Cola isn't just for sipping on hot summer days. A can of Coke can be a surprisingly versatile pantry item, suitable for both sweet and savory applications. Some uses are well-known regional specialties, while others are more recent culinary innovations. Either way, the sweet and fragrant flavors of this classic soda, with its notes of vanilla and caramel, are an intriguing way to enhance a dish. When using cola as a cooking ingredient, make sure you use the real thing, not diet. Most recipes need the sugars in the standard form of cola to work their magic.
Fancy up a glass of soda by making it a mixer for a cocktail. Rum and coke is one classic pairing; use dark, light or spiced rum as you prefer. Add a dash of lime and you have a Cuba Libre. Whisky and coke is another stalwart combination; you can also mix cola with any one of a number of flavored vodkas, from vanilla to citrus to cherry or berry-flavored. Cola is also one of the ingredients in a Long Island Iced Tea.
Cola can be utilized as a braising liquid for meat -- short ribs, chicken wings, pork belly or pot roast. Cola-braised ham in particular is a time-honored specialty of Southern cuisine. The cola provides not only provides a moist environment to slow-cook the meat, it lends its sweetness to the final product, which makes a pleasant contrast to the saltiness of the ham.
Sauces and Glazes
Cola can also be used to glaze roasts and meats. Try it as a glaze for ham, mixed with molasses and whisky or bourbon. It's also used in some barbecue sauce recipes to provide a spicy-sweet note to the mix. The cola is mixed with ketchup, Worcestershire sauce and other seasonings to make a thick slather. Use cola-based barbecue sauce on ribs or chicken.
Cakes and Desserts
Coca-cola cake is a Southern specialty -- a chocolate buttermilk sheet cake kept spicy and moist by the addition of a can of soda to the batter. The cake is then finished with the addition of pecans and mini-marshmallows; the chocolate frosting usually contains some cola flavoring as well. Don't forget the classic "brown cow" as a dessert offering. It consists simply of a tall glass of soda topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream; sometimes a shot of chocolate syrup is added. Use cherry-vanilla ice cream and omit the syrup for a tasty variant.