I made this with 3 types of wine. Jealous?

One thing that shouldn’t surprise you about us in knowing that we love wine is that we often cook with wine. There’s a good reason, and not just because we like to drink it. When cooking with wine, the result is a different dimension of flavor to the food. Wine actually serves to pronounce the flavors and especially the smells/aromas in food. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – eating is not just with your tongue, a large part of it has to do with smell. It’s about creating an emotion around an experience. Food memory is a large part of the enjoyment of food.

Here are some rules to follow when cooking with wine:

1. Stay away from “cooking wines” or risk being laughed at.

“Cooking wines” are corny. What is the point of having a bottle of a wine that you can’t drink and can only cook with? I’ll answer for you – there is no point. When you cook with a wine, there’s something great about finishing off the bottle with your meal (or while you’re cooking, up to you). It provides continuity all the way through. In addition, so-called “cooking wines” usually have added salt or sugar, which can affect the way your food turns out. And you’re fancier than that.

2. If you wouldn’t drink the wine by itself, walk away. You’re too classy to bring that home.

Don’t cook with a wine you wouldn’t drink. I’m all for using cheaper wines to cook with, but not wines so cheap that I wouldn’t drink them.

I will disclaim here for those who have known me for a while and are about to blow my cover: When I was younger there was basically no floor to the cheapness of wine I would drink. But now I’m married. And more sophisticated. My floor has raised to $5 and up…

Think about it – when you cook, you are basically distilling down to the essence of the wine, and making the underlying flavors more pronounced. Why in the world would you want to do that for a wine that tastes like crap? Not a good idea. Plus you’re going to have wine left over. You just are. So make it something you can drink while admiring your handiwork.

3. I’m all about the two buck chuck.

Expensive doesn’t necessarily mean a better wine. I cook with Sauvignon Blanc a lot, and usually use a Trader Joe’s wine. The wine is literally $6.99. And being in marketing, I know a lot of pricing has to do with perceived value, so price isn’t necessarily indicative of quality. However, if you have an amazingly expensive bottle of wine that you’ve been dying to drink, and you’re only going to use ½ a cup in a recipe, I say do it.

4. How much wine am I going to use to cook? I’m dying watching all that alcohol evaporate.

So speaking of ½ a cup, how much wine should you use? Not a ton, let’s just say that. Use it as you would a seasoning – in moderation. This isn’t chicken stock, okay? The recipe that I’ll post on Friday uses 1 cup in total, which is for a whole chicken. Use that as a gauge when thinking about how much to add. Especially when cooking with meats, remember that it soaks up the flavors. Ask me about my crock pot chicken wine mess sometime. Nasty…There is definitely a limit. Alcohol evaporates as food cooks, so don’t try to use a meal as a way to get alcohol. Doesn’t work…That said, if you add wine and don’t simmer it, it can taste really wine-y and less flavor-y.

 5. Sweet or Dry?

Remember that sweeter wines will bring out more pronounced sweetness when simmered down, whereas dry wines will leave more of a clean wine taste. If you are doing a sauce with currants and apricots, say, I think a sweeter wine would fit perfectly. But imagine doing a shrimp scampi with a Muscat wine. Not cute. How does candied shrimp sound? You’re right. It sounds terrible. Use common sense here. Adding a sweet wine is adding sugar to your recipe, straight up.

6. Red or white?

What’s great about wines in cooking is that they follow some of the same rules as pairing drinking wines with food.

General rules are that red meats/heavier stewed dishes work with red wines, and chickens/seafood/lighter meats work well with white wines.  If you think about the fruits that are present in wines (white = apples, pears, strawberries, citrus; red = mushrooms, green peppers, cherries, raspberries, blackberries), that’s a good place to start. Need a refresher? Click here .

When thinking about tannic reds, think about what happens when you eat with them.  A tannic red wine can become more bearable when eating it with a fatty steak, because the combination softens the tannins. Same is true of cooking with tannic wines. I use a Pinot Noir that is less tannic in my Bolognese, because I use turkey meat which is less heavy. If I were using beef, like you’re supposed to in Bolognese sauce, a Cabernet would work great.

Acidic white wines work great in cooking because it’s like adding lemon juice or zest to bring out the brightness of a dish. Remember, same rule when pairing cheeses starts here – usually acid + acid = good. A splash of white wine really works with a fresh tomato sauce, which is acidic to start. “Buttery” whites, like Chardonnays, also go well with cream sauces, to add a bit of palette cleansing and brightness to cut the rich, heavy cream.

With the recipe that I’ll post for next time (see pic above), we use three types of white wines, which meld perfectly with the chicken, onions and red peppers that are stars of the recipe.

~ Dana