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Technique: Cooking with Wine

Technique: Cooking with Wine
Wine is not just a luscious libation. Throughout history, it has been an integral part of cookery around the world. For many people, its presence in a dish is a mystery, adding a subtle depth of flavor and a hint of acidity to foods that would otherwise taste amiss. Wine works its magic in many ways: It can tenderize meats, seduce sauces and take center stage when appropriate. There is no better way to make food more wine friendly than to use it in the preparation of a dish.

Select a wine for cooking that is made from the same grape varietal as the one you will drink with the dish. This is by no means a recommendation to use a $200 bottle of Lafite-Rothschild for making a sauce for your steak. A lesser-priced American Cabernet Sauvignon might not have the same pedigree but will fit the bill nicely.

Whatever wine you choose, it should taste good. Never cook with a wine that you wouldn't consider drinking in an emergency! This immediately excludes wines labeled for cooking, which often contain salt and preservatives. If you can't drink a bottle of wine because of its funky taste, extreme abrasiveness or acidity, don't save it for cooking. Its flaws will be magnified as it reduces. Do, however, save that wine left over from the bottle you opened for dinner last night. It can be tightly recorked and refrigerated for up to a week, ready to use in your favorite wine-powered dishes.

And power the dish it will. Whether your recipe calls for a red, white, sweet, dry or fortified wine, cooking with wine employs a few simple techniques—deglazing, marinating and poaching. Remember that turkey gravy your mom prepared in the roasting pan? It's likely that she degreased the pan, then deglazed it with wine or water to capture the flavor and color of the caramelized bits stuck to the pan bottom. This is the most common use for dry wines in savory dishes. For added flavor and tenderness, marinate meats in wine and aromatic vegetables in the refrigerator overnight, then use the marinade to deglaze the pan and braise the meat to fork tenderness.

Sweet red or white wines, fortified or not, can be used for poaching fruit. These wines can also become an integral part of a fruit sauce for meat and game birds. Dry fortified wines are fabulous in all types of dishes. Classic combinations include mushrooms with sherry; Marsala or Madeira with veal, chicken or pork; and dry vermouth with fish.

When cooking with wine, be sure to let it simmer for a few minutes to cook out the alcohol and to concentrate the flavor. If a dish calls for large quantities of wine (2 cups or more), reduce it by at least half before adding other ingredients to ensure the most delicious results.

As you might now deduce, the possibilities of cooking with wine are limited only by your imagination. Select a wine that suits your recipe and head for the kitchen. You'll be amazed the difference that wine can make in the finished dish.

Maria Helm Sinskey, Author, The Vineyard Kitchen: Menus Inspired by the Seasons (HarperCollins, 2003).