Whisky’s having a bit of a moment here in Australia, and Aussies are getting more open to the idea of pairing whisky with food… Or, at least, chocolate, cheese and biscuits. But what about savoury foods – and what about cooking with it?
Perhaps it’s because it’s so rarefied and wrapped up in ritual, most people are scared to do much with whisky other than sip it neat. This is a shame – because just like many dark spirits that we’re happy to cook, make cocktails or experiment with (for example, rum), whisky is versatile and perfect for all sorts of culinary escapades.
But how do you actually approach cooking with whisky, and what are some ways you can level up your whisky tasting game?
DMARGE spoke with Darren Robertson, creator and head chef of Three Blue Ducks (one of Australia’s best-known restaurant chains) as well as an ambassador for sustainable Scotch whisky brand Bruichladdich, who explains that there’s much more to whisky than just nursing a dram “in front of a fireplace, whilst wearing a wax jacket and smoking a pipe.”
“I feel like we’re all becoming a lot more adventurous with food and drinks pairings,” Darren suggests.
“Yes, chocolate, cheese, and fruit work well… [But] I personally like to enjoy whisky with a simple steak with lemon and burnt butter or an old school dessert such as apple crumble or pie with ice cream.”Darren Robertson
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How to cook with whisky
Darren also loves cooking with whisky – and not just in desserts. “I enjoy using a dash when preparing meats,” he shares.
“Whisky is often a welcome addition with marinating sticky pork ribs or cutlets with a little citrus, garlic olive oil and spices. Or even a splash to add flavour to venison, beef, or pies.”Darren Robertson
His biggest tip for cooking with whisky: take care when adding it to a hot pan. “If the whisky hits the side of the pan, you may find you get a little flame as the alcohol burns off. Great for theatre but not so much for your eyebrows if it’s unexpected!”
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He recently shared a recipe for BBQ pork ribs with a plum, orange and whisky glaze, made with Bruichladdich’s Classic Laddie: a classic single malt Scotch that unusually for an Islay whisky, is unpeated and features big floral notes.
“I marinated the ribs in garlic, olive oil, ginger, star anise, orange, lemon/kaffir leaves, whisky, coriander and plums [and] cooked on a low heat for 45 mins, then glazed on high heat with a plum, honey, glaze with the same spice/aromat blend,” Darren explains. Check out the recipe below.
Robertson particularly likes cooking with Bruichladdich not only because of the distillery’s unique flavour profiles but also because of the distillery’s sustainable focus – which aligns with what he’s championing at Three Blue Ducks.
“I’m interested in the story behind food and drinks, especially brands behind products working to improve their sustainability practices. Bruichladdich is at the forefront of this, for example, developing their understanding of rotational farming by working closely with local farmers, and looking to decarbonise their whiskey by 2025,” Darren shares.
The Australian hospitality industry post-COVID
We also had the chance to chat with Darren about the state of the Australian hospitality industry, which was dealt a pretty rough hand over the last few years with the pandemic. While Darren admits it has been tough, he’s actually pretty optimistic about the state of the industry.
“Hospitality has had its fair share of curve balls over the past few years, but I feel like our community has never been stronger,” Darren observes.
“The biggest challenge for most of us was adapting to the ever-changing rules and conditions around the workplace. Our priority was obviously the welfare of the staff and keeping the business afloat and thankfully we came through the other side.”Darren Robertson
“I’m not sure there is a secret to keeping staff, it certainly helps to stay strong, to be as supportive as possible, especially when it gets tough, to listen and to try to be better each day. I’m pretty excited about this coming year, there are some pretty exciting things in store for Three Blue Ducks and Rocker North Bondi!”
He’s also optimistic about the future of Australian fine dining, which he sees as currently having a bit of a renaissance. “I think we’ll see more of Australia being explored – regional dining is really exploding, some of the best food experiences in all facets of food are found outside of the big cities,” he says.
The next big thing in Australian fine dining? “We’re likely to see even more collaboration in our industry, chefs, restaurants, winemakers, brewers, growers, and producers working together to solve problems and embrace our new energised love of travel, the outdoors, nature, and even more delicious food,” Darren predicts. Cheers to that.