Its no secret that we here at Bourbon of the Day are big fans of bitters. But for new bourbon enthusiasts or traditionalists who prefer their whiskeys neat, buying bitters you might not enjoy means running the risk of having half used bottles sitting on your shelf.
Fear not! There are hundreds of ways to get the most use out of every bottle of bitters that you purchased! Just a few dashes of bitters in food recipes can transform ordinary dishes into extraordinary ones. In Trinidad and Tobago, bitters are often essential ingredients in soups, stews, and curries, and a growing number of restaurants and coffee shops are distinguishing themselves from the competition with non-alcoholic beverage, entrée, and desert recipes featuring unique bitters blends.
Better Beverages with Bitters
Bitters gained popularity as cocktail ingredients during the Prohibition Era. “Today`s distilled spirits are made under strict quality-control procedures to have a smooth finish,” Angostura President Robert Hanson notes. “Years ago, spirits were homemade as often as they were commercially distilled. Bitters made raw, harsh-tasting alcohol into a more palatable drink.” That was then, this is now, and bitters isn’t just for spirits anymore! If you love orange juice, a few drops of orange bitters can tame its acidity, and a few drops in an iced coffee, lemonade, ginger ale, tonic water, or club soda can work wonders.
In fact, Angostura currently markets their bitters in a drink called the Charger-a few dashes in a glass of sparkling water garnished with a wedge of lime juice. “It’s a popular alternative to cocktails for people who enjoy something more sophisticated than a soft drink,” Hanson says. Angostura and Canada Dry have even teamed up to popularize the Charger through radio advertising and sample promotions. And when the Minneapolis Star-Tribune newspaper asked its readers for suggestions on how to improve new Coca-Cola to make it taste more like old Coke, a reader nominated Angostura as the missing secret ingredient.
Bitters + Dinner = Winner
While bitters work beautifully in drinks and cocktails, they can be brilliant when used in place of the usual soup, salad, entrée, and desert ingredients. To get your creative juices flowing, here are 4 of the easies and the best recipes around for a spectacular 4 course meal!
Squash and Bitters Soup Serves 8
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 large leeks, white and pale green parts only, finely chopped
- 1 (3 lb) winter squash, such as kobucha, butternut, or pumpkin
- 1 qt chicken stock or low sodium chicken broth
- 2 cups water
- 2 tablespoons bitters
- 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 3/4 teaspoon finely ground black pepper
- 1/3 cup heavy cream
Peel and seed squash, then cut into two-inch chunks. Heat butter in a large heavy pot over medium heat until hot. Stir in leeks and garlic, and cook, stirring occasionally, until leeks are translucent, about six minutes. Stir in squash, stock, water, bitters, sugar, salt, and pepper, and bring to a boil. Cook soup, uncovered, until squash is very tender (about 25 minutes). Transfer soup to a blender and purée in batches. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve drizzled with cream and additional bitters if you’re feeling frisky.
Bitters Honey Vinaigrette Salad Dressing
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup NAKANO Natural Rice Vinegar
3 Tbsp. honey
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh mint
2 tsp. bitters
1/4 tsp. each salt and pepper
Whisk together ingredients. Toss with mixed salad greens. Especially tasty with salads containing spinach, kale, arugula and other slightly bitter greens.
Beef and Bitters Stew Serves 6
- 3 tablespoons olive oil or unsalted butter
- 2 lb beef chuck, cut into cubes
- 1 1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt
- 1 teaspoon finely ground black pepper
- 3 medium onions, sliced
- 1 qt chicken stock or low-sodium broth
- 1 cup crushed tomatoes
- 3 tablespoons bitters
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- Sour cream
Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large heavy skillet over high heat until hot. Sprinkle beef with 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon pepper, then sear beef, in batches, turning occasionally, until browned, about eight minutes total. Transfer beef to a medium heavy pot. Add remaining 2 tablespoons oil and onions to skillet with remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook, stirring frequently and reducing heat as necessary, until onions are deep golden, 35 to 40 minutes. Add chicken stock to skillet, scraping up any browned bits, then transfer to pot with beef. Stir in bitters and bay and bring to a simmer. Simmer stew, partially covered, until beef is very tender, about three hours. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve stew topped with sour cream.
Pineapple Upside-Down Cake
- 12 tbsp unsalted butter, softened, plus more for pan
- 1/2 c. packed brown sugar
- 3-4 dashes Angostura bitters
- 6 pineapple rings (canned, juice reserved)
- Maraschino cherries
- 1 c. granulated sugar
- 1 1/2 c. flour heaping
- 1/2 tsp salt heaping
- 1/4 tsp baking soda heaping
- 1/4 tsp baking powder
- 2 eggs
- 1/4 c. Greek yogurt
- 4 tsp pineapple juice (reserved from the pineapple ring can)
Heat oven to 350F. Butter an 8″ square pan, line with a square of parchment paper, and butter the parchment. Cream 2 tbsps of the butter, all of the brown sugar, and 3 dashes bitters in a small bowl. Microwave the mixture for 5 seconds to soften it up and spread into the prepared pan. Place pineapple rings and Maraschino cherries as desired on top of the butter mixture.
In the bowl of a stand mixer (or by hand if you’d like), beat the 10 tbsp butter with granulated sugar for several minutes, until light, fluffy and fully mixed. Meanwhile, sift together flour, salt, baking soda, and baking powder in a medium bowl. When the butter mixture is fully incorporated, add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add flour mixture in two parts, alternating with the Greek yogurt, pineapple juice, and bitters.
Pour batter into pan over fruit, spreading evenly with a spatula, pushing batter into the corners and along the pan’s edges. Bake for 50-60 minutes, rotating once, until cake is caramelized and golden brown on the edges, and cooked through. Remove from oven, and set on a cooling rack for 30-45 minutes. When cool, turn out onto a plate, remove parchment paper, and serve. The juicy sweetness of the canned pineapple and maraschino cherries paired with Angostura bitters will blow your mind!
While you can use any bitters you want in the above recipes, here are the 4 we recommend. Just click the link to check out prices, customer reviews, and grab a bottle of your own:
- Angostura Aromatic Bitters (most popular)
- Fee Brothers West Indian Orange Bitters or Fee Brothers Black Walnut Bitters
- Scrappy’s Chocolate Cocktail Bitters (GREAT for hot chocolates, mochas, and deserts!)
- Woodford Reserve Spiced Cherry Bourbon Barrel Aged Bitters