In February 2014, in one of my earliest blogs, I wrote: “If you asked me what my favorite cooking ingredient is, I doubt I could give you a single answer. Olive oil, extra virgin olive oil to be precise, would be one of my top candidates, however.” As you likely have already guessed, this blog is about another of my favorite cooking ingredients – wine!
In that same blog I also noted, “We all know that food tastes best when you use the best tasting ingredients – and that includes the oil you use.” I will submit now that it also includes the liquids we use.
Let’s begin with water – by definition, an odorless, tasteless liquid! By itself, “it brings absolutely nothing to the party” as one of my favorite TV chefs, Alton Brown, would say (and has said by the way). Unfortunately, however and as we all know, water is very important in all phases of cooking, so it cannot simply be ignored. We must use water (at least in some form) in many recipes. Most times, there is no alternative. Fortunately, though, we can add a wide variety of flavors to water. When we do, we create what is called an aqueous liquid – or water-based liquid. Again by definition, water itself is an aqueous liquid, albeit unflavored. Chicken, beef, vegetable, or fish stocks are some common examples of aqueous liquids (flavored water). Fruit juices are aqueous liquids. So are milk, and beer – and wine!
Over the last year or so I have posted over 30 recipes that include wine as an ingredient. (You can see them all by entering the word ‘wine’ in the Search box on the upper right of this screen and then pressing Enter.) The list of Featured Recipes included here lists ten of my favorites. The recipes for Veal Marsala and Sautéed Mushrooms are new. I’ve mentioned the others before, but I am including them again to make the point that wine can be used for any course – from appetizer to dessert.
Roman Tossed Salad
Greek Tomato Sauce
Mac 'n' Cheese - Adult Style
Golden Chicken Breasts
Mussels in Wine Sauce
Veal Marsala served with Fettuccine all'Alfredo.
To state the obvious, wines are either red or white, dry or sweet (I include rose wines in the white category). It is important to remember that dry wines (white or red) have no sugar. Sweet wines have some sugar – the amount can vary considerably. We also know that white wines typically have subtle flavors, while red wines tend to be more robust. (I apologize for the huge generalizations here, but for most recipes the question is red or white, dry or sweet, and not which year or vintage.)
Fortunately for all of us, most recipes suggest the type of wine to use. Dry whites often are used with fish and seafood, poultry, and some tomato sauces. Dry reds go best with red meats and their sauces. (As an aside, I must mention that I do not recommend using red wines with tomato sauces. It’s a matter of personal taste, but I find the wine overpowers the tomato flavor.) All dry wines introduce or add an additional acidic component – sometimes described as tanginess, brightness, or complexity.
While dry wines are acidic, they are much less so than most vinegars. Consequently, wine often is substituted for at least some of the vinegar in certain recipes. My best example of this is the recipe for Roman Tossed Salad. It uses dry Vermouth to moderate the acidity of the oil and vinegar dressing.
Sweet wines, obviously, add sugar to the dish. This, too, adds a measure of complexity. One of the best examples of using a sweet wine to add complexity to a simple dish is the recipe for Golden Chicken Breasts.
Also, wine is seldom if ever used as the sole liquid. Typically, wine constitutes less than a quarter of the total liquid content of the recipe.
It is often stated that the wine used for cooking should be the same wine served with the meal. While I admit this is a nice thought, I reject the logic completely. First, the alcohol in the wine evaporates completely (and quickly). It’s a matter of chemistry! Second, if you can readily taste the wine in the dish, you likely have used too much. (One notable exception to this statement is Boeuf Bourguignon, where the wine flavor is the whole purpose of the dish!)
Another adage recommends only using wines for cooking that you would consider and enjoy drinking. This I agree with completely – although this does not mean using expensive wines for cooking. There are perfectly acceptable drinking wines available in all categories at prices below $5 per bottle. (Again, the exception to this is the wine I select for Boeuf Bourguignon. Using a French Burgundy makes this favorite extra special, so a few more dollars for the wine may be required.)
Finally, a few words about the latest recipe additions – both of which feature Marsala wine. Marsala comes in two varieties, sweet and dry. I prefer the dry, but either is acceptable. Marsala originated as a Sicilian wine, but now is available from several growing regions. Again as a matter of personal taste, I consider Marsala to be an ideal cooking wine, but not necessarily a wine to be enjoyed by the glass. In this version of Veal Marsala, the wine, together with the mushrooms, shallots, garlic, and rosemary, add delightful complexity to the mild flavored veal. The recipe works equally well with chicken or pork.
Marsala wine is also a great addition to Sautéed Mushrooms. After the mushrooms have given up their juices and begin to brown, add a quarter cup of Marsala wine and reduce until the pan sauce begins to thicken slightly. The wine adds an incredible depth of flavor. Serve the mushrooms separately, or over your favorite grilled meat.
If you have used wine in your kitchen in the past, I doubt I have told you anything new – although I may have inspired you to try some new ways to use it. If you haven’t yet used wine in your cooking, I wholeheartedly recommend you try it. It will add a whole new dimension to many dishes.