Wine makes for a magnificent weapon in your culinary arsenal, but despite what TV and movies would have you believe, cooking with wine properly and in a way that yields tasty, flavoursome results, is something of an art form. Here’s what you need to know.
What wine should you use for cooking?
When wine is added to a dish that’s cooking, some or all of the alcohol evaporates, and you’re left with the concentrated flavour of the wine. For this reason, it’s important to use a decent wine, and certainly not ones labelled as ‘cooking wine’, which tend to be poor quality and full of salt and preservatives. As revered celebrity chef Julia Child once said, don’t cook with any wine you wouldn’t drink.
That doesn’t mean having to spend a lot, though, and you can often get away with stealing a glass from the bottle you’re planning on drinking with dinner. Unoaked whites such as Pinot Grigio and medium-bodied reds such as Merlot are versatile options.
Red or white?
Cook with the wine that you’d normally pair with the food you’re preparing. So as a general rule, white wines with light coloured meats such as fish and chicken, and reds with darker meats such as beef and venison – pork has more versatility. Red tends to bring clarity and a dry characteristic to dishes, while whites add acidity.
That being said, the biggest factor here are the flavour profiles of individual wines, and not necessarily whether they’re red or white. Every wine has its own composition of sugars, tannins and acids which will affect the taste outcome, so feel free to experiment.
How much wine should be used in cooking?
More doesn’t necessarily mean better, and you should always proceed slowly when adding wine to a dish – it’ll need time to impart its flavour, so wait at least 10 minutes before tasting again. As a rough guideline, soup and gravies can benefit from around two tablespoons of wine per 240ml, sauces from one tablespoon per 240ml, and stews and meats 60ml per pound.
When should wine be added to a dish?
Think of using wine in cooking in the same way that you’d use a spice – the flavours tend to mellow the longer it cooks. Let is simmer with the food or sauce for as long as possible – adding it late in the process can give the dish harsh or overpowering flavours.
Five ways to cook with wine
- Use it as a marinade in place of vinegar or lemon juice to tenderise meats and add flavour.
- Add moisture and flavour by using wine to baste foods while they’re grilling or baking – a great trick for barbecues.
- Make a versatile pan sauce by simmering down a splash of white wine and cooking it with stock and butter – perfect for fish and chicken dishes.
- Use wine for poaching everything from eggs to pears for a tasty twist on old classics. For savoury dishes, make sure to incorporate stock and butter into the liquid mix to avoid any harsh and overpowering flavours.
- Use it for baking – dessert wines naturally work a treat. There are countless recipes available highlighting the versatility of wine in baked cakes, but you can freestyle it yourself by substituting part of a trusted recipe’s liquid ingredients with a splash of wine, or by incorporating it into saucy puddings.