Bursting the booze myth

A grown-up chicken dish flavoured with sherry, and fruity flapjacks for all the family

Chicken with sherry and mushrooms and apple and fig flapjacks. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

Chicken with sherry and mushrooms and apple and fig flapjacks. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill


I have always scoffed at people who worried about putting a generous splash of wine, sherry or port into stews that would be fed to children. As far as I was concerned, if something was bubbling away for a good while, there was little chance that any alcohol would remain.

I had heard lots of people fret that the alcohol was still present, but always thought it sounded a bit daft. So I decided to check it out for myself. I turned to the wonderful Harold McGee book, On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen. It is a very simple, yet comprehensive encyclopaedia about ingredients and chemical processes in cooking.

Interestingly, McGee says that not all of the alcohol is removed and that experiments have shown that although long-simmering stews lose 95 per cent of the alcohol that’s added, briefly cooked dishes can retain anything from 10-50 per cent, while flambés can retain as much as 75 per cent. I was surprised and I definitely won’t be so argumentative about this little kitchen “myth” in the future.

So what do you do when it comes to serving children? Personally, I think some wine added into stews and cooked for a long time won’t do them any harm. I guess where you may have some reservations is when you are using a fortified wine, such as in this chicken with sherry and mushrooms. This is one of those dishes for which you can use any fortified wine: port or marsala. I just happen to like using a good sherry in cooking. Anyway, forewarned is forearmed, but as my family were keen to point out, the flavours are pretty grown up in this dish anyway, so it’s unlikely your little ones will be partaking.

But there should be no such issue with the apple and fig flapjacks, though they aren’t as sickly sweet as flapjacks often can be. The idea is you make a dry kind of apple sauce and use this as a fruity layer to sandwich between the oats. They are a bit crumbly and won’t be as stickily rigid as their counterparts, but they are tasty, and easy to make all the same.