Post-Christmas, you probably have all sorts of bottles hanging around, maybe some apple brandy that was used to flambé the pudding, or a few alcoholic tipples you received as gifts (just what will you do with that limoncello?)
For the cook – especially the cook in a hurry, or who wants to add a touch of luxury for very little effort – booze is a lifesaver.
I have a shelf of bottles just opposite the cooker that are as useful to me as olive oil and lemons. Vermouth, Marsala, sherry, apple brandy, whisky, port – I wouldn’t be without them.
There’s dry vermouth – the one alcohol I wouldn’t be without – that can be used to deglaze the pan after sautéing chicken or cooking fish.
Just remove the fish or chicken and keep it warm, slosh about 75ml (3 fl oz) into the pan, let it come to the boil and bubble away until it’s reduced by half, then add cream and boil until you have a sauce, or whisk in a few chunks of very cold butter, which will thicken the pan juices and alcohol and give it gloss. Add herbs – or not– and a luxurious supper is ready in less than 15 minutes.
Recipe: Diana Henry's Italian sausages with penne
Dry Marsala (and don’t let anyone tell you that only sweet Marsala exists) can be treated in the same way as dry vermouth. It’s lovely with pork (I use it with pork chops and figs), or escalopes of veal or chicken.
Recipe: Diana Henry's recipe for pork chops with figs and Marsala
Calvados and cider brandy
Try Calvados and cider brandy. With them, add a few sautéed apples to your chicken or pork and you have dinner Normandy style.
Recipe: Diana Henry's apple and Calvados trifle
There’s sherry in my stash too. A dry one is great in a braise of chicken thighs with lots of garlic, while a sweet one is fabulous with chocolate.
Pour a slug over chocolate ice cream, add it to whipped cream to serve with chocolate cake, or simmer some raisins in sweet sherry (enough to cover) for ten minutes then leave to plump up.
Easy, but they’ll transform rice pudding, vanilla ice cream and chocolate mousse.
Whisky is strong but excellent in British dishes. A classic bread and butter pudding is knockout with whisky sprinkled over the bread, or add a good slug to poached prunes (and serve with creamy porridge – now that’s a weekend treat).
Whisky can be whipped into cream, too – just add it slowly and don’t overdo it – and my dad can’t be the only person in the country who is still partial to a bit of steak with a thin sauce of whisky, cream and crushed black pepper.
Recipe: Diana Henry's whisky and marmalade bread and butter pudding
Ruby port is useful, especially with venison, and not just for deglazing the pan. I often pour a drop into a meaty braise that needs some sweetness and depth, or add it to the roasting juices for lamb.
Recipe: Diana Henry's port-soaked fruit
And see that bottle of limoncello that you don’t actually like? Use it in a trifle – one made with lemon curd and blueberries – and you’ll find that you're actually rather partial to it.
The new look Saga Magazine is available now for just £12 for 12 issues...