One Ingredient: COOKING WITH WINE
by Julie Van Rosendaal
Cooks have been cooking with wine since there was wine to cook
with. It can be, or do, everything in the kitchen; a poaching or
deglazing liquid, or a braising medium, or serving as the cook’s
cocktail. An open bottle on the countertop can ease the burden of
the cook while making an almost instant pan sauce or rich gravy,
infusing food with flavour as it steams, marinates and macerates.
Adding a splash to your pan and your glass makes you feel like
you’re actually cooking.
Besides the fact that food cooked with wine will make it taste deliciously like wine,
it also adds sweetness and acidity (both essential for a well-balanced dish). It also
contributes a bit of booze – it’s a myth that all the alcohol cooks off in the oven or
on the stovetop, although most will evaporate when it’s splashed in a hot pan or
simmers for several hours in the oven. Some recommend freezing leftover wine (is
that a thing?) in ice cube trays (are they still things?) to store in Ziploc bags to pop
into soups, gravies and pan sauces.
You could certainly do this; or freeze wine flat in the same resealable bags so you
can either snap off a piece or thaw the whole bagful and add it all. If you have fresh
herbs you know won’t last, consider tossing them into the bag to infuse the wine
as it lies in wait. I’ve been known to freeze leftover red with orange peels and a
cinnamon stick for sangria, or to cook down into mulled wine syrup later. Sparkling
wine or rosé that has lost its sparkle will, like other wines, last in the fridge about a
week and can also be frozen and recycled for use in any dish that wine suits.
It’s a common school of thought that you shouldn’t cook with wine you wouldn’t
drink straight. I’m on the fence about this, hesitant to pour a good bottle over lamb
shanks, and convinced you lose much of a wine’s nuances once it’s been simmered
for hours with meat, onions, garlic, rosemary and salt. I tend to go for cheap
(but still tasty) bottles for cooking, and keep the good stuff for sipping at the stove.
When choosing a bottle for your pot, some chefs advise that you select a variety
from the same region where the dish you’re cooking or ingredients you’re using
originated. Dry white wine tends to be better with seafood, and big, bold reds,
even sweet ones, can stand up to hearty stews and meaty braises. Go for even
bolder fortified wines like port and sherry in smaller doses – they tend to do well
with (and in) desserts, and you know whatever you’ve used in the dish will pair
well served in small glasses alongside.
Read One Ingredient in the digital issue of City Palate.