I was vegetarian for nearly 2 decades and, as far as vegetarians go, I was fairly flexible & pragmatic. I didn’t worry about micro-ingredients like fish sauce, oyster sauce, or gelatine (made from boiled beef skin). Gelatine is in heaps of desserts and avoiding oyster sauce or fish sauce means avoiding most Vietnamese, Thai and Chinese food (it was just NOT going to happen!).
I found that the harder I made the ‘rules’, the more tempted I was to break them. I chose to be pragmatic: if the dish didn’t contain any actual fish, chicken or meat (yes that includes bacon) then I could live with a squirt of fish sauce.
Last night I made a Kale & Goat Cheese Barlotto which made me think about alcohol in food (Barlotto is like Risotto but you use barley instead of rice). Here’s a very similar recipe made with faro grain:
The recipe called for a glug of white wine & I hadn’t considered alcohol in cooking. My first question was whether there would be any alcohol in the actual food: that was pretty unlikely after 50 minutes of simmering. The next (and most important) question was whether cooking with it or eating it would trigger any cravings.
I decided to test it. My partner had an almost-empty bottle of white wine in the fridge – I took it out, paused, looked at the bottle, smelled the bottle, thought about it, felt nothing, and poured it into the hot pot. No drama – but it got me thinking about my boundaries, especially going into the festive season.
Would I eat flaming pudding desserts, rum truffles, brandy custard, or alcohol-flavoured food items like Rum & Raisin Icecream?
This might be weird but I want to distinguish between two layers of tastes and smells in alcoholic drinks. Using brandy as an example, there is:
- The flavour and aroma of the drink – that sweet aroma of prunes, plums, raisins and syrup.
- The taste and smell of the actual alcohol – that vaporised chemical smell which gives you a warm sensation in your lungs and a heady feeling as you breathe it in.
If there’s enough uncooked alcohol to trigger that warm, glowing, swimming sensation then my alarm bells go off (thinking about it is tempting). That rules out things like: Chocolates filled with brandy/schnapps; fruit preserved in alcohol; or cakes/desserts which have a fair amount of alcohol or liqueurs poured on them (OH NO – TIRAMISU?). Those things are off my list and I’ll miss many of them.
The actual flavour or aroma of the drink doesn’t trigger much when it’s in food – it’s just another flavour in the overall dish. My Barlotto made with white wine is safe – it’s more likely to trigger my cheese addiction… but that’s a different blog (I can quit cheese anytime, I just choose not to – honest!).