Cooking with Wine: 101

Posted by Kristine M on

Did you just pour wine into that sauce?

Cooking with wine can be very intimidating especially if you aren’t really a “chef du jour”.   If you have more experience actually drinking wine than cooking with wine that’s just fine.  We are going to give you a quick guide so you can feel very comfortable the next time you whip out a stale bottle of chardonnay and decide to pour it in your pan.

Let’s start with some basic ingredients and move on from there.

What type of wine to use?

You may have heard it before: only cook with wine you'd drink.  This is quite true to a certain extent.  You don’t want to use a bottle Louis Jadot obviously.  I personally like to use a bottle of wine after it has gone bad, or a not so expensive new bottle.  My go to?  Boxed wine.  Always on hand, and always fresh.  I do not recommend using the grocery store “cooking wine”.  It has additives and tastes horrible to begin with.  So skip that when you see it on the shelf!

A toast to taste

There are generally three ways to use wine in your cooking: as an ingredient for a marinade, as a liquid to cook with, and as a way to add flavor to a finished dish.

  1. Cook fish with wine to enhance its flavor (not cover it up), add moisture and not ruin its nutritional value with high-fat sauces or with frying. One way: Add the wine while the fish simmers. Try this recipe for Mahi mahi with herbed white wine sauce.
  2. Wine makes a great ingredient for a marinade due to its acidity. It helps tenderize what you're cooking and also keeps your food (meat, poultry, fish) moist. Try this recipes for Flank steak marinade.
  3. For sauces, reduce the wine first then add it to the other ingredients. Reducing the wine helps thicken a sauce. Deglazing refers to adding wine to a pan that has bits of food left on it; the wine will help loosen the food. You can then add more wine and some stock, reduce, and make a sauce. Try this recipe for Pot roast with tomato wine gravy.

Traditional formula for pairing wine with cooking

  • Young, full-bodied or earthy red wine -- red meat, soups with root vegetables, or beef stock
  • Young, full-bodied robust red wine -- red sauces
  • Dry white wine -- fish, shellfish, poultry, pork, veal, light or cream sauces
  • Crisp, dry white wine -- seafood soups
  • Sweet white wine -- sweet desserts
  • Sherry -- poultry or vegetable soups

Keep in mind that wine needs to simmer with the food you're cooking to enhance its flavor. Don't add it at the end of cooking or you'll risk serving a dish with a strong, overpowering flavor. The longer you cook the wine (over low to medium heat), the more subtle the flavors.

As with most seasonings, take the attitude of "you can always add more" rather than pouring it on full-force from the start. If your taste buds tell you to add more be sure to wait about 10 minutes after your first taste so the wine has time to be absorbed.

When cooking with wine it's generally best to follow the recipe, but as you experiment, you'll get a good sense of what tastes good. General suggested amounts of wine used in cooking include the following:

  • Soup -- 2 tablespoons of wine per cup of soup
  • Sauces -- 1 tablespoon of wine per cup of sauce
  • Gravy -- 2 tablespoons of wine per cup of gravy
  • Stews and meats -- 1/4 cup of wine per pound of meat
  • Poaching liquid for fish -- 1/2 cup of wine per quart of liquid

Start experimenting today.  Remember, there are no rules when cooking in your kitchen.  Just have fun and let the juice start to flow!  Cheers!

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