Ingredient Spotlight: Brandy

Look who’s back in our liquor cabinets— and in the kitchen.

When brandy pops into a conversation, the words that follow often include “sidecar” and “Grandma’s after-dinner drink.” With the craft cocktail scene booming at local watering holes, brandy is slowly making its way out of the wine cellar and into our glasses. But it’s easy to forget that brandy (including cognac and Armagnac) is simply a liquor made by distilling wine, which means that like wine, it’s great in the kitchen, too.

To learn more about brandy, we sat down with Kowalski’s culinary director, Rachael Perron, and Peter Houghtaling, Kowalski’s Wine Shop manager, at the Grand Avenue location in St. Paul. In looking for a bottle, Perron has some simple advice: Cooking with brandy usually means a couple of tablespoons per recipe, so don’t buy the cheapest bottle. It keeps forever and can be made into cocktails if you’re not a fan of the after-dinner sip. Houghtaling recommends Korbel California Brandy ($14.99) as a good entry-level bottle for cooking and cocktails.

For those new to brandy, its strongest trait is the hint of caramel in both taste and aroma. This makes it perfect for finishing sauces and desserts, Perron says. She’s shared with us just a few recipes perfect for testing the flavors and for fall entertaining.

Pears Foster

2 Tbsp. butter
4 ripe Bosc pears, peeled, halved and cored
¼ cup brown sugar
¼ tsp. Kowalski’s ground cinnamon
½ cup dark rum
1 Tbsp. brandy
Vanilla bean ice cream

Melt butter in a large skillet over low heat. Add pears; cook over low heat until tender when pierced with a fork (8 to 10 minutes), turning to brown both sides; let stand, covered, five minutes to soften. Stir in brown sugar and cinnamon. Place cooked pears in a serving dish; cover to keep warm. Off the heat, add rum and brandy to the skillet; warm over medium heat. When hot, ignite with a long wooden match or long lighter tool; continue cooking until flame goes out. Arrange two pear halves in each of four individual serving bowls; top with ice cream. Drizzle evenly with warm sauce and serve immediately.
Steak Diane

3 tsp. Kowalski’s extra virgin olive oil, divided
8 oz. sliced mushrooms
¼ cup thinly sliced shallots
1 lb. beef shoulder tender medallions, cut ¾” thick
Kosher salt, to taste
2-3 tsp. freshly ground Kowalski’s black peppercorns
2 Tbsp. brandy
½ cup heavy cream
2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
Chopped fresh parsley, to taste

Heat 1 tsp. oil in large nonstick skillet over medium heat until hot. Add mushrooms and shallots; cook and stir three minutes or until tender. Remove from skillet; set aside. Season beef with salt and coat evenly with pepper. Heat 1 tsp. olive oil in same skillet over medium-high heat until hot. Place half of beef in the skillet; cook 5-6 minutes for medium-rare to medium doneness, turning once. Remove; keep warm. Repeat with remaining 1 tsp. oil and beef. Add brandy to skillet; cook and stir over medium heat, scraping and whisking to incorporate brown bits stuck on the pan into the sauce. Stir in cream and Worcestershire sauce. Add mushroom mixture; cook and stir until sauce is slightly thickened. Add beef; stir to coat with sauce. Adjust seasoning and garnish with parsley.

Pumpkin Tortelloni with Brandied Cream Sauce

18 oz. Kowalski’s pumpkin tortelloni, cooked according to package directions, drained and kept warm
3 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1 ½ Tbsp. flour
¾ cup chicken broth
¾ cup heavy cream
½ cup Stonewall Kitchen roasted apple grille sauce (found in Kowalski’s deli department)
2 Tbsp. brandy
Kosher salt, freshly ground Kowalski’s black peppercorns and nutmeg,
to taste
Freshly ground Kowalski’s parmesan cheese
Fresh sage leaves, finely chopped,
to taste

Melt 3 tbsp. butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat until it’s slightly brown; whisk in flour; cook one minute. Slowly whisk in broth; simmer until slightly thickened. Stir in the cream, grille sauce and brandy; season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Cook a few minutes longer until the sauce reaches desired thickness. Add the cooked pasta to the sauce and toss to coat. Adjust seasonings and garnish with cheese and sage.  

Pair brandy and cigars for a worthy blend.
Derrick Smigiel, owner of Churchills Quality Cigars & Gifts, is well versed in pairing cigars to elicit maximum flavor and enjoyment. Open since 2014, Churchills features a retail venue, walk-in humidor, private lockers and a patio “cigarden.” Smigiel offers recommendations on matching brandy with several complementary cigars, including:

Oliva Melanio V Series
A popular brand, this hand-rolled, robusto cigar has a 52-inch ring gauge and offers a blend of Nicaraguan Habano.

Gurkha Royal Challenge
The Jamaican cigar uses a Sumatra blend, a specific cigar wrapper that helps create a rich, satisfying flavor.

Rocky Patel Sungrown
With a Connecticut Brandleaf Maduro wrapper, this medium-body to full-body cigar has flavors of spice and chocolate along with leather notes.

Brandy adds punch to recipe favorites.

Kowalski’s culinary director, Rachael Perron, offers five quick ways to use brandy, either in standard recipes or as an add-on to some sweet fall treats.

1. Fondue: Trade out the sherry or kirsch called for in any fondue recipe for the same amount of brandy.
2. Eggnog: Add one-half to one full shot of brandy to an 8 oz. glass of eggnog to make a fast and delicious seasonal cocktail.

3. Caramel sauce: Add a splash of brandy to a warm caramel sauce and serve over apple, pumpkin or pecan pie, or cheesecake.
4. Affogato: Pour 2 oz. hot espresso and 1  oz. brandy over ½ cup vanilla or coffee ice cream in a lowball glass for a twist on a traditional affogato.
5. Pan sauce: Deglaze sautéed mushrooms or onions with brandy before serving over, or alongside, steak.