8 Tbsp water, no more, no less," and have it work out. It's a measure that requires adjustment. I use less water; the vodka measure remains the same.

                      Do you weigh or measure your flour?

                      I also cut in the fat by hand; my FP is too small for an entire 2-crust amount of dough. I actually enjoy the hand fat cutting process and the resulting texture. I also rest and chill my dough overnight; a long cold nap really seems to make a difference with this dough when rolling. It freezes beautifully, as does pie crust generally, but this does even with the vodka addition.

                      1. re: bushwickgirl
                        sbp RE: bushwickgirl Jun 21, 2010 07:11 AM

                        Yep, I've got Georgi! I weigh the flour, and also like getting my hands dirty with cutting in the butter. I haven't tried the overnight rest, will have to give that a go.

                        1. re: bushwickgirl
                          buttertart RE: bushwickgirl Jun 28, 2010 10:19 AM

                          I didn't have good luck with this crust either...why oh why can't I make pie crust like my dear departed mother? (Used lard, "cut" the fat in with her - always cold - hands, rolled it out as soon as it was made...I try this and I get cardboard. Hers you could see the layers in.)

                          1. re: buttertart
                            sbp RE: buttertart Jun 28, 2010 05:09 PM

                            I have very hot hands, I have to use a pastry cutter to start, then a bit of "fraissage". But I don't use lard - just butter. I've tried, but I've found lard is too soft and homogenizes with the flour. With butter, I do see chunks and bits and pieces in the finished dough. I think this helps with the flakiness.

                          2. re: bushwickgirl
                            c
                            CocoaNut RE: bushwickgirl Jun 28, 2010 11:44 AM

                            I'm read/heard somewhere that when making bread, it's very difficult to specify an exact amt of flour due to humidity variations; ie, humidity absorption into the flour can/will affect flour to liquid ratios.

                            Stands to reason that if it's an issue with bread, it'd be an issue with everything using flour, resulting in adjustments to water amounts as echoed in the comments. It seems that "weighing" the flour would eliminate some of the guesswork.

                            1. re: CocoaNut
                              bushwickgirl RE: CocoaNut Jun 28, 2010 09:15 PM

                              True, weighing does eliminate some of the guesswork. Flour, being an agricultural product, is slighty different from brand to brand and even bag to bag, from what I've observed. In order to compensate for that, I adjust my liquid amount.

                              This is slightly off the vodka topic, but here's a link to a short article from Rose Levy Beranbaum, discussing humidity's effect on flour and other ingredients when weighing ingredients for baking:

                              http://www.realbakingwithrose.com/200...

                        2. re: bushwickgirl
                          chef chicklet RE: bushwickgirl Jun 20, 2010 07:41 PM

                          Impressive and interesting, seems there are a lot of successes. I love good pastry, and mine's okay, but wouldn't mind trying another recipe that might be better. Always!

                          1. re: chef chicklet
                            c oliver RE: chef chicklet Jun 20, 2010 07:49 PM

                            What a hoot! I've never made pie crust in my life and y'all have me considering it.

                        3. re: chef chicklet
                          ipsedixit RE: chef chicklet Jun 20, 2010 06:52 PM

                          Using vodka is the only way to make pie crust. Almost indispensable.

                          1. re: ipsedixit
                            j
                            jvanderh RE: ipsedixit Jun 29, 2010 11:03 AM

                            This is interesting! I use vodka in sorbet, but have never thought about it contributing to the dissolution of flavor compounds in other dishes. Makes sense-- like how it dissolves the mint oils if you steep mint leaves in rum to make mohitos. I have tried the vodka pie crust and found the experience just as infuriating, impossible, and self-confidence-damaging as the other seven recipes I've tried :-/

                            1. re: jvanderh
                              sbp RE: jvanderh Jun 29, 2010 11:53 AM

                              Forget the official recipe. Use your standard cut-in-by-hand dough recipe, but substitute half the water with vodka. The food processor recipe is too loose.

                              1. re: sbp
                                buttertart RE: sbp Jun 29, 2010 12:09 PM

                                This is the best idea I've seen in a long time. Thanks!!! Will try next pie!

                                1. re: buttertart
                                  j
                                  jvanderh RE: buttertart Jul 1, 2010 07:14 AM

                                  I have used a whole bunch of recipes and am not sure what you mean by standard (shortening? butter?) I do have one of those little pastry blenders. If you'd care to post your recipe, I will be more than happy to try it. And fail miserably at it. And then whine about it.

                                  1. re: jvanderh
                                    sbp RE: jvanderh Jul 1, 2010 07:32 AM

                                    Pretty much you can google on pie dough. They are all essentially slight variations on same theme. This one was paraphrasing Joy of Cooking deluxe butter dough:

                                    2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
                                    1 teaspoon granulated sugar
                                    1 teaspoon salt
                                    1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
                                    1/2 cup solid vegetable shortening
                                    1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon ice water, plus an additional 1 to 2 tablespoons as needed

                                    So....I would substitute butter for shortening, and make it all butter. Then do half the water as vodka. (1/6 of a cup plus a bit).

                                    Yes, use one of those multi-bladed pastry cutters.

                                    Mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Cut the butter into 1 tablespoon chunks, and add to flour. Cut away with the pastry blender until it's mostly grainy to pea sized bits of stuff, but with some smallish chunks of butter left. There should be NO all-white patches of flour. Drizzle the water and vodka all over the top. Using your hands, mix together quickly. You want all the dough moistened, but you don't want the liquid pooling up and causing goopy patches. When it just starts to hold a ball when squeezed, you're done. If it needs more liquid, add a bit at a time and mix it in quickly. Dump into a ziplock. Press out to edges (this does some of the rolling work for you). Refrigerate till ready to use.

                                    1. re: sbp
                                      bushwickgirl RE: sbp Jul 1, 2010 09:05 AM

                                      Funny how the cooking with vodka thread turned into a pie crust thread, albeit with vodka. At least we're still in the vodka ball park. The JofC is pretty close to CI's recipe, with a few oz more fat and less liquid. Maybe give all vodka a try?

                                      Just an observation: I looked through some of my old baking and pie cookbooks, from the 60's, 70's and 80's, and I've noticed an increase in the amount of fat used in pie crust recipes over the last 40 or so years; the standard used to be 7-8 oz for a two-crust recipe, now we're up to 10-12 oz. I certainly have increased the amount of fat I use, compared to 20 years ago. Back then, fat of choice was lard and/or vegetable shortening; compared to butter with it's water content, maybe not as much fat was needed. Our tastes have obviously changed.

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