Drink your wine and eat it, too


W.C. Fields quipped, “I love cooking with wine. Sometimes I even put it in the food.” If the glass you sip from while slicing and dicing is your idea of cooking with wine, consider these suggestions for enhancing your favorite dishes.

Use lighter reds like Pinot Noir for roasted duck breast with cherries, and save heartier Zinfandel and Syrah for leg of lamb and steak au poivre.

My only rule when it comes to cooking with wine is to use a wine you would enjoy on its own. Because a good deal of wine’s water and alcohol evaporate when heated, its flavor intensifies. So, if that old bottle of Little Penguin wasn’t good enough for your glass, it certainly isn’t going to do your boeuf bourguignon any favors. And, don’t even think about using that stuff labeled “cooking wine” in the vinegar aisle. Loaded with salt, food coloring and other additives, cooking wine isn’t fit for human consumption. On the other hand, you don’t need to use a 2000 Bordeaux either. If your recipe calls for a cup, pour from the bottle you will serve with dinner. If your recipe calls for a bottle, go with a more basic option and save your better wine for the table. 

Choosing the type of wine to use gets confusing. White wine with fish and fowl, and red wine with meat, right? Well, yes and no. Sure, I use white wine for lemon sole and red wine for short ribs, but I use white wine for veal saltimbocca and red wine for grilled salmon. And, any respectable Nonna uses white wine in her Bolognese sauce, even if it does have three pounds of meat in it. The key is to match the color and body of the wine with the robustness of the dish. Light-bodied Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio work with everything from chicken picatta to shrimp scampi. Fuller-bodied Chardonnay stands up to butter and cream sauces. Use lighter reds like Pinot Noir for roasted duck breast with cherries, and save your heartier Zinfandel and Syrah for leg of lamb and steak au poivre. 

Wine can be used as a marinade (as in sauerbraten, a German pot roast that “pickles” for days before cooking), as a braising liquid (as in coq au vin), or as a finishing touch (as in a cream soup drizzled with sherry); however, the most common culinary use for wine is as a deglazing liquid. Some of the tastiest bits (“fond” in French) stick to your pan after sautéeing meat or caramelizing veggies and adding wine to this hot pan will rescue these goodies from a wasteful demise. Fortified wines lend themselves to both savory and sweet preparations. Try port in a sauce with dried figs and rosemary served over pork loin or use it to poach pears along with star anise and cinnamon sticks.

If you are abstemious enough to ever have leftover wine, save it for up to a week for cooking. The less air in the bottle, the fresher it keeps, so either vacuum seal it or decant it into a smaller container and keep it in the refrigerator. A handy trick is to freeze leftover wine in ice cube trays, so that you have a few cubes at your disposal for risotto or a quick pan sauce. Or, just plunk them into that glass next to your cutting board—either way, you’re cooking with wine.