If you love wine, why limit yourself to drinking it? Countless recipes, from the classic to the avant-garde, include wine as an essential ingredient: whether as star of a sauce or finishing touch to a great fish, wine can really round out a recipe. Wine is also food!
Five tips for cooking with wine.
1. The properties of cooking with wine
Chef Mario Sandoval is currently conducting some very interesting research on the use of polyphenols as a preservative. This bioactive compound extracted from grape skins promises to play a crucial role as a salt substitute in avant-garde cuisine. But everything in due course. What is certain for now—in the words of the chef behind the two-Michelin-star restaurant Coque—is that polyphenols are excellent antioxidants, brighten sauces, add consistency, increase sponginess, enhance flavors and evoke everything to do with wine.
2. What we do wrong
Amateur chefs who cook with wine often make a common mistake: they opt for low-quality wine. Listen to cooking guru Julia Child who explains that “the quality of a red or white wine, a vermouth, Madeira or brandy that brings out the character of a dish is not based on its alcohol content, which usually evaporates during cooking, but its flavor. Therefore, we should cook with a good-quality wine or liqueur.”
Fire, dear friends, reduces volume and concentrates flavor, which means a bad wine can ruin a perfectly good dish. The wine doesn't have to be expensive, but it should be one you would willingly drink. And admit it: you wouldn't drink anything labelled “cooking wine.”
3. What type of wine to use
In addition to good quality, certain wines work better than others depending on the ingredients. There aren't any hard and fast rules here. It's best to let the recipe, your instinct and taste guide you, but we can share a few general pointers. Red wine and port go well with meat dishes, and the heartier the dish, the more full-bodied the wine. If you want to add a sweet contrast, go for port or sherry. White wine is lovely in tomato sauces, risotto, fish or poultry dishes. Some insist that it is better to cook with a dry full-bodied white (i.e. Chardonnay) than a crisp, fruity one. Sweet wines go beautifully with desserts.
4. A classic: Bourguignonne sauce
This red wine-based sauce originated in Burgundy, where it is popularly used in ox stew: the peasants of the past used very tough meat; cooking it in wine was the perfect way of making it tender. The famous gourmet Auguste Escoffier was the first to write about the sauce. The recipe allows for a lot of variations and can be served with other kinds of meat, but the classic version is made with onion, garlic, carrots, bacon, champignons, bouquet garni (mixed herbs bundled together so they can be removed prior to serving), and wine, of course. Remember the words of Julia Child: avoid cheap wine. You don't have to go for a 1975 reserve, but it should be a good wine, ideally young and full-bodied. It will be worth it in the end!
5. An invigorating touch
Even if it isn't the main ingredient in a sauce, a dash of wine or brandy can really brighten a dish or provide an aromatic end note. Depending on the dish, a bit of white wine, sweet wine, port or sherry can work wonders. A dash of wine can even spice up a simple fruit salad. Stick to the proportions the recipe calls for or, if you're improvising, start with a little wine, taste the dish, then add more if you think it necessary. Always keep in mind that the wine or spirit should strike a balance with the other ingredients. A dash doesn't mean the entire bottle. So what should you do with the rest? Easy... Cheers!