Cider is no longer the syrupy sweet, gluten-free backup dancer to beer it once was: Funky, dry, complicated ciders made in the European tradition are enjoying a very well earned place towards the front of the stage, and for good reason. As Leslie wrote, funkier, drier, more orchard-focused ciders are just as interesting as wine, if not more so, and I drink them exactly as I might drink wine.
Albert Wilklow of Bad Seed Cider in his apple orchard.
Because it shares so many characteristics with wine—from its bright fruitiness and slight sweetness to its balance of tannins and acidity—it follows that cider would make an excellent cooking liquid, and it does, in just about every application you can think of. In fact, "You can sub in a dry cider wherever you might use a white wine in a dish," said Devin Britton of Bad Seed Cider, a cidery in New York's Hudson Valley. He and his business partner, Albert Wilklow, started cooking with cider because they often had opened bottles of cider left over from cider tastings; cooking is a good way to use up cider that's gone flat, but it's just as worthwhile to open a fresh bottle.
"Cider is a little bit warmer in flavor than white wine," Devin told me, which makes it a good choice for holiday cooking. Just be sure to look for a cider without added sugar, so as to prevent over-caramelization or burning and to highlight the cider's flavor. He poaches fish, steams clams and mussels, and braises meats (like chicken with apples) in cider; and in their tasting room at Bad Seed, they make a bacon and brie grilled cheese with a tangle of onions caramelized in cider.
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Another of Devin's favorite uses: "Substitute the beer can in a beer can chicken for a can of dry hard cider. It's so good," he told me. I believe him.