Cooking with wine is a tricky business. You need to get special wine to cook with; know exactly how much to add, and when to add it; and then you can’t drink the rest because you have to save it to cook with later. Then it goes bad and you have to throw it out. It’s frustrating and complicated, and all together too much trouble.
Oh, wait… no. That’s not true at all. It’s the opposite of all that, actually.
I’m going to tell you about how cooking with wine works. Don’t worry, it’s super easy and delicious to boot. Let’s go over a few basics shall we?
First of all, the alcohol present in wine is a major factor in developing flavor in food. That’s why so many recipes call for some red or white wine. Alcohol doesn’t really add any flavor to the dish itself, but it’s perfect for releasing the flavors in the foods you’re cooking with. Alcohol will dissolve fats and flavors and then cook off. This means that the alcohol itself will be gone, leaving behind all of the delicious flavors it found for you. Using water, broth, butter or olive oil doesn’t hold a candle to the flavor concentrating powers of wine!
To make sure that you get all the flavors and not all the booze, you just need to make sure that you cook off all of the excess alcohol in the wine. But how do you know when you’re done? That’s pretty easy; just wait until the liquid has been reduced by about half. When it looks like you have about half of the liquid you started with, taste your sauce. If it tastes like alcohol, it needs to cook a little longer.
A major factor in red wine, tannins are the major reason why red wine is paired with red meat. You see, the tannins in wine are more attracted to the proteins in red meat than to the taste buds in your mouth. When you eat a steak with a glass of red wine, the wine will taste softer as the tannins are regulated, and the steak will taste better because its proteins become saturated with tannins.
How does this work with cooking? When you make a pan sauce with a red wine, the tannins become concentrated, and bond with the proteins left over from whatever you were cooking. This produces a sauce that is not only delicious on its own, but makes your food taste better when you eat it together. It’s tasty science.
The important thing to remember about acidity and cooking with wine is to match the acid level in the foods you are eating with the acidity of the wine you cook with. If you’re cooking a highly acidic food like a tomato sauce, make sure to pair it with a wine that is also high in acid. That way the wine and food complement each other, instead of just tasting whatever component has more acidity.
The other thing to be aware of is that all wines have acid. When you cook with wine you should try to use a non-reactive pan or skillet; something made from stainless steel or enameled cast iron. Otherwise you may notice some harmless discoloration in your cookware where the acidic wine hits the pan.
Choosing a Wine
Ah, but what wine should you use to cook with? Does it need to be the cooking wine you see on the shelves of the supermarket? Will picking the wrong wine ruin your dish?
Nope. Don’t worry about it. The rule is that if you would drink the wine while eating the food, then you can cook the food with the wine. Got a nice bottle of Hawk Haven Merlot you’re going to drink with that steak? Pour a little in the pan to make a quick pan sauce! Cooking up a creamy shrimp dish you’re planning on eating with a nice Chardonnay? Use a little of that same wine in the dish itself.
Read the bottle to find out what flavors are present in the wine, and you can be sure that it will work well cooking with those same flavors. The most important thing to remember is that if you like drinking it, you’ll like the flavors that it will add to your food.
The best part of this is that you can drink your leftover “cooking” wine with your exciting and flavorful meal. Not that there will be any leftovers after you’re finished!