Alcohol will not completely cook out of food. Water and alcohol bind with each other, which means that as long as there is still a trace amount of water left in the food, there will be a trace amount of alcohol as well. However, the amount of remaining alcohol depends on the method and length of cooking.
On the Stove
There are three primary methods of cooking with alcohol: pan sauces, stews and flambes. The most effective way to burn off alcohol is by the first way, to cook the food on a stovetop in an open skillet. According to an experiment done by Jack Bishop of America’s Test Kitchen, after 30 minutes of braising a chicken on the stovetop, 90 percent of the alcohol was cooked out. Simmering a sauce for longer would result in even less alcohol remaining.
In the Oven
Many recipes for oven-baked dishes, especially stews, call for the addition of alcohol, usually wine. Since these dishes are baked in a covered container, more alcohol remains. The alcohol condenses on the underside of the lid and falls back into the food. A beef stew that calls for two to three cups of red wine and is baked for two to three hours will cook out approximately 60 percent of the alcohol.
A more dramatic method for cooking with alcohol is to flambe a dish by pouring alcohol over the food and lighting it on fire. For alcohol to burn it must have a higher proof than wine or beer. Brandy is often used as in the flambeed dessert cherries jubilee. After a dish is set on fire, anywhere from 50 to 75 percent of the alcohol will cook off.
While the remaining amount of alcohol in a cooked dish is negligible, and not likely to affect the person eating it, some may want to avoid the alcohol altogether. An easy substitution for wine or beer is to use their nonalcoholic counterparts. Another option for red wine is to use a combination of grape juice and red wine vinegar; likewise, white grape juice and white wine vinegar can replace white wine.
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Based in San Francisco, Kim Gooden holds a Bachelor of Arts in literature and has apprenticed under a chef, worked on a vineyard and farmed in Spain. She has been writing and editing articles on food, drink and the arts since 2005 and has been published by the "Washington City Paper," the Poetry Foundation, and Arola Editors.
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