After posting two recipes for Green Peppercorn sauce, I received an email from a gentleman telling me he does not drink any kind of alcohol and would prefer not to use it in any recipe and what could he substitute for red wine.
Great question and one I'm asked a lot. The answer really depends on what you are cooking and what type of alcohol the recipe calls for. Although it is my opinion that most of the alcohol is cooked off in the process, I can respect someone's wishes not to handle it at all.
Why cook with an alcoholic beverage in the first place?
The main reason is to add flavor to what you are cooking. Although you may use red wine to deglaze a sauté pan to make a pan sauce, the wine adds additional flavor to the sauce. Adding a bottle of beer to a slow cooked braise leaves some alcohol but contributes a lot to the flavor.
Think of those holiday rum cakes you may have enjoyed. I remember my Aunt Tess's rum cakes that would get all us kids a little sleepy after a meal at her house. Those cakes would burn in a fireplace like logs.
Another reason you cook with alcohol is for the chemical reaction that occurs. For example, beer has a yeast in it that helps leaven or get a rise out of bread. Acidic wine is used in some marinades to help break down meat fibers. And what about using wine in fondue to lower the boiling point of cheese to prevent curdling.
So what can home cooks use instead of alcoholic beverages?
Some of the more common substitutes are juices (especially grape, orange, apple and cranberry), beef, chicken & vegetable stock, vinegar, and fruit syrups.
You can find a more detailed list on my web site at Alcohol Substitutions