Wine has three main uses in the kitchen – as a marinade ingredient, as a cooking liquid, and as a flavoring in a finished dish.
The function of wine in cooking is to intensify, enhance, and accent the flavor and aroma of food – not to mask the flavor of what you are cooking but rather to fortify it.
As with any seasoning used in cooking, care should be taken in the amount of wine used – too little is inconsequential and too much will be overpowering. Neither extreme is desirable. A small quantity of wine will enhance the flavor of the dish.
The alcohol in the wine evaporates while the food is cooking, and only the flavor remains. Boiling down wine concentrates the flavor, including acidity and sweetness. Be careful not to use too much wine as the flavor could overpower your dish.
For best results, wine should not be added to a dish just before serving. The wine should simmer with the food, or sauce, to enhance the flavor of the dish. If added late in the preparation, it could impart a harsh quality. It should simmer with the food or in the sauce while it is being cooked; as the wine cooks, it reduces and becomes an extract which flavors. Wine added too late in the preparation will give a harsh quality to the dish. A wine needs time to impart its flavor in your dish. Wait 10 minutes or more to taste before adding more wine.
Remember that wine does not belong in every dish. More than one wine-based sauce in a single meal can be monotonous. Use wine is cooking only when it has something to contribute to the finished dish.
Sulfites in Wine:
All wines contain some small amount of sulfites, as they are a natural result of the same fermentation process that turns grape juice into alcohol. Even wines that have not had any sulfites added during the wine making process contain some amount of sulfites. Sulfur dioxide (SO2) is used by winemakers to keep freshly pressed “must” from spoiling. It keeps down the activities of native yeast and bacteria and preserves the freshness of the wine.
When cooking with wine containing sulfites, you do not concentrate them as you would flavor, but rather they evaporate like alcohol. The sulfite goes through a conversion in the liquid of the wine to produce sulfur dioxide. This is actually the compound that prevents the oxidation. It also is a gas, and when subjected to heat, it dissipates into the air. All that remains is some salts, but they are so minute in quantity that they have no affect on flavor.
Storage of Leftover Wine:
Leftover wine can be refrigerated and used for cooking if held for only 1 or 2 weeks. If you have at least a half bottle on wine left over, pour it off into a clean half bottle, cork it, and store in the refrigerator. Without air space at the top, the rebottled wine will keep for up to 1 month.
Wine Reduction for Pan Sauces:
1/2 to 3/4 cup raw wine = 2 tablespoons of wine reduction
For ultimate flavor, wine should be reduced slowly over low heat. This method takes more time and effort, but will achieve a superior sauce because the flavor compounds present in the wine are better preserved.
Questions and Answers About Cooking With Wine:
QUESTION: Will recipes taste better if I use a premium or expensive wine?
ANSWER: A good-quality wine will give the same fine flavor to a dish as a premium wine or expensive wine. Save the premium wine to serve with the meal. Remember – only use wines in cooking that you would enjoy drinking.
QUESTION: What is “cooking sherry?”
ANSWER: Cooking sherry usually has salt or chemicals added to make it unpalatable as a sipping wine. Sold in small bottles, it is generally more expensive than regular sherry. I do not recommend using anything labeled “cooking wine.”
QUESTION: Can I use leftover wine for cooking?
ANSWER: Yes. To save leftover wine for cooking, pour into smaller bottles, cork tightly and store in the refrigerator.
QUESTION: How much wine should I use in a recipe when cooking?
ANSWER: This question depends upon the flavor intensity of the wine and the foods you are cooking. Proceed slowly in adding additional wine than the recipe calls for. Wine needs time to impart its flavor. If you’re not sure whether to add more wine to a dish, let the dish cook at least ten minutes before tasting again. Adding more wine than the recipe calls for won’t necessarily make it better. Wine does not automatically turn an ordinary dish into a gourmet dish. Use it with discretion.
Suggested amounts to add:
Soups – 2 tablespoons per cup
Sauces – 1 tablespoon per cup
Gravies – 2 tablespoons per cup
Stews & Meats – 1/4 cup per pound
Poaching liquid for fish – 1/2 cup per quart