Cooking With Wine

Martha Stewart Living, September 2005

Did You Know?

One ton of grapes yields sixty cases of wine, or 720 bottles. This means it takes a little more than two and a half pounds of grapes to produce one bottle.

Wine plays a different role in the kitchen than it does in the glass. Cooking with a splash—or a bottle—can contribute depth, fragrance, sweetness, tang, and body to all kinds of dishes. Even as extended cooking evaporates much of it, the alcohol in wine both enhances and releases flavors in a recipe. As a dish cooks, all of the wine's appealing attributes are concentrated. But its flaws are, too, so heed the well-known advice: Never cook with a wine you wouldn't drink.

No matter the recipe, steer clear of “cooking wine,” which will be sub-par, adulterated with salt and other flavorings. That said, you needn't pour your best Barolo over that brisket (nor the finest Châteauneuf-du-Pape over our beef daube). But just as the quality of the other ingredients in a dish is worth considering, so is the quality of the wine. That mineral and citrus nose may not completely remain once you've simmered the Muscadet in our scallop recipe, but the basic flavors of the wine, and how they meld with other elements of the meal, will have a big effect.

For cooking, open wines you like, then offer what remains in the bottle with the finished dish. Or choose one with similar, if more refined, characteristics; you might upgrade a basic Pinot Noir that you stirred into the pot with a fine Burgundy (which is made from the same Pinot grapes) at the table.

When you have wine left from a good bottle, find a compatible recipe for it, following the same rules for pairing in cooking as you would when serving—use an intense, full-bodied red in a hearty meat-based dish, for instance, or make a chicken or fish recipe with a leftover fruity white. In a slowly simmered main course, a savory pan sauce, or a quick, cool dessert, a good bottle can make the meal.

As an ingredient, wine doesn't always have to be heated. It can be just barely cooked, as is the sweet, nutty Marsala in our ethereal zabaglione, which is gently whipped in a double boiler until frothy and airy.

Refreshing and light rosé also pairs well with desserts, as when a cocktail of fresh late-summer fruits steep in it and are then served cold.

At this time of year, the meals we eat alternate between fresh, late-summer flavors and rich, autumnal ones, and so should the wines we cook with. When the dish is well-suited to the weather and the wine is well-paired with the other ingredients, the result is a perfect expression of the moment.

Daube de Boeuf Provencal

Pick a rustic, rich red; Côtes du Rhône, Côtes de Provence, or an Australian Shiraz is ideal. A red with herbal notes enhances the stew's orange zest and thyme.

Scallop and Herb Salad

Choose a light, aromatic Muscadet, a dry Pinot Grigio or Alsatian Riesling, or a sparkling Prosecco. Sweet sea scallops, tossed with a delicate salad of chopped herbs, celery, and fennel, are brightened by the acidity of white wine.

Roasted Herbed Chicken

Pick dry vermouth or a crisp, herbal white, such as Sauvignon Blanc.

Moules Marinière

Select Pinot Grigio, Muscadet, or another dry white.

Zabaglione and Cookies

Use Marsala or another dessert wine, such as Hungarian Tokay or a sweet sherry.

Late-Summer Fruits In Rosé

Look for dry rosé or try a light red such as Beaujolais.

Desserts Made With Wine

Beyond Red and White

If you don't want to open a bottle of wine to extract a cup or so for cooking, other suitable libations can be found right in your liquor cabinet. Fortified wines such as port, sherry, Madeira, Marsala, and vermouth all have uses in the kitchen as well as in the pre-or postprandial glass. And since they keep, even in opened bottles, for months, they are particularly convenient for the cook.

The sweetness and richness of port make it appropriate in both hearty meat dishes and in desserts, while the brighter, nutty flavors in sherry are best used toward the end of the cooking time, either to deglaze a pan or to flavor a soup. Madeira is a rich addition to both savory and dessert recipes, as it can range from crisp to syrupy. Marsala, with its fruity, caramelized flavors, is traditionally used in Italian dishes such as veal Marsala, where it is the base for a pan sauce. Dry vermouth has such vibrant crispness that it is appropriate in any case in which you might otherwise add a squeeze of lemon juice or a splash of white wine; its herbal notes can be delightful in the finished dish.

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