Dear Chef Mom: I made a chicken casserole and added wine to it before baking. My sister-in-law told me there was no way that I could serve that to our kids because it's a myth that the alcohol burns off during cooking. I always heard that once you cook a food with alcohol in it, all that's left is the flavor. Who's right?
Chef Mom says:
Many people use alcohol - whether spirits, wine or beer - to add flavor to everything from roasts to cakes. But despite lore that says all the alcohol burns off when you cook it, that is not always the case!
According to a 1992 study by Augustin, et al at the Department of Food Science and Toxicology, Food Research Center in Moscow, Idaho, the amount of alcohol that actually cooks off varies, depending on how long the food has been cooked, how it's been cooked, at what temperature, and based upon the specific alcohol and food ingredients in question.
In general, the longer you heat the booze, the less alcohol remains. If you simmer the food for several hours, only about 5 percent of the alcohol will remain. Flaming and adding wine, beer or spirits to a boiling sauce just before serving still leave roughly 80% of the alcohol.
* These figures are based on US Department
of Agriculture Research
If you're trying to burn off as much alcohol as possible and going just for the flavor, your best bet is a lengthy simmer. Leave the pan or pot uncovered so you don't interfere with the evaporative process and let the alcohol go.
If you or one of your guests is a teetotaler, it's simple to substitute! For meat- or vegetable-based dishes, broth or stock can replace the alcohol; in cakes and desserts, try juice.