Cooking with wine is a unique and compelling way to add flavor and depth to your meals. For many, choosing which wine to cook with means only going as far as the leftover bottle from their last meal, or perhaps combining a blend of open bottles from the refrigerator. Cooking with wine does not change all of its characteristics, and a bottle of wine that is mediocre to begin with usually yields a mediocre meal at best. This doesn't mean that you must go out and purchase an outrageously expensive bottle, but instead, that you should put some thought into the type and quality of wine that you are using and how you would like it to flavor your meal. A good rule of thumb is that a wine good enough to cook with should be good enough to drink.
Cooking with Wine: Tips and Techniques
Add Wine to your Favorite Recipes
If you want to feature the specific flavors and characteristics of a wine, then cook it for only a short amount of time so as not to alter those flavors too much. The longer you cook wine and the further down that you reduce it, the more the alcohol and water in the wine evaporates. As the wine cooks, the flavors begin to concentrate and the longer the wine cooks the more intense those flavors will be. Fruity wines have a complex, fruity flavor when cooked down while wines with a sweet edge become deeper and even sweeter.
Deglazing with Wine
Deglazing is one of the easiest and most common ways to incorporate wine into your cooking. To deglaze, add a small amount of wine to a hot pan where meat or poultry has just been cooked. Release any cooked on bits of food by scraping the pan with a wooden spoon as the wine reduces. When the wine reaches the proper consistency, usually somewhat thick and syrupy, the reduction is sometimes balanced out with a small amount of butter and fresh seasoning. It can then be drizzled back over the meat or poultry you have just cooked.
Wine sauces are made using the same basic concept of reduction and generally require larger quantities of wine to begin with. For these sauces the wine is started out in a clean pot and often combined with other flavorings such as shallots, fresh herbs, peppercorns, and fruit to name a few. The sauce is placed over medium to low heat and slowly simmered so that the alcohol and water evaporate and the true flavors of the wine are concentrated as it reduces. Sometimes stock or demi-glace is added to give the sauce more depth. Wine reduction sauces are strained once they have been reduced to the proper consistency and then are usually finished with butter.
Marinading & Braising with Wine
Another way to use wine in cooking is as a marinade. The wine is combined with herbs, spices, and other flavorings and poured over raw meat or poultry. By allowing the meat to marinate for hours, and up to overnight, it becomes nicely infused with flavor and even somewhat tenderized by the wine. Once marinated, the meat can be cooked in whichever way you prefer and is often cooked right in the marinade itself.
Braising meat and poultry in wine is another classic technique. Traditional dishes such as coq au vin and beef bourguignon both feature wine as the cooking liquid. A good quality wine is required when making both of these dishes to ensure that the flavors of the wine and the meat are at their best.
Recipes for Success
Fortified wines such as Marsala, Madeira, and Sherry are common in cooking. They have an intense, sweet flavor and a high alcohol content and a little goes a long way. Veal Marsala is a classic dish made with fortified wine.
Wine can even be incorporated into dessert preparations, such as port with poached pears and strawberries soaked in red wine. Check out the recipes to the right for more delicious inspiration for cooking with your favorite wines!