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WhiskeyWhat a spectacular Burns night I had on Saturday. At the White Horse Pub in Parsons Green, I enjoyed a traditional bag piper, and five course meal, including Cullen Skink, Haggis pop and Highland beef Wellington, completed of course with the traditional haggis duxelles and neeps & tatties gratin. To ensure the clientele were suitably watered, each course was matched with a beer from Scottish brewers Brewmeister – Perffeto! (Or Bonnie as the Scots would say!)

However, for me the final dessert course exceeded the sublime – a Whisky chocolate pot with Heather honeycomb. If the beer matching wasn’t enough to give me a heavy head the next day, then the booze filled pudding was a guarantee.  What made it a stand out dessert for me was the key ingredient of whiskey. But chef’s using whiskey in food isn’t just a Burns special, recently we have seen more chefs taking this spirit out of the drinks cabinet and pouring it into the pan.

London restaurant Beard to Tail in Shoreditch does a succulent American whisky-glazed rib and London Bridge sports bar Number One Bar has a great Prawn Salad with Guacamole and Whiskey Sauce on its starter menu. Finally, the caterers at the Wimpol Street Conference Rooms serve a delicious  deconstructed Scottish beef wellington served with rosemary and garlic fondant warm asparagus and spinach salad, finished with a whisky sauce,  as well as a Caramel and Whisky parfait set in chocolate and nut sponge with bitter chocolate sauce as offering dessert. Whiskey is well and truly out of the cupboard!

Acting as an alcoholic equivalent of salt, whiskey brings out flavour  – the sea in seafood, smokiness of smoked food and in this instance, the sweetness in a dessert. Although it has been used in Scotland for pouring over haggis and in traditional oats recipes for centuries, it is now being used by chefs in complex dishes such as whiskey ginger marinades, sautéed vegetables and poached fish. The science behind this trend is down to the long maturation process that whiskey goes through in cask barrels over years. The barley malt, sweet and smokey flavours that develop from the aging process get concentrated during cooking through evaporation, leaving the infused oils and caramelised sugars form the spirit into the dish, resulting in  beautifully complex and layered flavours.

As a chef, I would always argue the mark up on cost through using whiskey, however, as a customer, if I saw whiskey as a named ingredient in a dish, I would expect something premium and experimental, worth the extra cost (whether I knew about whiskey’s magical umami qualities or not).