Wine is a symbol of sophistication and a wonderful addition to most meals. However, wine isn’t just for drinking; it can also be used for cooking. Like any other ingredient, though, you’ll get the most out of cooking with wine when you know how to find the right kind, what it adds to a dish and what mistakes to avoid when using it. As Nicolette Novak, owner of The Good Earth Food and Wine Co. in Beansville puts it: “A perfect match makes a meal sublime.”
1. If You Love to Drink It, Cook with It
The first and most important rule of cooking with wine is simple: cook with what you drink. The very idea of “cooking wine” as a separate category is a myth. The flavour and character you enjoy in your favourite wines will enhance the dishes you prepare like no other ingredient can. As for what kind of wine to use, there are two factors to consider: varietal and style.
- Red or white? Cook with what pairs with the dish. Traditionally, fish, vegetables and white meat have been matched with white wine, while red meat and game fowl were paired with red. However, Nicolette Novak believes that these golden rules are a bit outdated: “It is very common to serve a Pinot Noir with a fatty, meaty fish like salmon,” she says. “Weight and acidity of the wine are things to consider.”
- Match your flavours. Sweet wine with sweeter dishes, and dry wine with light or citrusy foods.
- While great wines come from all over the world, rather than defaulting to complex French wine, robust Italian wine or balanced California wine, learn to work with a variety of vintages. Wines made in cool climates like Ontario maintain a variety of subtle flavours, while warm-climate wines tend to be more insistent with one or two strong flavours.
2. The Facts of “Cooking Out” the Alcohol
It’s true that some alcohol content always boils out in the cooking process, but how much depends on the method of cooking. Fast or low-temperature methods, like flaming or adding alcohol to a soup, won’t get rid of more than 15 or 20 percent of the alcohol content, while baking can eliminate as much as 95 percent. That said, it’s highly unlikely that anyone is going to feel any effects from alcohol in a dish, as the amount consumed will still be fairly low. Be mindful of cooking with alcohol for people who have personal restrictions.
There’s no better introduction to cooking with wine than adding it to a marinade. Wine should be treated as an acidic ingredient in cooking, so any marinade that calls for citrus, vinegar or other sharp flavours will benefit from a little wine as well. When mixed with four parts oil, wine adds flavour and also naturally tenderizes meat, so keep it in mind for fish, shrimp and pork loin.
4. Deglazing and Braising
An intermediate skill, deglazing a pan is a great way to build a flavourful sauce, and nothing is better at deglazing than wine. The acidic qualities of wine help the tasty, stuck-on bits at the bottom of a pan break free and mingle with liquid. Add seasoning and a thickening agent like flour, and you have an excellent pan sauce.
Braising follows the same principles. Rather than waiting for the food in the pan to cook completely, braising introduces wine into the pan after the food has been browned on both sides. Then, in a shallow pool of wine, the pan is covered and the food absorbs all of that tenderizing flavour from the wine while it finishes cooking.
You can extend the life of a wine you want to cook with by minimizing its exposure to outside elements, especially oxygen. Seal wine with the “inner” side of the cork that has already touched the wine, as it hasn’t spent as much time exposed to air and other people’s hands. Transfer unused wine to a smaller bottle to limit the amount of oxygen that touches the sealed wine. Also, don’t fear the cold. Wine won’t lose its character if it’s refrigerated or even frozen, and the cold will slow its transformation into vinegar. Nicolette Novak suggests freezing leftover wine in ice cube trays, and popped into sauces and stews when the opportunity presents itself.
Cooking with wine opens up a host of new possibilities in the kitchen. Experiment, explore and learn to love the wine in your food as much as the wine in your glass.