Imagine preparing boeuf bourguignon or grasshopper pie without wine or liquor. Most chefs would shudder.

Many gourmet cooks think that wine and spirits add essential flavor to dishes and that the alcohol evaporates in the cooking process.

Not true, according to researchers at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

After testing six recipes, including main dishes and desserts, government nutritionists found that significant percentages of alcohol and wine poured into hot and cold dishes remain even after cooking.

Although the overall alcohol content of the recipes tested by the government remains small, the new finding may serve as a warning for people who want to bar any alcohol from their diet.

"It was assumed until now that everything would be gone after cooking," said Jorg Augustin, professor of food science and biochemistry at the University of Idaho, who prepared and tested the recipes selected by USDA.

"We hadn't given it much thought before -- but we found that the retentions varied quite a bit," he said. Recipes that required less cooking time retained the highest percentage of alcohol.

A Brandy Alexander pie, made with 3 tablespoons of brandy and 1/4 cup of creme de cacao, retained 85 percent of the alcohol. Cherries jubilee, made with 1/4 cup of brandy and flamed for 48 seconds, retained 75 percent.

Main dishes such as scalloped oysters, prepared with 1/4 cup dry sherry poured on top of the casserole and baked for 25 minutes, retained 45 percent. A chicken dish prepared with 1/2 cup of burgundy stirred in and then simmered for 15 minutes retained 40 percent. A pot roast, prepared with one cup of burgundy and then roasted for 2 1/2 hours, retained only 5 percent.

Rena Cutrufelli, a USDA nutritionist, said that the agency will review its recipe files to adjust for the finding. The agency has not issued any recommendations based on these preliminary findings for people concerned with alcohol intake, such as recovering alcoholics or pregnant women, she said.

"We were just trying to prove or disprove the assumption that no alcohol exists {after cooking}," Cutrufelli said. "I don't think for this small a picture you can say what affects people."

A spokeswoman for the Washington-based American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists said the group has not responded to the study. "We don't really know how much alcohol is enough to cause problems," said Kate Ruddon. "But since we do know it can cause fetal alcohol syndrome and other problems, we just recommend that women avoid it."

The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence also recommends that recovering alcoholics avoid foods cooked with wine or liquor. The taste alone could spark a desire to drink again.

"It depends on the individual," said Jeffrey Hon, a spokesman for the New York-based council. "It may be more risky for some individuals, and it also depends on how much is used in the dish."