In Wine There’s Truth!

You are flipping through the pages of a food magazine and you come across an interesting recipe and think about trying it out. You peruse the list of ingredients, read that it includes Chardonnay wine and decide to give this recipe a pass. All because you are unsure if cooking with wine is as simple as it is made out to be? WC Fields once said, “I cook with wine. Sometimes, I even add it to the food!” Jokes apart, cooking with wine might come across as a daunting task, mostly because people are apprehensive about investing time and a nice bottle of premium wine; and then ending up with some culinary gobbledygook.

That need not be the case. After all, early Romans used to cook with wine regularly since it was a great preservative to store their meats, especially when their troops trudged to war. This is apart from mulling wine with spices and citrus fruits as their beverage of choice. And all this by just following their nose for what worked in a dish, and what didn’t. So what’s stopping you? Cooking with wine gained popularity with various European cultures, because it was abundantly available and could replace vinegar in some dishes too. Besides acting as a preservative, wine elevated the taste of various meat dishes and soon became a staple medium in cooking.

Wine to Europe is what spices are to India – helpful in most recipes and but, essential in a few,” explains Chef Stephane Mathonneau, former Head Chef of Delhi’s Le Bistro Du Parc. “In some cases, wine is used to lend color to a dish like the beef bourguignon; while wine reduction will give the sauce of meat dishes a velvety touch.”

Making the Right Choice

Delicious grilled ribs with wine!

Wine’s natural sugars, tannins and acids help accentuate the aroma and taste of a dish, irrespective of whether it is used in the sauce, marinade or as a medium for sautéing. Chefs advise that a light-flavored white wine is apt for delicately flavored foods like chicken, turkey, fish or dishes that include apples, citrus, olives and mushrooms. Dark-colored meat like beef will go best with a dark, coarse red wine; lamb tastes better with a light red, while pork can be easily married to a fruity red or white wine.

Ultimately cooking is not a scientific experiment. You can follow the outline of a recipe, but use your judgment and individualistic panache to make your dish a success,” adds Chef Michael Swamy.

Now, don’t take this as a blanket allowance to hoard wines during the annual sale at your local wine shop! Instead, pick only those that will lend itself best to the recipe on hand. Before you buy a bottle, or use one in a dish, preferably taste the wine. “Besides understanding the taste of the wine, this exercise will give you a good idea about what will go best with it. Different people like different flavors in their food. My advice is that you first find the right wine shop, discuss the wine with the people at the shop and buy one bottle to test it,” suggests Chef Michael. “Once you know what you like and dislike, you can start using the wine in your cooking more regularly.”

Cooking with Wine- Myth buster

Myth: I will get tipsy if I eat food cooked in wine. Truth: A large part of the alcohol in wine evaporates when cooked with food, depending on the method of cooking. To avoid getting tipsy, skip that glass of wine during your mealtime, instead!
Myth: If you have some leftover wine, toss it into a dish. Truth: If you have some wine left over, store it in an airtight bottle, refrigerate and use within 4 days. Leftover wine that has been sitting open for a while will oxidize and using this could alter the taste of your dish.
Myth: The more the wine in a dish, the better it will taste. Truth: Excess of any ingredient will spoil the taste of a dish. The same logic applies to wine as well. Ideally, pour small quantities of the wine gradually to the dish while cooking. Keep tasting the dish to see if it has imparted the right flavor and adjust the wine portion accordingly. Adding more wine won’t necessarily transform your dish to a gourmet creation.

Does Premium make a Difference?

Treading the middle path and cooking with a good quality wine is sensible!

Your better half might not be as excited about you using the cherished bottle of Penfolds Grange Hermitage 1951 wine for your cooking purposes. So which wine should you use? Cooking wine is economical, because it often has a shorter maturing period and is therefore less complex. Not all chefs, however, contend to using cooking wine. Chef Deepak Ballaney of International Chicken Wings Factory in New York puts it bluntly, “If you won’t drink it, then
don’t cook with it. Cooking wines often have high quantities of salt and food coloring and can wreck havoc if you are cooking a delicate meat like shellfish. Instead, invest in a better quality, though not necessarily expensive, wine for your cooking purposes.”

Tread the middle path and invest in a good-quality wine, which is likely to give the same flavor to a dish as an expensive one. Better still, buy two bottles of the wine – use one for cooking and the second for serving with the meal! The other alternative is to read the recipe of a dish carefully to see what is the kind of wine mentioned. For example, if a recipe asks for a crisp dry white wine or Pinot Grigio, then stick to this than opting for a Sauvignon Blanc. The results will differ depending on the type of wine you use, and always pleasantly at that. Using leftover wine is another no no. Having an opened bottle of wine lying in your pantry is no excuse to use while cooking lamb shanks. Refrigerate the wine and use it within a couple of days. Any older than this and you had best toss it in the trash.

Conclusion

Ultimately, there is no rule book about cooking with wine. It is all about experimenting, inventing and arriving at your own recipe. Don’t let the fear of failure stop you from dabbling with wine in your dishes. Just use your imagination and cook like no one is watching, that is the right attitude to creating magic in the kitchen, yes? In wine there’s Truth …or so said Pliny, The Elder, a Roman philosopher. So let’s raise a toast to cooking with wine and adding this epitome of truthfulness into our culinary experiments!

This article has been reproduced from CaLDRON Magazine, February 2014 and has been authored by Vinita Bhatia.- Editorial.