Why You Should Add Cocktail Bitters To Your Next Steak Marinade

Look at that ancient bottle of Angostura bitters on your dusty bar cart in the back corner of the kitchen. You probably bought it years ago, back when you thought you'd be the kind of person who hosted dinner parties and served batched Old Fashioneds on a silver tray. But now you're questioning how long you have before that bottle of bitters goes bad and realize you have no idea what else to use it for.

Luckily, bitters have plenty of uses that go beyond a select few classic cocktail recipes. There are bitters that exist in just about any flavor, ranging from the classic but mild orange bitters to more interesting flavors like yuzu or cardamom. These complex, fragrant, and intense tinctures preserve a dizzying number of botanicals using alcohol as a base, so it only takes a few drops to add a world of flavor to your food or drink.

Yes, food. Bitters have long been used as a flavoring for food in West Indian countries like Trinidad, where Angostura bitters originated. Bitters can add spice to baked goods, jams, or whipped cream, but they can also turn up the dial on savory dishes, particularly in marinades for chicken or steak.

Bitters create more flavor and add tenderness to your steak

While there are conflicting arguments over whether or not alcohol in a marinade makes the meat more tender, it will add flavor that can't be achieved otherwise. (Those who wish to be extra careful may consider cooking the marinade first to cook off excess alcohol.) 

VinePair shares a recipe for a steak bitters marinade courtesy of Michael Ring, the former executive chef and current ambassador for Coopers' Craft Bourbon. The recipe almost resembles a marinade analog to an Old Fashioned, including ingredients like Angostura bitters, brown sugar, orange juice, and bourbon. Ring prefers to use bitters made with cinnamon and cinchona bark, which contains quinine and gives tonic water its notorious sharp flavor.

Other recipe ideas include steak served with caramelized onions and marinated with Lem-Marrakech bitters, which contain cumin, coriander, and cinnamon notes. Or perhaps you might want to pair meaty shiitake and oyster mushrooms with steak cooked with shallots and Angostura bitters. 

While Angostura Aromatic bitters are generally considered the default of the genre, they aren't as straightforward to pair as other kinds of bitters because Angostura has famously kept its exact botanicals a secret. However, many postulate that gentian, cinnamon, cloves, and black licorice could be involved. Keep in mind your desired flavor palate when planning your recipe, and consider bitters that might sub in for ingredients that are hard to find or don't keep well since a small bottle will last you quite a while.