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Cooking With Wine: One of My Favorites…

Red, Red Wine

One of the simplest ways to add flavor to a dish is to use wine. While not every food benefits, there are many items you cook that can see their flavor enhanced with a bit of the “fruit of the vine.” It’s low-fat, gluten free, and high flavor.

Some recipes call specifically for wine, in detail: Type, quantity and more. Use a wine you’d drink, since the flavor will be in your food; bad wine makes poor eating, straight from the bottle or off your plate. Don’t overlook using wine in small amounts as flavoring, and in certain technical situations. For instance, I recently made a beef vegetable soup. After browning the meat I used about a quarter-cup of red wine to deglaze the pan. That not only gets all the tasty browned bits into the soup, where they’ll add a deeper beef essence, but the wine itself adds a fruitiness and complexity that makes the soup taste that much better. It’s not enough wine in the pot to control the flavor all by itself, either! It was that quarter cup, which I reduced by about half, in a pot that held over two gallons of tasty soup. It makes a surprising difference, though! So whenever you brown meats, consider deglazing with wine.

You can use wine to add flavor and reduce calories. Use less butter when sautéing veggies, for instance; add some wine with the butter.  Better flavor, less fat. poach fish in white wine (like the French and Chinese do), and skip the tartar sauce. Put wine in marinades too, and you can use less oil. Add a small amount to slow cooker dishes as they cook. You can even use wine or sherry in baking to reduce the amount of oil, as in a cake, for instance. Your tastebuds and your waistline will thank you.

Worried about the alcohol? Don’t be. First off, it’s a miniscule amount, usually around 10% of the volume of wine used. Some of it will leave the pot as your food cooks. How much exactly is a complex question, and no, it doesn’t all “burn off.” (None of it burns, in fact, unless you flambé your dish.) Even using a third of a bottle, quite a lot, will leave less than a half-shot in the food, divided across all the servings.

What if you don’t have a well-stocked wine cabinet? No problem! You don’t need to buy special vintages or specific types for most dishes. If a recipe calls for a variety (pinot noir, riesling, chardonnay, etc.) and you don’t have that, you’re not required to rush out and find that wine. Look at the sweetness and whether the basic grape type is white or red, and see what you have that’s similar. Consider stocking a couple different reds and a white or two, and you’ll actually cover most cooking situation.

Which wines, exactly? A good cabernet sauvignon, a pinot noir and a syrah (shiraz) would be a good trio. I include Beaujolais in the mix, especially for making pasta sauces and stroganoff. For whites, stock a chardonnay, a pinot grigio, and maybe a sauvignon blanc and a riesling. None of these need cost more than $15 a bottle, and many good ones can be had for under $10. If you’re unsure, ask your local wine shop for guidance, or search online a bit for information before trekking out to gather a good bottle or two.

And as a last resort, you can always drink the stuff…

Enjoy the (Vino Varieties) Heat!


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