How to Cook with Wine – Adding Subtle Flavors to Food

If you want to create truly superb cuisine, it is essential that you learn to cook with wine. Using wine creates flavors unobtainable by any other method. For instance, Boeuf Bourguignon (Beef Burgundy) without the burgundy is just simple Beef Tips and Noodles….not bad, but certainly not in the same league. Likewise, anything with a wine sauce would be impossible without knowledge of the culinary value of wines

In the kitchen, wine serves three purposes-It can be used as a marinade to both enhance the flavor, and tenderize, it can be used as a cooking liquid, for poaching, steaming, sautéing, etc…, and it can be used as a flavoring in a finished dish. The idea is to enhance, fortify, and intensify the flavor and aroma of your culinary creation, not mask it. As with any other ingredient, be judicious in the amount used. Too little will not be noticed, and too much will be overpowering. We want to strike a happy balance.

The alcohol will evaporate, as will most of the sulfites, leaving the essence of the wine in the food.  The flavor of the wine can be concentrated by reducing (boiling down).

All wine contains sulfites. They are a natural by-product of the fermentation process. Some winemakers add sulfur dioxide to the freshly mashed grapes, to preserve the color and freshness. They evaporate harmlessly during cooking.

Cooking with wine is not as complicated as it sounds. There are a few basic guidelines to follow, and the rest is mostly experience and personal preference. The results far outweigh the minimal effort it takes to learn to do it properly.

Selecting wine for cooking is not much different from selecting a wine to drink. The same guidelines apply. If you like drinking it, then you will probably like it in a suitable dish. It is not necessary to buy a $100.00 dollar bottle of wine to cook with. As long as it tastes reasonably good, it will work. I would recommend staying with mainstream table wines. Most are reasonably good, and you won’t have to take out a second mortgage on your house to stock the kitchen.

I have to make a confession here. I have a thing for boxed wines. I know, they are considered tacky, and in the same category as polyester suites (I like them, too), but, especially for cooking, they are remarkably consistent, and very good-tasting table wines. Since the bag they are in is airtight, the last glass tastes just like the first, for a very long time. I have kept a box for over two weeks with no discernable deterioration in quality. For cooking, they are fantastic. You might want to keep a box or two hidden in the kitchen. It will be our little secret…

Here are some suggestions for good pairings:

• Regional Cuisine-try to stay with matching regional wines
• Dry, Fortified Wines (sherry, port)-consommé, poultry, vegetable soups
• Sweet White Wines-desserts
• Crisp Dry White Wines-seafood soups, bouillabaisse
• Dry White Wines-light cream sauces, seafood, poultry, pork, veal
• Earthy full-bodied Reds-soups with root vegetables, beef stock
• Young full-bodied robust Reds-red sauces
• Young Reds-red meat dishes

These are by no means absolute, but it will give you a good starting place.

Some guidelines to follow will keep you from making catastrophic mistakes:

• Do not cook with wine you won’t drink. Select wines that you would enjoy drinking with the particular cuisine you are contemplating.
• Never use ‘Cooking Wine”, or “Cooking Sherry”. These vile, salty concoctions will ruin your food. If it tastes bad in the bottle, it’s going to taste bad in the food.
• Always taste a bit of the wine before you add it to your food. Just a small sip can tell you if it will compliment your dish. If it doesn’t seem right, cap it, use it later for something else, and try another bottle.
• Do not add wine to a dish right before serving. It will be harsh, and ruin the food. Wine needs to simmer with the food so that they can develop a relationship together. The alcohol and sulfites need time to evaporate.
• Wine does not belong in every dish. More than one wine-based dish in a single meal will overwhelm your taste buds, and everything will taste monotonous.
• When you need to make a wine reduction, do it slowly, over low heat. Too quickly, and it will loose much of its character. 1 cup of raw wine makes about 2-1/2 Tbsps of reduction.

The most common use of wine is to deglaze a sauté pan in preparation for making a sauce, or a reduction. Simply remove what you were cooking from the pan, and  pour in a bit of wine, and stir it slowly over medium heat, allowing it to absorb the flavors of what you previously cooked in it. The amount of time spent reducing the wine is mainly dependent on the type of wine. White wines require a small amount of reduction. Red wines, on the other hand, require a reduction until there is almost no liquid left. If you don’t reduce red wine down to this point, it will make your food purple….not the most appealing color for cooked food. Reducing it all the way will cause it to impart a deeper red, that looks good with the browns in most stock sauces.

You can also use wine to reduce the fat content in your finished dishes. Remember, wine contains no fat at all. Here are a few examples:
• Instead of sautéing vegetables in heaps of fat, oil or butter, reduce the oil by at least ½ and add wine.
• Instead of making a marinade with ½ of oil, reduce the oil to ¼ cup and add ¼ cup of wine.
• Instead of adding ¾ cup of oil to a cake recipe, add ¾ cup of white or dessert wine to the batter. This will make your cake lighter, and add subtle flavors.

The ways to use wine in the kitchen a limited only by your imagination. It does not take long to learn how to cook with wine.

By Chef Joel



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