To the unenlightened palate, there's no room for rum, gin or other high-alcohol beverages at the dining room table, unless it's at the bottom of a glass in the company of a tiny umbrella or a slice of lemon.
That's a bunch of bunk, says Susan Moses, co-owner and chef of 212 Market Restaurant.
"I think of food as medicine and that's the way I feel about wine and liquor," she says. "It's definitely an ingredient to be reckoned with."
Since its introduction to the restaurant's menu in the early '90s, each batch of 212 Market's signature seafood bisque has used a bottle of brandy, but spirits have featured in many of Moses' dishes, from Chattanooga Whiskey BBQ Alabama Pork Loin and Vodka-Tomato sauces to Rum-Spiced Tres Leches Cake.
Treating high-alcohol drinks as an ingredient opens new worlds of possibilities culinarily but, as with any ingredient, it's crucial to use it in moderation. Too much salt or too much tequila — neither makes for a desirable outcome, Moses says.
"You just have to not overdo it. You don't want too much of a good thing," she says.
If you'd like to see a little more synergy between your liquor cabinet and your pantry, here are some dishes recommended by locals and experts in which the proof is quite literally in the pudding.
An appetite-stimulating aperitif, vermouth is a fortified wine commonly served by itself before meals or as a component in cocktails such as Rob Roys, Manhattans and martinis. It has also found its way into this Green Bean Salad, which Moses describes as "fun and versatile," an ideal companion dish to grilled bratwursts or a pork roast.
Green Bean Salad with Vermouth
1/2 pound green beans, blanched in hot salted water, then chilled
21/2 pounds Yukon gold potatoes, cut in half, cooked in salted water
2 tablespoons vermouth
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 whole shallots, peeled & minced, or 1 small onion
2 tablespoons grainy Dijon mustard
1 cup olive oil
Salt and fresh black pepper
Fresh herb of your choice: pinch of dill, parsley, tarragon, etc.
1/4 cup toasted hazlenuts, chopped
Put the halved potatoes into salted water and bring to a boil. When just tender — about 12 minutes — lift out onto a pan and drizzle with the vermouth while still hot.
In the same pot of salted, boiling water, blanch the beans. When done, plunge them into an ice bath and drain.
In a bowl, whisk the white wine vinegar, shallots and mustard, then slowly whisk in the olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Pour mix over the warm potatoes and toss.
Mix in the green beans and herb of your choice.
Season to taste and sprinkle with toasted hazlenuts.
With the arrival of fall and the prospect of North Georgia apple orchards overflowing with ruby and emerald beauties, the culinary possibilities can seem overwhelming. Feeling more adventurous than a pie or turnover? Grab a bottle of bourbon and try out this recipe for kicked-up cinnamon apples dreamed up by Chattanoogans Aaron Gustafson and Kelly McCarthy.
"This recipe evolved, as many do, over several weekends," Gustafson says. "We began with a simple, standard cinnamon apples recipe and incorporated the pecans first, then the cranberries and finally the whiskey. The liquor helps to bring all of the flavors together and almost makes them dance across your tongue."
Spiritual Cinnamon Apples
2 Fuji (or similar) apples, cored and sliced into 1/16 wedges (larger apples), 1/8 (smaller apples), skin on or off
2 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup broken pecans
1/4 cup unsweetened, dried cranberries
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
2 shots (3 ounces) of American whiskey or bourbon
In a 12-inch cast-iron skillet, melt the butter over low to medium heat.
Add the pecans and apple slices and sprinkle the cinnamon on top
Increase the heat to medium and wait to stir until the apples begin to soften, then stir occasionally. Don't worry if they stick. Optionally, increase cooking speed by covering pan with foil.
Add the cranberries and cook another 2-3 minutes until the cranberries begin to soften.
Add the whiskey or bourbon and stir until the sauce has reduced and the alcohol has cooked off.
Apply generously to the top of waffles, cornbread or other bready breakfast treat. For sweeter apples, add a touch of maple syrup.
As the days grow shorter and savory dishes start to sound more appealing, Meghan O'Dea routinely turns to this pork dish, which puts a high-proof twist on a traditional German dish that originally called for juniper berries.
Simple to prepare and versatile enough to accommodate whatever root vegetables she has on hand, this unusual dish makes for an elegant presentation and a go-to for dinner parties. As an added bonus, she says, substituting gin for berries simultaneously marinates and tenderizes the meat.
"I've had friends request I make this again and again when I invite them over," she says. "You could also do variations with a nicer botanical gin like Hendrick's for a more floral profile. This would also be delicious with venison or boar, if you hunt."
1 bone-in pork butt, approximately 5 pounds
4 large red potatoes, cubed
4 carrots, sliced
2 turnips or parsnips, sliced
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 large white onion, chopped
1 cup pork or beef stock
1 cup gin
Fresh stalks rosemary
2 large or 3 small bay leaves
Salt and pepper
Heat oven to 425 degrees.
Rub salt, pepper and caraway seeds onto pork butt.
Place pork in a lightly oiled Dutch oven or cast-iron pot with a lid. Surround with root vegetables and garlic. Nestle rosemary stalks and bay leaves among the pork and veggies.
Pour in stock and gin. The liquid should be to the tops of the veggies or halfway up the pork butt. If not, add more stock or water.
Place the roast in the oven and immediately reduce the temperature to 200 degrees.
Roast for about 4 hours or until the meat is falling-apart tender. Cooking time will vary, depending on the size of the roast.
Serve with rice, egg noodles or gnocchi. Alternatively, to make a gravy, reserve some of the leftover au jus from the Dutch oven and mix with a little cornstarch before serving.