Your Chili Will Taste Even Better With One Simple Ingredient

While changing up the chili recipe you've spent years perfecting might be a sensitive subject, trying something new could transform your already-perfect meal for the good. What could possibly make it better, you might ask? Making a simple swap is all it takes. Cooks typically deglaze the pan after browning the meat with water or stock, but in this case, substitute in some booze. According to Food52, red wine, hard cider, or beer will add several layers of extra flavor compared to diluting it with the alternative.

Think of it like cooking pasta in chicken stock, or rice in tomato juice. Subbing in a flavorful liquid for water will elevate your dish and impress your guests. Cooking with alcohol has become more and more popular, and no, it won't get you tipsy! From beer can chicken and penne alla vodka to mussels in white wine sauce, the taste is transformed, even by using a sweeter wine you wouldn't normally drink, or a flat beer from the back of the fridge.

Why cook with alcohol?

It's unlikely anyone has ever had vodka sauce without the vodka, because the alcohol is what carries the flavor. Hillary Polluck with Food52 says that while alcohol not only improves the taste of your food, it bonds with fat and water molecules, which prolongs the flavor and aroma. Alcohol helps penetrate flavor into meat when incorporated into marinades and sauces.

If you want a more in-depth science lesson, Fine Cooking states that alcohol molecules evaporate much quicker than other substances, meaning you smell them almost immediately upon opening a bottle. When a substance as pungent as alcohol is introduced to cooking food, it releases the aroma of both the food and the alcohol, making for heightened senses and better indulgence. Did you know that our enjoyment of food relies heavier on smells through the nose versus tastes from the mouth? That's why you can't fully taste food when you have a cold. However, it's important to not get too crazy. A dish with more than 5% alcohol will overpower the flavor and dominate the dish, leaving a not-so-good taste. It's ideal to keep the alcohol content low so that everything balances.

What kind of alcohol should you cook with?

Each type of alcohol tastes significantly different from one another, so the boozy beverage you choose depends on your preference and what you're cooking. With chili, you want to maintain that meaty flavor, but also add subtle acidity. The best options are red wine, hard cider, and beer. Red wine and beef are like two peas in a pod, lifting the meaty flavor to prevent any heaviness while adding subtle sweet flavor. Beer helps ingredients in the dish like tomato sauce, paprika, and onion release sweet malty flavors while adding a bit of nuttiness (via recipegirl). Hard cider pairs with the tomato components of the dish to bring out acidity without overpowering. Now that we know the types, what kind of red wine, beer, or hard cider is preferred?

According to Wide Open Eats, pinot noir is the best red wine option due to its berry and earthy tones, dark stout beers will release more sweetness and add a depth of flavor that makes it taste like the chili has been simmering for hours, and any type of original flavored hard cider is good. Simply swap in booze for water at a 1:1 ratio and go about your recipe. This simple trick will take your chili for a spin on the wild side, and might even encourage you to swap water for other liquids besides alcohol when eye-balling recipes, such as soda, tomato juice, herbal tea, seltzer water, bone broth, and more.