What is whiskey?
Whiskey is an alcohol distilled from a fermented mash of various grains, like barley, rye, or corn, and aged in wooden casks.
Single-malt: When a whiskey is made of only malted barley and from only one distillery, it is known as a single-malt.
Bourbon: This is whiskey made mostly of corn
Rye: Intuitively, rye is made mostly of rye and is a characteristic of Canadian whiskey.
For whiskies to be labelled Irish or Scotch, they must comply with the laws where they are produced, and meet other criteria like aging, distilling, ingredients, etc.
How does whiskey work in a recipe?
Much like wine, every variable in the making of whiskey affects the resulting flavour and aroma, ranging from buttery and soft to spicy and powerful. Because of the vastly different characteristics, there is a whiskey for every recipe and every palate.
Scotch and Irish whiskeys are usually stronger and smokier than North American varieties, therefore better to mix with appetizers or earthy main courses. Bourbon tends to be sweet and spicy with hints of vanilla and toffee, making it more suited to desserts. Regardless of your preferred choice, whiskey gives dishes depth and complexity - that can't-put-your-finger-on flavour. And what better drink pairing for your recipe than the whiskey it was made with?
Even if you don't like drinking whiskey, sneaking some into your menu just might change your mind.
Add whiskey to your Gravlax
Gravlax-cured salmon makes an elegant appetizer, and your gravlax (or curing salts) can be made with whiskey instead of vodka or gin. Simply cure the salmon in a mixture of salt, sugar, whiskey and some herbs and spices. To complement the whiskey, substitute maple syrup or brown sugar for regular granulated sugar. You won't go back to smoked salmon from the frozen seafood section again.
Add whiskey to your vegetables
Whiskey isn't just for meat dishes. Hearty winter vegetables like Brussels sprouts and roasted squash can withstand the dark flavours of whiskey. Marry the two together by glazing cooked veggies with a reduced mixture of butter, spices and whiskey.
Add whiskey to your steak
Purists say that steak need not be fussed over, but whiskey and peppercorns is a classic combination that adds a bit of heat to steak. Just use whiskey in place of brandy to deglaze the pan in any peppercorn steak recipe. The oak flavour in the whiskey pairs well with earthy flavours of mushrooms and peppercorns.
Add whiskey to your barbecue sauce
How can you talk about cooking with whiskey without mentioning barbecue sauce? A good maple whiskey barbecue sauce will flavour just about anything -- even tofu. Maple syrup along with Scotch or Irish whiskey add smokiness to the sauce, making it extra savoury. Your guests won't be able to discern it, but they'll know this sauce is superior.
Add whiskey to your desserts
Although whiskey has a serious, dark flavour, it's also good in desserts. Spike your run-of-the-mill creme Anglais to makes it less, well, vanilla. The smoothness of bourbon is nice with creamy sauce, while giving it brightness. This sauce goes well with apricots and peaches as well.
Sticky toffee pudding is as rich and sweet as desserts come; it's thick and warm like a duvet for your taste buds. The toffee sauce is a pivotal part of the dish, without which the pudding would only be a sponge cake made of dates. Bourbon is perfect in this dessert as it embodies all the flavours of the cake itself -- toffee, fruit, and spice.
Note: "Whisky" refers to Scotch whisky, while "whiskey" refers to Irish & Canadian whiskey. For this article we are using "whiskey" interchangeably.