Most people know that a jar of sticky-sweet honey is perfect for adding to tea, drizzling on biscuits, pairing with cheeses, and licking right off a spoon. But it can be easy to forget that the pantry staple is handy for so much more, transforming everything from salad dressings to barbecue-style glazes to killer homemade ice cream. Whether you're big into the nuanced flavor variations of different regional honeys or just a fan of the trusty old plastic bear, here are some of our favorite ways to put honey to good use.
Dress Salads and Vegetables
Great salad dressings are all about balanced flavors and a smooth, emulsified texture. It just so happens that honey does a great job at both of those things, tempering tang with sweetness while thickening the dressing so it evenly coats your salad ingredients. In combination with vinegar and a touch of oil, darker honeys' caramel notes make a natural pairing for fall vegetables—rounding out a warm Brussels sprout salad with crunchy hazelnuts and smoky bacon, or tossed with sugary roasted beets, creamy goat cheese, and hard boiled eggs. And, of course, there's the classic pairing of honey and carrots: Try it as a glaze for tender grilled or oven-roasted carrots—we like the latter tossed with feta cheese and lemon juice—or seek out tender baby carrots for a springtime take with peas, goat cheese, and Marcona almonds.
Looking for a change of pace? Try swapping the vinegar for soy sauce; combined with sesame oil, ginger, and lemon juice, it makes a great liquid seasoning for a side of sautéed root vegetables. Or grab a bottle of hot honey to dress a summery platter of figs, almonds, and goat cheese.
The same qualities that make honey a great salad dressing ingredient help it shine in sauces. It reins in pungent fish sauce and a lick of gingery heat in this coconut curry dipping sauce and, in combination with a little butter, balances the fermented funk of a kimchi-based sauce for potstickers and dumplings. It's also key to striking the right balance in our spicy-sweet sriracha ketchup, which gets some extra brightness from vinegar, lime, and cilantro (it's not so bad in our char siu-inspired ketchup, either). You can even introduce honey to your Thanksgiving gravy—it anchors the spicy-tart flavors of our white wine and mustard gravy.
Then again, honey doesn't even need other ingredients to constitute a great "sauce": we love a drizzle on biscuits, cornbread, chocolate, and cheese, not to mention pizza: take this spicy salami and soppressata pie or a
fig, goat cheese, and feta rendition, for instance. Frankly, as long as there's something hot, tart, or tangy to provide a little balance, the world is your honey-coated oyster (okay, don't do that).
And speaking of honey-based sauces, honey is great for more than just dipping: Throw together a balsamic-honey barbecue sauce and use it to glaze your favorite meats as they grill. In fact, I have yet to find a meat that doesn't benefit from a dash of honey—it glazes the roast pork in our pork pretzel bao, coats these pan-seared lamb chops in a rosemary-spiked cider sauce, and forms the base of a full spatchcocked roast chicken, where its floral notes strike a chord with aromatic lavender and lemon.
Add Nuance to Desserts
Though honey and sugar aren't interchangeable in every circumstance, honey often makes a more layered, subtle sweetener in cookies, ice creams, and cakes. Pairing it with spices like saffron, coriander, or even anise can help coax out those nuanced flavors, notes of butterscotch, citrus, jammy stonefruit, or wildflower. Combine your honey with puréed oranges, slivered almonds, and saffron for a moist and tender flourless cake, or take the same basic ingredients and transform them into this saffron-honey and orange ice cream. Honey adds a rounded sweetness to buttery shortbread cookies, flavored with coriander and citrus zest, lends character to the smoky backbone of this twist on mint chip ice cream, and balances the faint nutty bitterness of this black sesame honey pudding.
Nuts and honey also form a natural partnership, from these honey-sweetened almond and lemon biscotti to blondies peppered with dried cherries and crunchy Marcona almonds. In fact, little more than honey, pine nuts, butter, and cream forms the filling of this dense, sticky-sweet pie, though the same principle will work with a wide variety of salted and roasted nuts, as well.
Sweeten Cocktails and Smoothies
Bee's Knees, the cocktail staple of lemon juice, honey syrup, and gin, is just the tip of the honey-sweetened-liquor iceberg. There are countless variations on that basic lemon juice, honey, and spirit theme: Try it with bourbon, whiskey and a splash of Vermouth, or even bitter Cynar. But if you want something a little more unexpected, you can go punchy-sour with vodka and marmalade or bitter and a little funky with Cynar, rum, cinnamon, and a squeeze of lime.
Truth be told, we have a whole guide to using honey in cocktails, and I'd encourage at-home experimentation—we love honey stirred into a strong brew of chamomile tea (and a healthy pour of gin), but the options are vast.
But enough about cocktails—let's talk smoothies! Much as honey pairs seamlessly with tangy goat and feta cheeses, it makes an ideal sweetener in tart yogurt and kefir-based drinks, whether blended with raspberries and mint, persimmons, oranges and tangerines, or even melon. Sweet enough for you?