Make a splash: Mark Hix shows how a little drop of alcohol can really enhance your cooking

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Alcohol plays an integral part in many great dishes and it has all sorts of uses which go far beyond the notion of just slopping a bit of leftover corked vino into your cooking. Whether it be cognac, cider brandy or beer, the careful addition of a little drop of booze can really enhance the flavours of a dish.

Alcohol can very successfully counteract fattiness or richness within dishes – and used correctly in gravy and sauces it does a great job of deglazing, roasting or frying the sediment left in the bottom of the pan, as long as you reduce it at the same time to evaporate the harshness of the alcohol.

You can also get creative with puddings or creams or homemade jellies by adding a dash of those unwanted liqueurs or spirits such as limoncello and cointreau which tend to end up sitting neglected on our shelves.

Mutton chops cooked in beer with spring carrots

Serves 4

You can use mutton or lamb for this dish. Sadly, mutton still isn't a regular item in butchers and supermarkets, but it is the best meat for slow cooking by far, as it has that rich, almost gamey, flavour. Beer is great for cooking with as it doesn't impart that acidic flavour that wine does if it's not reduced correctly. I would suggest using a bitter, IPA, or a decent light beer for this.

8 x 70-80g mutton chump or neck chops (not too fatty)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
A little vegetable or corn oil for frying
60-70g butter
1 onion, peeled, halved and finely chopped
30g flour, plus a little extra for dusting
1tsp tomato purée
350ml beer
400-500ml beef or lamb stock
A few sprigs of thyme
150g small young carrots, peeled

Season and lightly flour the chops, heat some vegetable oil in a heavy frying pan and brown them on both sides. Melt the butter, reserving a little for the carrots, in a pan large enough to hold the chops. Gently cook the onion for 2-3 minutes until soft, then stir in the flour and cook for a minute on a low heat.

Add the tomato purée then gradually whisk in the beer, bring to the boil and continue boiling until it has reduced by half. Add the beef stock and thyme, season, cover with a lid and cook on a low heat for about 1-1 hours or until the chops are tender; top up with more stock or beer if it's getting dry. It's difficult to put an exact time on mutton so it will need to be checked during cooking.

Remove the chops from the sauce and simmer the sauce until it has thickened. Meanwhile, cook the carrots in boiling salted water with a little sugar until tender, then drain and toss in the remaining butter and season. Reheat the chops in the sauce, then serve on individual plates, or one larger serving plate, with the carrots scattered over.

Cider-cured herrings

Serves 4

Cider is such a great drink to use in your cooking, and the addition of Julian Temperley's Kingston Black apple apéritif gives this Scandinavian dish a bit of a British kick. You will need to marinate the herrings for 4-5 days before serving.

I've partnered this dish here with an apple and horseradish salad, which is made simply from diced apples, freshly grated horseradish and mayonnaise.

16 herring fillets, scaled, boned and trimmed

For the marinade

300ml cider vinegar
300ml warm water
80g sugar
2tsp sea salt
25-30 fresh green peppercorns
1tsp fennel seeds
8 juniper berries
2 bay leaves
6 shallots, peeled and cut into rings

For the sauce

2tbsp good-quality mayonnaise
2tsp Tewkesbury mustard
1-2tbsp Kingston Black apple apéritif
1-2tbsp chopped dill or fennel

Bring all of the ingredients for the marinade to the boil then leave to cool and add the shallots. Mix with the herring fillets, then lay the fillets in a non-reactive container and pour over the marinade. Leave to marinate in the fridge for at least 4-5 days before serving.

To make the sauce, mix the Kingston Black with the mustard and mayonnaise, then whisk into the marinade to about the consistency of double cream; stir in the dill.

To serve, remove the fillets and dry on some kitchen paper. Fold them in half with the skin on the outside and arrange on a serving plate with a few of the shallots and green peppercorns on top. Serve the sauce separately.

Duck braised in sloe gin with rhubarb

Serves 4

You may think this is a rather odd combo but duck is one of those very adaptable birds where you can slow cook it or roast it pink and it goes brilliantly with fruit or Asian spices. Sloe gin just hangs around in some people's drinks cabinets because they get given it as a present and it's not really their cup of tea, but it's fantastic in a sauce for duck; and I've also made some very successful salad dressings out of it.

2 good-quality ducks, such as Gressingham
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
100-150ml sloe gin
150-200g rhubarb

For the sauce

60g butter
3 medium shallots, peeled, halved and finely chopped
50g flour
2tsp tomato purée
200ml red wine
750ml beef stock

Preheat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6. With a heavy chopping knife, remove the legs and cut them in half at the joint. Cut the breasts in half through the bone and trim any excess fat. Season the pieces with salt and freshly ground black pepper, then roast them, skin side down, in a roasting tray for 30 minutes.

Remove them from the tray and drain them in a colander (the drained fat can be saved and kept in the fridge for cooking roast potatoes).

Meanwhile, make the sauce: melt the butter in a thick-bottomed pan and gently cook the shallots for 2-3 minutes until lightly coloured. Add the flour and tomato purée and stir well over a low heat for a minute. Gradually add the red wine, stirring to avoid lumps forming, and then gradually add the beef stock. Bring to the boil and simmer for 15 minutes while the duck is roasting.

Turn the oven down to 170C/gas mark 3. Put the duck into an ovenproof dish with a lid, along with the sauce and the sloe gin. Cook in the oven for 45 minutes to an hour until the flesh is soft. Meanwhile, cut the rhubarb into 3-4cm x 1cm sticks.

Remove the duck from the liquid, put it on to a warmed plate and cover with foil. Transfer the cooking liquid to a saucepan, skim off any fat with a ladle and simmer until the sauce has thickened. Return the duck to the liquid with the rhubarb just to warm through, adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper if necessary, and add another glug of sloe gin if it needs it.

Arrange the pieces of duck on a plate or serving dish and spoon over the sauce.