When I hear the words ‘cooking with wine’, the first thought that pops into my head is, ‘how lovely would it be to sip on a glass of pinot noir’ and then I think about how that same wine can make my food better. Adding wine to a dish not only takes on the characteristic notes of the wine, but it also intensifies the flavour and whets your appetite for an enhanced taste.
Using wine for cooking is a novel idea but using the wrong wine will simply destroy your dish. Yes, there are wines that are made specifically for cooking but it is recommended that you only use those wines that you would drink. The reason being that the flavour of the wine intensifies on cooking, so if you don’t like a particular kind of wine there is no way you’d like what you eat. It doesn’t end at just that though. The way you won’t use Italian spices and seasoning for an Indian dish, similarly you would not want to use a sweet fortified wine in something that has sautéed or stir-fried vegetables. The taste does not blend nor does it do anything good for your palate. This is a quick and simple guide on five wines to use for cooking.
1. Port or Sweet wines
Sweet wines, such as cream sherry and tawny port, are often used as chocolate glazes and syrups in desserts with nuts, caramel or vanilla. Their rich texture and sweetness enhance the nutty crunch or the smoothness or caramel or the classic vanilla flavour of your dessert. The sweetness and rich flavour of a port highlights the depth of heavy meat based casseroles or even steak.
Sherry has a roasted nutty flavour that enhances foods like soups, stew or any sautéed dishes. But beware of cooking sherry. The salesmen will try to pitch you a bottle of cooking sherry, but any wine that is made specifically for cooking should be avoided, because these wines are salted and on reduction, add very strong flavours which you don’t want your dish to bring out.
Madeira’s mesmerising lush, sweet notes are perfect for a dish with mushrooms, white carbs such as rice and pasta and cured meats like bacon and salami. Use Madeira for desserts with chocolate and coffee for the best experience of wine in desserts.
Marsala is popularly used in Italian dishes. Heard of the ‘Marsala Sauce’ or ‘Chicken Marsala’? The Marsala sauce is typically wine reduced to a syrupy consistency which also contains onion, mushrooms and various herbs. The sauce is usually served with braised meats and even risottos. Another popular usage of Marsala is for desserts. Especially those typical of Italy, such as tiramisu and zabaglione.
5. Rice Wines
Rice wines are popularly used in oriental dishes. Chinese and Japanese cuisine use rice wine abundantly. The Chinese rice wine adds acidity to stir fries while the Japanese rice wine is used for glazes and as an Asian Barbecue sauce. Its salty sweet taste intensifies the oriental cuisines’ flavours.
Finally, the myth that alcohol vaporises on cooking is not necessarily true. Studies have found that only 20% of the alcohol vaporises during cooking. This, of course, depends on the amount of time you have been cooking. First of all, any wine added to the dish needs to be cooked for a minimum of 4 to 5 minutes so that the flavours get incorporated in the dish. The longer you cook, after the first few minutes, the amount of alcohol in your dish will also reduce considerably. Once again, never use a wine you would not drink!