- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 28, 2006

If you appreciate liquor with a complex taste you can linger over, you’re probably aware of the mellowing charms of scotch.

A small glassful is the reward you give yourself in the evening after you’ve shoveled the last blast of snow from the driveway. (As an aside, never drink before you shovel. You may not realize how tired or cold you’re getting.)

Thanks to the growing popularity of the liquor, you can find any number of scotch brands, as varied in taste as different wines. And, as with wine, the region influences the flavor. Lowland scotch is light and gentle. Highland scotch has more vigor. It’s rounded and robust with a slightly smoky flavor.

It’s the flavor of Highland scotch that caught my attention recently. Not only is the scotch delightful for a winter de-icer, it’s a great cooking ingredient.

The hint of spice and smoke comes out when you add a dash of a Highland scotch to pork or beef. It complements earthy mushrooms and wild rice and enriches plain sweet potatoes.

A little scotch can even boost the flavor of pudding. Think butterscotch with the real thing.

To cook with scotch, always start with a small amount. You’ll want the slightest hint of alcohol. Add too much, and your dish will just taste boozy. Add the scotch early enough in the cooking process so it becomes mellow. If you add scotch at the last minute, you’ll have the raw taste of liquor.

However, don’t assume you’ll burn off all the alcohol when you add it to a dish. Some residual alcohol remains. When you cook with alcohol, your audience should be adult.

The following recipe, accented with scotch, makes a delicious and quick entree.

Buy smoked chicken from the deli counter or use cooked chicken breast meat from the prepared meat section of the supermarket. Serve the soup with store-bought corn muffins.

Scotch-kissed wild rice soup

1/4 cup wild rice, rinsed and drained (see note)

Water

1 tablespoon butter

1 large leek, white part only, chopped (about 1 cup)

1 cup coarsely chopped shiitake mushroom caps

1 tablespoon flour

1 cups chicken broth, heated

2 tablespoons scotch

1/8 teaspoon crushed dried rosemary

1 cup cooked, chopped smoked chicken

cup half-and-half

Salt and pepper

Combine rice and 2 cups water in a small pot. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer until rice is tender, about 45 minutes. Drain off any remaining liquid. Set rice aside.

Meanwhile, melt butter in a medium pot. Add leek and mushrooms, and saute for 5 minutes over medium-high heat, or until tender. Stir in flour.

Stir in broth, a little at a time, until soup is slightly thickened.

Add scotch, rosemary, chicken and cooked wild rice.

Simmer for 5 minutes. Stir in half-and-half and heat through over low heat. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Makes 2 servings.

Note: If you prefer, add 1 cup of precooked wild rice available in the grains section of your supermarket.

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