During the past year, I turned to a daily cocktail (or two) to help get through the pandemic (just me?). I experimented with syrups and bitters, perfected my orange twist and went through many bottles of booze. But now that the world is opening back up again — and we can finally meet up for drinks made by other people and enjoyed with other people — all that booze needs to be put to good use.
As it happens, my colleague Lisa McRee, anchor of Spectrum’s “L.A. Times Today,” emailed me back at the beginning of May to say she had the same problem and to ask for advice on what she should do with all the excess liquor she had in her bar. So I made plans to go to Lisa’s home to spend the day cooking and talking about how she likes to entertain to get a sense of what we might do with the “leftovers.”
As it turns out, Lisa is a sauce queen. From barbecue sauces to herb relishes, spicy salsas and everything in between, Lisa likes to make a few different sauces to keep on hand so that when guests come over, either planned or unannounced, she can grill up some ribs, chops or veggies and serve a flavorful dinner. It’s a no-stress method of entertaining that takes a lot of work off the host while also allowing guests to customize the food to fit their taste or dietary practice of the moment.
So, to fit with her entertaining ethos and because it’s summertime and more and more people will be having backyard barbecues and get-togethers, I immersed myself in using that leftover booze to create lots of flavorful sauces — using the alcohols’ distinct flavors and aromas to complement those of the other ingredients — that you can make now and keep in your fridge the whole summer to use at a moment’s notice.
For my Jack-and-Coke BBQ Sauce, good old-fashioned whiskey adds a dry punch to a traditional ketchup-and-vinegar-based sauce sweetened with cola and caramelized onions. In the same vein, but with a twist, my Stone Fruit & Scotch BBQ Sauce gets its sweetness from peach preserves (you can use plum, apricot or cherry too) and is balanced with the smoky tinge of blended Scotch.
If you love honey mustard, then try my Golden Honey Mustard Sauce With Rum and Turmeric, which uses the punch of rum for a more complex sweetness that is balanced with the earthy kick (and vibrant color) of ground turmeric.
The sweetness of bourbon works with the heat of fresh chiles and a complex mix of warm spices to bring harmony to the Moroccan-Spiced BBQ Sauce from Zuzu, a Spanish-inspired restaurant in Napa. (It is Lisa’s favorite sauce.)
Expanding beyond smooth sauces, my Pineapple Chutney With Mezcal and Vanilla Bean utilizes the booze’s tell-tale smokiness to add character to the tropical sweetness of pineapple and vanilla bean, pod and all. And my favorite condiment gets a south-of-the-border makeover in Tomatillo & Tequila Chowchow. The relish, typically made with green tomatoes and bell peppers with lots of vinegar and sugar, instead uses tart, firm tomatillos and serrano and habanero chiles for plenty of heat. Sweet at first, then spicy at the end, the earthy agave liquor seamlessly blends each flavor with the next.
I had Lisa try all the sauces, and we discussed the best ways to serve them (you can go to latimes.com/food to watch that video). Some are more traditional barbecue sauces — sweet and tangy and spicy — meant for brushing on grilling chicken or splashing on hearty pulled pork, while others are relishes meant for spooning onto cooked meat, seafood and veggies or using as a spread on the sandwiches you’ll make with all the leftovers. Because once you make these sauces, you’ll find plenty of excuses to use them, whether your bar is stocked or not.
Get the recipes: