Pour it out. If it isn’t good to drink, it won’t be good for cooking, says Patti Ballard, author of Fine Wine in Food, and Wine in Everyday Cooking.
“Think of wine as food, as an ingredient,” insists Patti. “If you are going to use only the freshest vegetables and ingredients in your cooking, you wouldn’t want to spoil it by using old, acetic wine.”
Always use a good wine for cooking—the alcohol evaporates during simmering, leaving only the flavor of wine in your sauce. Wines labeled “cooking wine,” or old wines that have turned acetic will give disappointing results.
“Generally, you use a cup or less of the wine in cooking,” Patti points out, “so why not buy a premium wine with excellent flavors, and enjoy the same wine with your meal?”
Cooking with wine is easier than most people realize. Try using wine in basting sauces, marinades, vinaigrettes and other dishes where you might add a dash of lemon or vinegar. Be creative, but just remember to start small. It doesn’t take a lot of wine to flavor a dish. Begin with a few tablespoons, let it simmer, and taste it ten minutes later, when the alcohol has evaporated. Like lemon juice, wine has a “cooking” effect of its own, so meat dishes might cook faster. Be watchful, taste as you go, and have fun.
Using wine in a tenderizing sauce is a traditional way to cook poultry and game. Various recipes for Coq au Vin suggest different ways of combining wine and herbs, and this traditional wine, chicken and herb dish can be baked, or simmered on the stove.
It’s also easy to make a simple reduction sauce with wine. The berry and plum flavors of Merlots and Zinfandels are well suited for reduction sauces, which are excellent with pork tenderloin, lamb and other rich but tender meats.
To make a beurre rouge reduction sauce, in a small saucepan combine 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar with 1 cup of wine, plus a few tablespoons of onions and herbs if desired. Cook over high heat until the volume is reduced by half. Strain the mixture and discard the solids.
Return the sauce to the pan, reduce heat to low, and add 8 tablespoons (1 stick) of butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, stirring constantly until the sauce is thick and glossy.
Sweet and sticky late harvest zinfandels are excellent for basting meats. One customer this week described his grilled, butterflied Cornish game hens, basted with a fruit and wine sauce. If he uses a late harvest zinfandel as the sauce, then he puts raspberries or cranberries in the sauce and rice; if he bastes with a dessert Muscat, then he uses chopped apricots in the rice. He soaks chopped, dried fruits in a dessert or late harvest wine for several hours. He then butterflies the hens, bastes them thoroughly and rubs the fruit well into the skin before grilling. He serves the grilled hens with wild rice mixed with a complementary fruit.
Vinaigrettes and antipasto marinades are easy to make with wine. Use good quality olive oil, a fine white wine, and fresh chopped herbs for a white vinaigrette. Mix the ingredients in a bowl, adding a little at a time, and tasting as you go. Transfer the vinaigrette to a serving bottle or jar when you are happy with the flavors and balance. I often make a salad dressing “on the fly” and use it moments later, but if you’re thinking ahead, make enough to fill a jar or bottle, and allow it to age in the refrigerator. The herbal flavors will marry with the oil and wine, and the vinaigrette will only improve.
For a red salad dressing, use olive oil, red wine, herbs, and maybe a touch of aged balsamic vinegar for depth. Spices add interesting flavors to wine vinaigrettes, and by using them creatively, you can create much more flavorful dressings than store bought varieties. Dill, oregano, thyme and rosemary are often used, and you can either shake in some ground, dried herbs or drop in a fresh twig. Cardamom seed has an orange-like flavor that is nice with white wine. Try cloves, nutmeg or black pepper seeds with red wine vinaigrettes or marinades.
If you’re not sure about the flavor of wine in a particular dish, set a small amount of your ingredients aside, and mix with some wine and herbs. Taste and adjust before adding wine to your creation. Have fun, be creative, and remember to pour a glass of wine for the cook.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mary Baker is a wine and culinary consultant with over 20 years of experience in wine marketing and production. She has worked for outstanding producers like Wild Horse and Justin, and conducted wine seminars throughout the central coast.