Pair, Sip, Reduce: How to Cook With Wine

Cooking with wine is a very common practice. It adds great flavor to many dishes and gives the added bonus of grabbing a glass for ourselves while cooking. But how much do we know about cooking with wine? Which wines are best and why does wine add such a depth of flavor to our food?

Let’s find out.

grapes

Why cook with wine?

Alcohol

Wine tastes great and therefore adds that great taste to the food you are cooking. Simple, yes, but there is more to it than that when learning how to cook with wine. First of all the alcohol in the wine plays a huge role even though it does eventually get cooked off.

More than any other cooking liquid alcohol helps the food to release its own flavor while imparting no flavor of its own once cooked off.

Like salt, alcohol brings out the flavor in food. Whether you’re cooking with wine, beer, or liquor, the alcohol in those beverages improves flavor perception in at least two important ways: by evaporation and by molecular bonding.” (Source – Fine Cooking)

After you’ve added the wine in the recipe reduce it by at least half to cook off most of the alcohol and concentrate the flavors in the wine.

Flavor

Let’s go back to flavor for a moment because that really is one of the main reasons why you’d choose wine over say, a stock. Wine is incredibly complex in flavor no matter which type you are using. Some are lighter and sweeter and more easily paired with fish or light soups, while others are full-bodied, loaded with tannins and can stand up to red meat.

Either way wine is imparting its flavors into the food, and as the wine reduces while it’s being cooked, those flavors intensify. You are then left with a balance of sweet, bitter, and acid. All of which are the foundation of a great dish.

For cooking and drinking

Tenderizes

When used in a marinade the acids in the wine can actually help to soften muscle fibers in meat and tenderize the final dish.

Which wine to use?

Use only wine that you are happy to drink with your dinner. I’ve seen bottles of extremely cheap wine in the store labeled “cooking wine” but no one would fill their glass with that stuff. The flavors in the wine concentrate in the dis,  so if it’s bad wine you are concentrating bad flavors. Open the bottle, have a sip, if you like it then it’s okay to cook with.

Open the bottle, have a sip, if you like it then it’s okay to cook with.

Pairing a dish with the right wine

Cooking wine pairings is the same as food and wine pairings.

Red wine

Red wine is typically reserved for heartier meat dishes while white wine is typically the right choice for seafood. The recipe itself will often give an indication as to which wine is right for the recipe as they often note the quantity as well as tell you to use a full-bodied red or a dry white.

If you have any questions at all ask the person working in the wine section. They love to help customers choose the perfect wine for the occasion.

Also, the app, “What to Drink with What to Eat” (also a book) is a great resource when you are looking for the right wine. You simply type in the food you are planning to cook and eat and a list of beverage choices appears. It also works in reverse if there is a specific wine that you want to use you can plan your menu around that bottle.

Beff dish braised with wine

While cooking you usually want to stay away from the sweet wines like Muscat or Rieslings. However if you are poaching fruit for a dessert those sweeter wines make a wonderful choice as they naturally sweeten the dessert while also infusing its fragrant floral flavor into the fruit.

So the most important things to note:

  • Cook with wine to increase the depth of the flavor in a dish.
  • Cook with wine that you’d be happy to drink.
  • Reduce the wine in the dish by at least half.
  • Pair cooking wines just as you would approach food and wine pairings.
  • Use sweet wines for dessert as their sweetness intensifies as it reduces.
sweet wines used in dessert

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