Cooking with wine is easier than most people realize. You can use wine in basting sauces, marinades, vinaigrettes, and other dishes where one might add a dash of lemon or vinegar. It doesn’t take a lot of wine to flavor a dish. Begin with a few tablespoons, let it simmer, and taste it a few minutes later, when the alcohol has evaporated. Like lemon juice, wine has a “cooking” effect of its own, so meats sauteed in wine will cook faster. Be watchful, taste as you go, and have fun.
Always use a good wine for cooking—alcohol evaporates during simmering, leaving only the flavor of wine in your sauce. Old wines that have turned acetic, or wines labeled “cooking wine,” will give disappointing results.
Using wine in a tenderizing sauce is a traditional way to cook or bake poultry and game. Various recipes for Coq au Vin suggest different ways of combining wine and herbs, and this traditional wine, chicken and herb dish can be either baked or simmered on the stove, with white wine or red.
It’s also easy to make a reduction sauce with wine, herbs and butter. The berry and plum flavors of merlot and cabernet are well suited for reduction sauces, which are typically served with pork tenderloin, lamb, and other rich, tender meats.
How to make a beurre rouge reduction sauce
- In a small saucepan combine 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar with 1 cup of wine, plus a few tablespoons of onions and herbs if desired. Cook over high heat until the volume is reduced by half. Strain the mixture and discard the solids.
- Return the sauce to the pan, reduce heat to low, and add 8 tablespoons (1 stick) of butter, one tablespoon at a time, stirring constantly until the sauce is thick and glossy.
Sweet and sticky late harvest zinfandels are excellent for basting meats. Sugar and alcohol are both tenderizers, and sweet wines thicken and caramelize quickly into delicious sauces. One customer described his grilled, butterflied Cornish game hens, which he bastes with a fruit and sweet wine sauce. He soaks chopped, dried fruits in a dessert or late harvest wine for several hours. He then butterflies the hens, bastes them thoroughly and rubs the fruit well into the skin before grilling. He serves the grilled hens with a wild rice side dish mixed with a complementary fruit. If he uses a late harvest zinfandel as the sauce, he’ll put raspberries or cranberries in the sauce and rice; if he bastes the hens with a dessert muscat, then he uses chopped apricots in the rice.
How to make vinaigrettes and antipasto marinades
Vinaigrettes and antipasto marinades are also easy to make with wine.
Use good quality olive oil, a fine white wine, and fresh chopped herbs for a white vinaigrette. Mix the ingredients in a bowl, adding a little at a time, and tasting as you go. Transfer the vinaigrette to a serving bottle or jar when you are happy with the flavors and balance. I often make a salad dressing “on the fly” and use it moments later, but if you’re thinking ahead, make enough to fill a jar or bottle, and allow it to age in the refrigerator. The herbal flavors will marry with the oil and wine, and the vinaigrette will only improve.
For a red vinaigrette, use olive oil, red wine, herbs, and maybe a touch of aged balsamic vinegar for depth. Dill, oregano, thyme and rosemary are good choices, and you can either shake in some ground, dried herbs or drop in a fresh twig. Cardamom seed has an orange-like flavor that is nice with white wine. Crushed cloves, nutmeg or black peppercorns add zest to red wine vinaigrettes or marinades.
If you’re not sure about the flavor of wine in a particular dish, set a small amount of your ingredients aside, and mix the ingredients with some wine and herbs. Taste and adjust before adding the wine to your creation.
Have fun, be creative, and pour a glass of wine for the cook.