I was reminded lately of the amount of times myself or other chefs I knew replaced brandy with whiskey in recipes over the years and how well it was received and often preferred to the original dishes. Brandy is used in many classical recipes and we have the Irish Hennessy’s fleeing to Cognac in France during the 18th century to thank for getting brandy up and running but our own whiskey works pretty much as good if not better sometimes. In Irish we call whiskey Uisce Beatha or water of life in the romantic translation.
I am not a whiskey drinker per se but will have a good hot toddy if under the weather but in food it really does bring a dish to another level which I will enjoy cooking and eating. For Irish cooking it should be an essential ingredient. The creation of the Irish coffee got the ball rolling and the good folk at Bailey’s soon had another hit for the world’s palate with all its paler imitators now in hot pursuit.
The first time I saw whiskey used in all its glory in a recipe was when whole ripe big summer strawberries were flambéed with it in a restaurant in France I was visiting to the shock of the regular customers. Then it ended up doing as good in crepes Suzette and chocolate mousse with my own dabblings as the realisation dawned early in my career that I should be flying the Irish fly too whenever I got the chance to use it in recipes.
It works particularly well with apples in pies or puddings; tarte tatin had a new lease of life when a splash was drizzled over the apples before the pastry went on. Anything with milk or cream like custards, brulees or ice cream don’t mind a bit of the hard stuff either. You do not need an expensive brand either, leave the good bottles for the drinking.
It’s not all about the sweets though; Whiskey has had serious savoury success in starters, soups and main courses as well in the likes of lobster or prawn bisque having its brandy substituted. Pate too is most welcoming to it. I know some places serving a de luxe porridge in the morning with a shot of whiskey to douse into your oat cereal to give you the extra pep in your step as you take on the day.
For meat it is so compatible with everything from Gaelic steak flambéed in it to duck a l’orange and other game dishes. Chicken and pork take to it well and a mushroom sauce will taste a whole lot better with whiskey. I often use it in pepper sauce as well and it is excellent. So there is no arguing that in cooking, whiskey can be a stellar component. It’s not so great with fish however but there are good cookbooks dedicated to whiskey dishes and as ever plenty of recipes online.
The last few years have seen the whiskey market surge in both the amount of new distilleries opening up across Ireland to around forty at the latest count and the taste and global sales of it increasing to thirty billion Euros a year with it up twenty per cent in ten years and increasing now by five per cent annually. This is a spirit on the rise for sure with new markets like India lapping it up. For Ireland it is part of who we are and the younger generation have not disowned it.
The debate rages on however as to whether we or the Scots started it but the truth is lost in the mists of time and sure we will not argue with our Celtic cousins over an e. You will still get offered a shot of it here as you exit some graveyard gates after you have said farewell to the departed. There is now an excellent one being made locally to me at Slane castle and the true connoisseurs who I have introduced it to have given it a serious thumbs up and have now started buying it themselves back in their home countries. I was given a bottle of it at Christmas and there will be some dishes getting anointed by it this year.