The secret ingredient for many a French bistro? A splash of Cognac in your food.

Cooking with Cognac brings a touch of spice, vanilla and fruit, and when used properly, it leaves food that doesn’t taste like brandy yet still retains the spirit’s background level of complexity. The cooking process is also rather quick, unlike deglazing with wine, where a sauce may need to cook for a while to not taste overwhelmingly fruity or tart.

Affordable Cognacs and Armagnacs can run $30–$40 a bottle, though smaller formats are also available if you don’t want to commit to a full bottle for a single recipe. Other aged grape brandies can be substituted, but cheap ones can be too sweet and woody. A good rule of thumb is to use something balanced enough to drink.

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