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Drinking Cooking with Wine

            For those of you who don’t know me too well, one of my all-consuming passions besides wine is cooking. In fact, once upon a time I had a little blog called The Unlikely Gourmand, where I chronicled my mishaps and triumphs in the kitchen over about the course of a year.

gratuitious staged shot of Farmers Market goodies

I’ve always loved cooking with wine and, in fact, had one of several fake ID’s confiscated for trying to purchase a bottle of Marsala wine (to make, what else, Chicken Marsala). My attempt to explain that I was merely buying the obscure and practically undrinkable fortified wine for purely innocent and culinary purposes fell on deaf ears and I was left sans ID and sans dinner. America is a tough place for the aspiring home cook under the age of 21.

When it comes to cooking with wine there really are a lot of opinions out there, circling around the one consensus that it makes a lot of dishes infinitely better. If you watch anyone on the Food Network, you’ve surely heard that you should never cook with a wine you wouldn’t drink. Walk into any restaurant kitchen, however, and you’ll find Carlo Rossi-esque jugs of wine that are used expressly for cooking. So who’s right?

It depends. I realize this is not the answer you were hoping for, so lets get to it, shall we?

A couple of bottles from a few weeks back

Certainly for wine-centric dishes like Coq au Vin or Beouf Bourgignon or even a simple braised chicken dish, the wine you’re using matters a little bit more. If it’s a dish that calls for wine as a significant ingredient, it should be a wine that you would drink. That’s not to say you should go ahead and pour that expensive1987 Bordeaux you have lying around into your Coq au Vin because that would just be a waste. A very expensive and sad waste. But, if you have a decent everyday-quality wine (in the $10-$20 range) that you wouldn’t mind drinking while you cook or, later, with dinner, by all means, go ahead and use it.

Same goes for a bottle of wine that you just never got around to finishing. I, for one, hate to waste so I try to finish a bottle over two nights. However, if I just can’t get around to emptying a bottle and I’ve got a glass or more left on the third day, I’ll keep the bottle corked in the fridge and use it to cook later. It’s also never a bad idea to have a cheap ($7ish) bottle of Pinot Grigio in the fridge to use in everything from Risotto to Soup.

Another reason I would like to believe those Food Network ladies are always hawking drinkable wine is that most of the time you’re only using a cup (more or less) of wine in any given dish and so why not have that wine around to serve with dinner or drink later? However, keep in mind that the wine is going to be cooked so it’s really not necessary to splurge.

Alright, so now that we’ve cleared that up – lets get to the best kinds  of wine to cook with. As I mentioned earlier I think a light Pinot Grigio is a good thing to have around – its bright and acidic (the main reason you use wine is usually to deglaze, or in normal terms, to scrape up all the brown bits from the bottom of a pan). You don’t want to use an oaky chardonnay because its just got too much character and will impart its own funky flavor. However, an unoaked chardonnay could do quite nicely. I’m also a big fan of cooking with dry reisling – again its got lots of acid and bright flavors that won’t get in the way of your dish. Sauvignon Blanc can be tricky because sometimes the NZ or California examples are just too herbaceous, too grassy, and too fruity. But if you get a flinty French example you should be ok.

You could make this if you had some wine around!

For red wines, the same rules apply. Pinot Noir is a great cooking wine because its got great acid and lighter flavors. For a “dry red wine” Chianti can be pretty fabulous – its tannic yet light and still acidic and I don’t mind using a Cab-Merlot blend that’s not too oaky for richer dishes like beef stew.
Very recently, I tried a wonderful recipe from the ladies at Food 52 – one of the best food websites around if you ask me. It was a dish made with Rose and as soon as I saw it, I just had to make it. It was delicious and a great way to use up some leftover Rose I had lying around. When cooking with Rose, I’d urge you to go for the good stuff from Provence – crisp and herby and just delightful.

The only thing you really want to stay away from is wine that’s really expensive or wine that’s really bold. Anything else is most likely going to better your dish more often than bring it down. Yet another gift of the grape.

Want to try cooking with wine? Head on over to the recipes linked below:

Merrill’s Rosy Chicken

Coq Au Vin

Chicken in Reisling (go for the cream instead of the creme fraiche)

Alice Waters’ (and my favorite) Beef Stew

Risotto with Mushrooms and Peas (can easily swap out white wine for red and change up the ingredients but a great basis for liquid-to-rice ratio)

Strawberry Rhubarb Breakfast Cake - am I bad at photography or what?

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