Pro Tips for Cooking with Wine

By Gary Twining

We wine lovers know that our favorite beverage doesn’t just enhance our dinners from the glass we’re sipping, but also when it’s used as an ingredient in the delicious food that we’re eating.

Wine is very versatile in the kitchen. It can be used as a protein-tenderizing marinade, or to release additional flavors while adding its own, or to connect flavors between the entrée and wine choice, or just to make your dishes unique.

As an ingredient, though, wine should be used judiciously and given time to integrate with the dish.

Here are some specific tips on using wine in cooking:

Cook with wines that you would actually drink. The dish is a sum of its parts. Oxidized or poor-quality wine will reduce the resulting dish’s quality.

Avoid wines labeled as “cooking wines” due to their expense and high sodium levels. Use good-quality wines of a similar style to what you will drink with your course.

Reduce a liquid (concentrate it by evaporation) to intensify all its components. Use wines with moderate acidity, low levels of sweetness and soft astringencies, tannin, oak and bitterness. Warmer-climate wines in a dry style are often good choices.

Substitute wine for fat and moisture. Use wine to reduce the amount of oil and butter during marinating and sautéing. This will add flavor and character to your dishes and will result in healthier food.

Keep in mind that alcohol does not evaporate as quickly as once thought. Recent studies show the need of simmering for up to two and a half hours to eliminate alcohol. Consider who will be eating your preparations and use wine as an ingredient accordingly.

Deglaze pans with wine. The food residue left in the pan after browning or sautéing can be the basis of a pan sauce. Use heat and wine to incorporate these flavorful bits into a sauce, reduce it and finish with butter or cream for texture and complexity.

Use wine to enhance reduction sauces. Wine itself can be reduced to concentrate its flavors, and then added to stock for a second reduction.

Steam red-meat roasts with wine. Wine can enhance flavor without coming into direct contact with the meat, its steam adding moisture and flavor.

Use the acid in wine to tenderize during braising.  Less-expensive cuts of red meat with abundant connective tissues are often slow-cooked with liquid, and wine used in the braising liquid can help tenderize and add flavor.

Use wine to poach delicate entrées. Poaching uses a liquid at a temperature just below simmering to provide a mellow, moist heat. Try mild fish prepared this way.

When adding wine directly to entrées, keep in mind the following:

Marinades used for uncooked meat should never be reused. This will prevent bacteria from contaminating your cooked dishes. Planning on using your marinade for a sauce or for basting? Set a portion of the marinade aside that won’t contact the uncooked meat.

Match the color of wine and the dish. The flavors will be similar, and no unintended change of color will occur with the food.

Think of adding wine in unexpected ways. Grill oysters in the shell with a splash of dry white, mix sausage ingredients with wine before casing them, or inject wine into meats.

Your dishes will taste better if the wine has time to integrate through cooking. Figure at least 10 minutes for the wine to marry to the dish. When adding wine think of it as a spice: a little bit is good, too much can throw your dish out of balance.

Always pair the flavor intensity of entrée and wine. Think as you would in pairing wines with food: the fuller the entrée, the fuller the wine.

Most importantly: don’t forget to marinate the chef, and enjoy yourself while experimenting!

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