Sure, the concept of “leftover booze” is a little bit of a laugh. If you should end up with a few fingers of your favorite sauce (and not of the barbecue variety) that just isn’t enough to bother with mixing up a cocktail, that doesn’t mean that you should throw it in the trash. Even though there isn’t enough vodka or rum left to mix into a nice, soothing drink, you can still turn it into something pretty delicious — that doesn’t involve ice or a glass.
Wine is a relatively common cooking ingredient, but most of us don’t think to look into the liquor cabinet for the perfect addition to our recipes. Cooking with liquor and liqueurs can be a little dangerous — sometimes fire is involved! — but it can provide interesting flavor and intensify those that are already there. If you have a few shots of these ten spirits left lingering in your kitchen, try adding them to some of your favorite recipes. You won’t get much of a buzz, but the tasty results just might surprise you.
The obvious choice for using up leftover vodka is pasta alla vodka sauce, made with tomatoes, cream, and a few shots of the flavorless spirit. As the sauce simmers away on the stove, the added vodka extracts more flavor from the tomatoes and aromatics like garlic, onion, and herbs, ultimately resulting in a more delicious pasta sauce. If you’d rather make your tomato sauce without cream, add vodka to your arrabiata recipe — the bite from the booze also enhances spicy flavors.
Beyond Grandma’s rum cake, there are plenty of culinary applications where spiced rum can add tons of flavor. The next time you’re making bananas foster, set aside a little of that rum from your flambé to make a spicy and velvety rum-butter sauce. On the savory side, a splash of rum will punch up homemade barbecue sauce or add character to a spicy-sweet glaze for fish and chicken.
Mexican cuisine is the perfect fit for those leftover splashes of tequila, whether you’re mixing it into a ceviche recipe or pouring a shot over sautéing shrimp. Tequila has an incredible ability to bring out acidic and herbaceous flavors, like cilantro and lime, especially once a little heat has been applied. Try margarita cupcakes for a twist on everyone’s favorite patio cocktail, or mix it into a boozy vinaigrette that is perfect for everything from grilled chicken to fresh summer salads.
If you’ve got a good bourbon, it’s probably best to enjoy the rest of that bottle poured over ice, but when you need to use up the last of something basic, this whiskey is incredibly versatile in the kitchen. Bourbon is great in both savory and sweet applications thanks to its complex flavors, which concentrate as they’re cooked. Bacon and bourbon are a particularly delicious combination, and can be used to make decadent treats like bacon-bourbon brownies, or everyone’s favorite savory-sweet spread — bacon jam.
Thanks to their inherent sweetness, liqueurs like Framboise and Grand Marnier are generally better for sweet applications, like cakes and and tarts. When added to a plain white cake recipe, Grand Marnier lends a delicate citrus flavor. Still, they can be used to add a nice bit of sweetness and flavor to savory dishes. Mix Grand Marnier into your favorite marinades for pork, chicken, and fish, or try using Framboise or other fruity liqueurs to intensify the flavor in fruity homemade chutneys and sauces. Remember that liqueurs are intensely flavored, so a splash or two should be all you need.
This trendy spirit is great in a glass, but you’d be surprised at what it can do for Southwestern-inspired dishes. Mezcal can be used to cure salmon and other high-quality fish, making it perfect for days when you just don’t want to fire up the oven. You can also mix mezcal into your ceviche marinade, splash it over a pan of sautéing shrimp or chicken, or mix a little into chocolate cake or ganache for a smoky finish.
Cognacs and brandy can be incredibly versatile in the kitchen, evidenced by the Cognac-infused mashed potatoes that Snoop Dogg mixed up when he stopped by Martha Stewart’s TV show a few years ago. Depending on the flavor profile of your leftover bottle, you can use it to caramelize nuts and fruit or stir into a marinade for proteins of all kinds. Keep your leftover brandy in a kitchen cupboard and use it any time that a pan needs to be deglazed — from there, you have the makings of a sophisticated sauce.
The light anise flavor of absinthe makes it perfect for cooking, especially in French-inspired dishes. Try absinthe instead of rum in cakes and cookies, or mix it into a sauce for fish, mussels, or clams. Paste’s food editor Sara Bir likes to add a few tablespoons to finish her Filipino-style chicken or pork adobos. If you’re feeling extra fancy, remember that absinthe and foie gras are frequently used together, and the light, licorice-y flavor is brilliant in a macaron. Those recipes are probably best for the more technically-advanced home chefs among us.
The aromatic that gives gin its characteristic flavor, juniper berries, is frequently used in cooking. Gin-soaked raisins are a popular home remedy for joint pain, but even if they don’t really cure arthritis and inflammation, they’re delicious in baked into cupcakes. Gin can also be mixed into marinades, and some home cooks even substitute it for hard-to-find juniper berries in recipes for pork, venison, and rabbit dishes.
Some may say that scotch is too fine to be used in culinary applications, but what if someone’s left a bottle after a dinner party, and you’re not much for the smoky spirit? Should you find yourself with extra scotch — and what a problem to have! — stow it in the kitchen to make sauces for smoked and grilled meats. You won’t need much scotch to infuse its bold flavors, and its high alcohol content will help draw out richer flavors from the other ingredients in your recipe.
Amy McCarthy is Paste’s Assistant Food Editor. Share your favorite boozy recipes with her on Twitter @aemccarthy.