5 Dishes That Are Better with Cocktail Bitters

updated Jun 8, 2019
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Citrus Salad with Honey & Bitters Dressing (Image credit: Faith Durand)

If you make cocktails at home, you know that a good bottle of bitters is one of the essentials to have on hand. Bitters are a concentrated mixture of alcohol, herbs, aromatics and spices — maybe you’ve heard of Peychaud’s or Angostura?

The herbal notes that bitters bring to the table help to round out the flavors of many cocktails, and I even use a little in my seltzer water in the afternoon as a pick-me-up. Bitters are seldom used in cooking or baking though, but many chefs and home cooks think it’s high time this changed!

I came across bitters twice this week while out and about in Seattle: the first time was in a chocolate truffle and the other in a summer tomato soup. I was curious about the truffle and skeptical about the soup, but were really delicious with complex, well-rounded flavors and only the slightest kiss of herbal notes.

I thought it was high time to explore other ways people are using bitters in their restaurant (and home) kitchens, so here are five ways to use them in everyday cooking!

1. Pie

I first heard of the idea of using bitters in pie when I visited the Brooklyn pie shop Four and Twenty Blackbirds. They do a Salted Apple Caramel Pie that is made with a dash of bitters in the filling for an extra oomph of flavor. While nothing about the pie tastes overly herbal or “bitter” per se, it does have a very well rounded flavor and I have a hunch the bitters really help to mellow out the potentially very sweet caramel.

→ Get a recipe: Double-Crust Apple Pie

2. Soups & Stews

Soups and stews are the perfect time to experiment with the addition of a few dashes of herbal flavor. I’ve personally used bitters in a lentil soup before and loved the result — the nice thing is you can start really slowly and conservatively and simply experiment that way before going all-in.

→ Get a recipe: Spring Onion Soup with Garlic Croutons — Epicurious

(Image credit: Rita Held)

3. Sauces

Much like soups or stews, sauces are meant to be concentrated boosts of flavor, so why not really go big with a few dashes of bitters? It certainly depends on the sauce and what it’s being served with, but bitters can often round out heavier citrus flavors or give creamy sauces a light boost of flavor.

→ Get a recipe: Asparagus with Warm Angostura Mayonnaise Get Cooking Simply

4. Salad Dressings

I’ve started to use bitters as the acid in salad dressings — just a few shakes into a vinaigrette with olive oil and a little mustard and salt and we’re in business. But many chefs and cooks before me have gotten even more creative with brilliant ways to incorporate bitters into salad dressings for vegetable and fruit salads alike.

5. Ice Cream

Thanks to the milk fat, ice cream holds flavor really well. You know this if you’ve ever steeped any herbs or aromatics into the milk before churning away. Bitters is no exception; it flavors ice cream beautifully (warning: a little goes a long way).

→ Get a recipe: Peychaud’s Bitters Ice Cream from The Chocolate of Meats

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