A little bit of wine or a spirit can add dimension to a recipe. Brandy’s concentrated flavors lend intensity to meat sauces and aroma to cream sauces, and the spirit is widely used in recipes from all over Europe. If you don’t have brandy on hand, or don’t want to use alcohol in a dish, no problem—there are a few alternatives.
If you want to follow a recipe as closely as possible, brandy extract is an obvious choice. It’s commonly used in desserts for its aromatic and slightly sweet notes, but it works just as well in savory dishes. Dilute 1 part extract with 4 parts water and incorporate the mix into a sauce or marinade. Skip over any steps that call for igniting the brandy, which isn’t necessary. Some extracts are alcohol-based, but once diluted, the alcohol is unobtrusive.
If you have no objection to using alcohol in your recipe, other aromatic spirits can replace brandy. Bourbon is earthy and slightly sweet, and Scotch adds an intriguingly smoky note. Gin’s crisp, woodsy herbal note isn’t suitable for all recipes, but it works very well with game and game birds. All of these liquors, as well as less obvious ones like rum or tequila, change the flavor of the final dish, so use your best judgment and always taste test.
Brandy is simply wine that’s been distilled to give it a deep, concentrated flavor. If you don’t have brandy, strong wine is a reasonable alternative. Dry sherry, Marsala, tawny port, and other rich-flavored wines are good options that provide depth and subtlety. Some wines are sweeter than others, but a splash of vinegar or lemon juice should balance that. Ordinary wine also works, especially if you boil it down to a syrupy thickness before incorporating it into your recipe. To keep the original color of the food, use a full-bodied white wine rather than red.
Any brandy lends a hint of fruitiness, and fruit-based ones like Calvados are especially strong. A splash of apple or grape juice could sub in nicely for brandy in pork or poultry recipes. Add a few drops of vodka if you wish.