How to Cook With Cognac

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Cognac can be used in both desserts and entrees. One delicious way to cook with cognac is to use it as a flavoring for meat dishes by utilizing a cooking technique called 'flambéing', in which alcohol is ignited during the cooking process to produce a unique flavor. The best way to learn is by doing, so what follows is a quick and easy recipe for peppercorn steak with cognac-cream sauce which involves flambéing as a key step.

Flambéing With Cognac

  • One way to cook with cognac is by flambéing your food with it. Flambé, which means 'flamed' in French, is a technique by which liquor is added to a hot pan, causing the alcohol to ignite. Chefs typically flambé just as their dish is finished cooking so that the sugars in the alcohol do not burn (the flame is caused by the alcohol and subsides in a few seconds). This is often done with red meat, but can be useful in the preparation of other foods as well. Any dish that is cooked at high temperature on the stove-top can be flambéd including crêpes, shellfish, and steaks.

  • When flambéing with cognac, ensure that nothing flammable is near the pan and that the fan above your stove is turned to high.

  • When your dish is almost finished cooking and the pan is hot, add one tablespoon of cognac to the pan and step back. A flame will immediately catch and your food will flambé for several seconds. Do not continue cooking at high temperature once the flame subsides, as the sugars in the alcohol will quickly begin to caramelize and burn.

Sauces & Sweets

  • Savory sauces often include liquor such as cognac or brandy. These sauces can either be created after flambéing or without utilizing that technique.

  • To create a sauce after flambéing with cognac, simply add another liquid to the pan and heat through, mixing with a wire whisk. The possibilities are endless, but try adding a half-pint of heavy cream after flambéing red meat -- the resulting sauce will be rich, sweet, and savory.

  • Some recipes utilize cognac in sauces without flambéing. This type of sauce will always be cooked at low-medium heat because high temperatures will cause the alcohol in the cognac to ignite. For example, try sautéing shallots and bacon in butter, adding parsley, and finishing with a dash of cognac. The result is a delicious sauce for seafood.

  • Lastly, cognac can also be used in sweet dishes. Again, cognac and cream are a perfect combination. Try adding cognac to chocolate mousse or whipped cream for an even more decadent dish.

Tips & Warnings

  • The flambé technique can be used with beef, pork, or any other red meat to add a unique flavor early in the cooking process. Cognac or brandy tend to impart the most flavor.
  • Liquor imparts a strong flavor. You don't want it to overpower the other elements of a dish, so keep in mind that a little goes a long way.
  • Flambéing is a technique which intentionally ignites alcohol. Ensure that you and any flammable objects are at a safe distance from the fire. Alcohol burns rapidly, so the process only takes a few seconds. Never use any liquids with an alcohol content of greater than 40% (80 proof).
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