A decidedly savoury use for whisky if you’re looking for something different to try. Here, Alex has been experimenting in the kitchen with whisky, eggs, butter, and pasta.
I’ve mentioned before, but I’m a recent convert to spirits-seasoned food. I blame rum raisin ice cream and cheap, liqueur-filled chocolates for my late start. Also much of the crossover between food and spirits has stayed in the sugary, dessert realm, and for me that’s a one way ticket to headache town. But there’s a growing symbiosis in the drinks scene with plenty of savoury dishes influencing cocktails and vice versa. We’re now seeing the likes of Chicken Soup Martinis, whisky vinaigrettes, and even Heinz and Absolut Vodka collaborating on a pasta sauce.
A recent video caught my eye from Noma Projects – the food innovation sibling to the prolific winner of Best Restaurant in the World, Noma. It was for a whisky yolk sauce using smoked mushroom garum and smoked butter. This sounded very up my street, but alas mushroom garum and a butter smoker weren’t to hand. What I did have was peated whisky and an optimistic sense of resourcefulness, so I tried to recreate it with what I had.
Which whisky to use for cooking
The whisky in question was going to be important here, as all of the smokiness would be coming from this. I went for an Islay-Speyside blend in the form of Seaweed & Aeons & Christmas Cake & Cinnamon. The hefty sherry influence along with the coastal peat character of this whisky meant the smoky notes were sweeter and had more of a barbecue vibe, rather than scorched, damp earth. About a tablespoon and a half did the trick, enough for noticeable smoke and a gentle warmth, but not veering into literal cocktail sauce territory (although that’s given me ideas now).
Getting around the garum bit
If you’re wondering what garum is, it’s an ancient condiment made from fermented fish. Similar products are commonplace today, which you’ll have come across if you’re a fan of the likes of Thai and Vietnamese foods where fish sauce is a staple, or Worcestershire Sauce with its base of fermented anchovies.
The umami intensity of garum comes from proteins breaking down via naturally occurring enzymes to give glutamates. At Noma Projects, they use koji to recreate the process with plant-based protein sources, like mushrooms.
The sauce in question that I tried to recreate cures egg yolks in this smoked mushroom garum. I figured a workaround could be found in the likes of soy sauce and white miso, both products of koji fermentation, with a bit of mushroom stock added too. I’m pleased to say it worked rather well, and tasted great, although admittedly I don’t have a baseline to compare it to.
A world of pastabilities
All in all, my finished whisky yolk sauce was a success. It tasted like a super rich, savoury, smoky hollandaise sauce, but turned up to 100. I drizzled it over charred veg, dipped bread in it, and the folks at Noma Projects suggest it’d be great with roast chicken. I agree.
Looking at the finished sauce though, my brain was tenuously connecting some dots between this and carbonara. So it’s ultimate, and my favourite, use was as a silky pasta sauce with lots of parmesan, pepper, and some lemon zest for lift. As far as boozy pasta goes, I’d say it easily knocks any penne alla vodka out the park.
If this has tempted you to give it a go and get experimental with your cooking, here’s the recipe for smoky whisky yolk sauce:
Makes about 250ml of sauce, enough for four generous servings
5 egg yolks (see note)
120ml cold mushroom stock
60ml soy sauce
1 tsp white miso
3 tbsp melted butter
1-1.5 tbsp peated whisky
Salt to taste
Make the curing liquid for your egg yolks by mixing together the soy sauce, miso, and mushroom stock. Carefully add the egg yolks and leave to cure for about 30 minutes if using option one, and overnight in the fridge if going for option two.
Add the cured egg yolks to a mixing bowl and whisk until it’s as smooth as possible. Slowly add the melted butter a tablespoon at a time, whisking well after each addition.
Splash in your whisky and give it a good mix. Taste and add more whisky if you like. The sauce should be quite thick, but add a little hot water if you want it thinner. Season to taste, and enjoy!
Note: the original video Noma Projects posted didn’t give much guidance other than gently cooking the eggs before the yolks are removed, so I had to freestyle here. I reckon there are two ways you could separate the yolks. The key thing is you want them runny.
Option one is to simmer the eggs whole for about four minutes and then carefully remove the yolks from the white. This was bloody fiddly and I resented every second of it. You can see a video of how to separate the yolks here.
Option two is to use raw eggs and separate the yolks from the white. This seemed a lot more straightforward, and led to fewer breakages. Plus you can make a meringue with the whites, or whip up some frothy cocktails.