Cooking with wine

The first and most important principal when cooking or marinating with wine is use only a wine you would drink yourself. That doesn’t mean to say that you should go out and buy a 1er (premier) crus or special vintage to cook with, but if the wine enjoyable to drink, then it’s good enough to cook with. The wine to steer clear of is definitely the so-called cooking wine which is usually a poor quality wine, and sometimes, a wine to which salt is added, either to prevent you from drinking it straight or to “help” in seasoning.

I would suggest using a very middle-of-the-road white and/or red to cook with or if for a special occasion, buy an extra bottle of the wine you are planning to serve with dinner and use it in the dish. Use a Sauvignon Blanc, with an herby quality in a dish highlighting vegetables or chicken. A good pinot with its berry or cherry character would blend nicely into a fruit sauce for duck. A buttery Chardonnay is just right base for a beurre blanc with seafood and a spicy Bordeaux style red with those hearty beef dishes

The fortified wines such as Sherry, Port and Vermouth with the extra alcohol help in breaking down the strong taste in game meat and are fabulous in giving sauce that extra punch. Sweet Vermouth would be great in a fruit dessert that has a hint of herbs in it. Fortified wines are used at the very end of the cooking process as well. “Marsala veal escalope” is a good example. The marsala wine is not added when the pan is deglazed after sautéing veal, but is added to “finish” the sauce. That way the sweetness is not too intense, but the delicate aromas are brought out by the heat of the dish. In the same way Sherry is added to a cream soup right at the very end.

When you cook with wine a lot depends on when you add the wine and what you do after. Alcohol in wine evaporates at 81.1 Celsius and water boils at 100 Celsius, so if you deglaze a hot pan with wine more alcohol will evaporate than water. As the amount of alcohol decreases in proportion to the water, less alcohol evaporates. A longer cooking time will decrease the amount of alcohol. A braised dish has a fair amount of liquid, but the long cooking time allows the alcohol to evaporate before the liquid is reduced. The alcohol does not become more concentrated as you cook the wine down but the other flavors become more intense. When you marinate meat in wine the alcohol and acid in the wine tenderizes the meat before cooking, so the dish takes less time to cook and develop the succulent rich flavor of braised meat. The marinating liquid, which will have absorbed the flavors from the meat and vegetables in the marinade, is then perfect to make the sauce.

In the professional restaurant kitchen, the most common use of wine is in deglazing a sauté pan and using that as a base for a sauce. The amount of time spent reducing depends more on the color of the wine than anything else.  White wine needs to reduce just a small amount, to burn off most of the alcohol and is used mainly in delicate meats (some poultry, veal etc) or with seafood. Red wine should be reduced until it is almost gone. By reducing the red wine, as well as the flavor, the result is a deeper, richer red that will blend better with the browns of a rich stock.




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