Cooking with Wine - A Spirit We’re All Fond Of

Now wine, turning good with time is just as elegant as any drink could ever get. However, if it’s your chosen ingredient to cook with, how are you supposed to use it to its maximum potential?

As an ingredient to enhance flavour in your food or as a natural acidic component or as an aromatic element? What’s vital is how you use its properties to perfection and how you turn that bottle into gold for the dish you’re preparing. So here’s a little bit of trivia on how to wine and not whine when cooking with your favourite spirit.
For beginners, what wine does best is elevate the flavours of the other ingredients and components in food, while allowing a release of aroma and flavour and help dissipate the fats in food. This is exactly what other liquids or fats may not be able to do, and what it does is, makes wine that tad bit extra special. Also, retaining the flavours and aromas of the other ingredients whilst not blending in their own flavour is a unique property that wine possesses.

What wine is able to achieve, distinctly is four main functions:

1. An acidic component to marinades
2. A base for a broth
3. Helps keep meat moist and tender
4. Enhance the overall flavour to a dish

All wine varieties contain natural sugars, acids, and tannins in different degrees, and these elements will elevate a dish. If you’re already using an acidic element in your dish - such as lime juice or vinegar then you will have to tone it down for the wine to add its own acidity. Additionally, if there’s a sweet-taste imparting veggie involved, your wine selection needs to be attuned to the sweetness levels you’re hoping to achieve for the dish.

Some handy tips on cooking with the spirit:

Select a Wine that You Personally Enjoy Drinking
What that means is, steer clear of the cooking wine varieties that are watery, lack base and aren’t flavourful since they’re loaded with salt and preservatives. The salt adds to the shelf life of this variety, once the bottle is opened, however it almost turns down the flavour of the wine due to its presence in large quantities. For these reasons, ditch the cooking wine and choose a variety you personally love and would enjoy blended into your meal.

Balance the acidity
Reduce the starchy or sweet components in your dish to cut down on the acidity of the whole dish. Use a semi-sweet variety to ensure the acidic components are not overpowering. You could poach, simmer or add some to try out the classic French cooking in a foil packet technique.

As a replacement to Fat and Oils
A stir-fry would do a lot better without the butter or oil and just a dash of wine to cook in. Cake mixes could do with some red, white or dessert wines in place of oil to give spunk up the flavour of the batter. It can also add a wonderful flavour to marinades and make meat tender. Use a dry red for red meats, dry-white or off-dry white for poultry and a fortified vintage for prawns, poultry, pork and desserts.

Choose proper equipment
Wine requires slow simmering. To get a rich flavour and to tuck in moisture, wine needs to be slowly simmered in a skillet or a slow cooker. Due to its acidic property, a seasoned cast iron or carbon steel skillet must be avoided. Instead, stainless steel, glass or enamelled pans are a better choice for reductions.

Add slowly
Wine must be added slowly, in small, measured quantities since its flavour turns bold as the volume of the spirit is reduced with cooking. Tasting and adjusting quantities is important, however one must allow for the wine to simmer along with the ingredients for atleast a good 10 minutes to allow the flavours to seep in.

Appropriate pairing
Unless you want to be pleasantly surprised, stick to pairing your wine with the ingredients of a meal, as you would do to pair them with a meal.

Fortified Makes For a Great Choice
The fantastic four - Marsala, Madeira, Port, and Sherry are a great choice due to their intense flavour that further amplifies with heat. The flavour is on part of the high alcohol by volume (ABV) content, due to a fermentation process that strengthens the alcohol with additional spirits, typically brandy. These extra spirits make fortified wines last for several months after they’re opened, making them an ace choice for cooking with.

A majority of wines fall in the range of 12-16% ABV, but fortified varieties are nearly 17-21% ABV.

Get the quantities right
A lot depends on the depth of flavours and their strength in both the wine and the ingredients in the dish. Slow reduction process can add layers of flavour to the dish and this is guaranteed to deliver an impactful flavour. As a general rule of thumb, add 1/2 to 3/4 of a cup of wine to produce approximately 2 tablespoons of reduction.     

Cooking doesn’t burn off alcohol
As high as 85% of the alcohol remains gayer wine is added to a boiling liquid and removed from heat afterwards. But if the simmering is stretched for as long as 2.5 hours, just 5% could remain. Basically, the quantity that remains depends on the cooking technique, duration of cooking, temperature and size of the pan. Slow simmering in a wide pan for long hours is the best way to reduce alcoholic content, whereas baking is the least ineffective. 

WRITTEN BY  - Shubhroja Sen



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