Cooking with Wine
“I cook with wine; sometimes I even add it to the food.” It's a funny line from W.C. Fields, but the underlying idea illuminates one of the surest ways to successfully match wine with a meal: Cook with the same wine you serve.
Wine Quality for Cooking
The best chefs and home cooks wouldn't be caught dead shaking powdered Parmesan from a can onto their spaghetti. Their meals are magnificent because they use the finest and freshest natural ingredients, and they also know not to skimp on the wine as an ingredient.
You've undoubtedly run across bottles of “cooking wine” during your last trip to the supermarket. They are right above the vinegars, which should tell you something. They're tempting to purchase because they cost so much less than a real bottle of wine, but if you wouldn't drink it, don't add it to your marinade!
For one thing, the wines they started out with weren't so hot. (Their undrinkability makes them exempt from alcoholic beverages taxes — another reason they're so cheap.) On top of that, they contain salt as a preservative and food coloring to make them look better than they really are.
There are plenty of wines available for $10 or less that make perfect candidates for cooking, and for sipping while you cook. Trader Joe's is a perfect place to find such wines.
Other great candidates for cooking are fortified wines, such as port, Madeira, Marsala, and Sherry. Each has a massive concentration of flavor, and they have the ability to stay fresh for quite a while after opening, thanks to their high alcohol content.
Rules for Cooking with Wine
Wine has certain cooking properties that you should be aware of. Some “rules” are hard and fast because they're based on chemistry. Others are based on common sense.
When using wine in dishes with milk, cream, eggs, or butter, add the wine first to prevent curdling.
Add table wines at the beginning of cooking to allow the alcohol to evaporate and produce a subtle taste.
Add fortified wines at the end of cooking to retain their full-bodied taste.
To intensify a wine's flavor, reduce it. One cup of wine will reduce to ∕ cup when you cook it uncovered for about ten minutes.
Using wine in a marinade will tenderize in addition to adding flavor.
If you use wine in a recipe that doesn't call for wine, use it as part of the recipe's total liquid — not in addition.
Unless the recipe specifies otherwise, use medium-dry to dry wine.
Use white wine for light-colored and mildly flavored dishes and reds for darker-colored and more highly flavored dishes.