How to Use Wine to Make a Sauce
To Wine or Not to Wine, that is the Question
When in Rome, do as the Roman’s do. And fortunately for the modern world, the Romans added wine to their cooking and sauce. The rest of the world soon followed.
European chefs learned from the Roman’s and began to refine the process and use wine in their cooking.
The main difference throughout Europe during the Middle-Ages was that wine took on many of the local and regional characteristics.
Soil, climate, variety of grapes, and a more advanced fermentation process helped impact the quality and flavor of the wines. In addition many of the spices, flavorings and herbs were also subject to local availability. This has been well documented in many of the old European cookbooks, more so than any information that was recorded by the Roman’s.
Cooking with wine has many different purposes and it can add many integral layers to the courses being prepared. These layers can range anywhere from the most subtle to the most complex dimensions. This is not to say that you cannot cook without wine. But, when wine is used correctly the alcohol is eliminated and the essence of the grape remains. It not only brings out the natural flavors of meat, fish, and, vegetables but it also enhances the flavors of the other ingredients.
The Benefits of Cooking With Wine
Not only is wine used for bringing out the flavors of a dish being prepared and enhancing the various ingredients being used, but wine also has several other beneficial qualities. For Centuries wine has been used as a marinade for the purpose of tenderizing meats. The tannins help break down the toughness of the meat, and since wine comes from grapes it adds a touch of fruitiness and sugar, the acidity helps cut the fats and oil and the moisture helps keep the meats from drying out while imparting flavor during the marinating and the cooking process.
By reducing a wine sauce you can concentrate the flavors and make them more intense. Reduction will also add to the sweetness and the complexity of the sauce. Keep in mind that wine reduces faster than water so pure wine will reduce by about half in six minutes.
What Types of Wine Should I Use?
Before a wine is selected, consider what is being cooked, the desired taste that you want to accomplish, and the complexity of flavors that you want to add to the meal. Do you want the wine to be used in the cooking process such as in stews, soups, roasting, basting, or to marinate or do you want to use the wine to finish a pan sauce or gravy? Remember that the wine should only compliment and not dominate the flavors that you are trying to enhance.
The best drinking wines don’t necessarily make the best cooking wines, nor does the use of cooking wines make a good wine to use for cooking. The main reason for not using the later is that salt is used as an extra preservative, and the quality of wine is at the lower end of the scale. When cooking with wine the heat in combination with the cooking process will transform the wine from its original state. The heat eliminates the alcohol and changes the complexity of the wine originally created for drinking. This is also why a new bottle of Champagne is not recommended for cooking.
Recipes that call for Champagne are generally more for effect rather than for what it will add in flavor. It is better to use a flat or “still” bottle of Champagne. It is then more like a dry white wine but will have a higher acidic quality and dryness. Champagne vinegar can also be substituted without the added expense that is usually attached to a quality bottle of Champagne.
Suggestions for Cooking with White Wine
Dry white wines are best used with poultry, veal, and fish.
Here are some suggestions:
For Beurre Blanc Sauces…
- Sauvignon Blanc
For Reduction Sauces and Pan Sauces
- Sauvignon Blanc
Poaching, Steaming, Sautéing & Stir-Frying
- Pouilly Fume
- Chenin Blanc
- Pinot Blank
Suggestions for Cooking with Red Wine
Used primarily for red meats, red-wine sauces, stews and pasta sauces.
Here are some suggestions:
Light to Medium Red Wines
For Sautéing, Stir-Frying, Pan Sauces, Pasta and Brown Sauces
Medium to Full-Bodied Red Wines
Primarily used with red meats, stews, pasta sauces and roasts. Use for sautéing, pan-frying, roasting, braising, broiling, grilling, pasta sauces and barbecue sauces.
- Pinot Noir
- Cabarnet Sauvignon
Used for sauce making, stir-frying, soups, broths, pan-sauces and grilling generally sweet and non-acidic compared to most other white wines.
- Shaoxing Rice Wine
Sherry – An excellent substitute when rice wines are unavailable.
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