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FOOD FOR THOUGHT - March 15, 2006
Mark R. Vogel - [email protected] - Archive of other articles by Mark Vogel


Cooking with Wine II

In the first half of this two-part article we discussed how to choose a wine for cooking.  In this final segment, we’ll focus on the procedures for cooking with wine.

The first thing you can do with wine is marinating.  Wine can be included in a marinade for meat, fowl or fish.  Usually the wine will be mixed with other ingredients such as oil, aromatics, (garlic, ginger, onions etc.), herbs/seasonings, and/or additional flavoring agents such as Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, soy sauce, citrus juices, etc.  Wine can also be the sole fluid in a marinade.  Coq au vin, the classic French dish of chicken braised in red wine, starts with marinating the chicken in wine overnight.  You can use a wine-based marinade, (or any marinade for that matter), to make a sauce for the final dish.  However, you must always bring a marinade that was in contact with raw meat to a full boil for a few minutes to ensure the demise of bacteria.

     Remember, wine is acidic and acids can “cook” the flesh of seafood and break it down.   For a wine based marinade, do not marinate fish more than 30 minutes and shellfish for more than 10. Moreover, do not use reactive metals, (aluminum, copper, cast iron), when marinating/cooking with wine since they can chemically react with acid.  Stainless steel, enamel, glass, or anodized aluminum is the way to go. 

     Just like a marinade, wine can be a constituent of the fluid medium or the only fluid used in any of a variety of wet cooking methods, namely steaming, simmering, poaching, braising, and stewing.  Fish, shellfish, and chicken for example, can be steamed using wine.  Let’s take mussels for example.  Sauté some onion and garlic in oil, add a cup of white wine and bring it to a simmer.  Place a steamer insert into the pot and add the mussels to it.  Cover and steam until the mussels open.  Pour the steaming liquid, fresh parsley, salt and pepper over them and serve.  Were you to place the mussels directly in the fluid, then you would be simmering them.

     Poaching is basically simmering only at a lower temperature.  The difference between poaching, simmering, and boiling is the temperature of the liquid.  Poaching is from 160 to 185 degrees, simmering is beyond 185, and boiling is when you obviously achieve a full boil.  Virtually any white fleshed, non-oily fish can be poached either in wine or a combination of wine and other fluids, such as a court-bouillon, a broth made from water, wine, vinegar and/or citrus juice, aromatics and herbs.  But it must be done at the proper temperature.  If you wander into the simmering range or worse yet a boil, you can obliterate the fish.  Another delicious example of poaching with wine is pears poached in red wine. 

     Braising and stewing frequently employ wine.  Braising usually involves cooking a larger piece of meat, semi submerged in fluid, at a low temperature for an extended period of time.  If the meat was cut into bite sized pieces and completely submerged, then it’s stewing.  The aforementioned dish coq au vin is chicken braised in red wine.  Or the wine can be mixed with stock as in osso buco, braised lamb shanks, or any of a number of stews. 

     Probably the most well known use of wine in cooking is to make a sauce.  After roasting or sautéing a protein, remove it from the pan.  Place the pan over a high flame and add wine.  Scrape off the flavorful brown bits stuck to the bottom of the pan as the wine comes to a boil.  This is what’s known as deglazing.  Add stock, (optional), aromatics, herbs, salt and pepper.  Simmer until it’s reduced to at least half.  Melt in some butter at the end, strain it, and pour it over your food.  For a thicker sauce, you can reduce it even further or thicken it with roux, arrowroot, or cornstarch. 

     Bringing the wine to a boil facilitates evaporation of the alcohol, which begins to vaporize at 178 degrees.  Reducing the wine by simmering continues the evaporation of the alcohol, (and water for that matter), and thus concentrates the flavor of the wine.  This is precisely why the quality of the wine matters in cooking.  If you concentrate an already poor tasting wine, you merely intensify its unpleasantness.

     The idea that all or most of the alcohol is evaporated when reducing wine is largely apocryphal.  You would actually need to simmer wine for a number of hours to approach complete vaporization of the alcohol.  For example, ten minutes of simmering will only eliminate about half the alcohol. 

     Additional uses of wine include incorporation into a vinaigrette.  Simply substitute some or all of the acid in the vinaigrette recipe with wine.  Sometimes dishes are finished with a dash of wine to add a last minute touch of flavor.  Often this method embraces a fortified wine such as Sherry, Port or Madeira.  Fortified wines have had additional alcohol added to them and usually are sweet, (but not always), and have more intense flavors.  Numerous soups, stews, casseroles, and even desserts are completed with a splash of these wonderful elixirs.  I like culminating my black bean soup with a splash of dry sherry.  Or you can make a sauce from fortified wines such as veal Marsala.

     One of the wine instructors from my cooking school regularly proclaimed:  “Wine is food.”  Cooking with wine is the ultimate expression of that declaration and elevates the enjoyment of wine to new heights.

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