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To Cook or Not to Cook With Wine?

This is not a Shakespearean cooking term, but rather something that should be a very common question in the kitchen. Home cooking is trendy and a lot of fun. We cook all the time in order to make formal, nice and enjoyable meals on a regular basis. There should be no reason to be afraid of cooking with wine. Many people have told me over the years that they have never been able to learn or master how to cook with wine. It is not difficult and you should not be discouraged or afraid to try. Cooking with wine is not intended to mask any flavor of the main ingredients; rather, the wine should enhance the taste and the flavor of the dish.

Once you find the courage to incorporate a wine component into your dish, then you need to consider whether to select a red or white wine. They are very different in aroma and taste, as well as function, for each dish.

Man has made wine and other alcoholic drinks for thousands of years. In modern times there was always a discussion about the health benefits of consuming wine. I recently read a humorous comment in The Wall Street Journal about the health benefits of drinking wine. The person’s physician indicated that red wine was good for the patient. When asked about white wine, the physician’s reply was that “white wine is just alcohol.” Many think it is the same for cooking, and that they can only cook with red wine. I disagree. There are plenty of delicious, simple dishes that use white as well as red wine. The most important thing is that you use your imagination and your understanding of flavors as well as ingredient combinations to achieve the flavor profile you had in mind.

Once you get used to using wine in your cooking, then it can become just another ingredient that you will use in your normal, day-to-day cooking.

If you cook with wine, you should not be concerned about alcohol in the final product. During the cooking process, the alcohol evaporates once the temperature reaches 172° F (78°C). Any sauce or stew that is simmering or boiling is certainly hot enough to evaporate the alcohol. (In comparison, water normally boils at 212° F, 100°C.)

You are not required to open a fresh bottle of wine every time you need a small amount. You can easily use the leftovers from a recently opened bottle. Many times you save the leftovers of an open bottle in your fridge. It may not be good enough to drink with your dinner, but it may still be good enough to be used for cooking. Just confirm that it has not turned sour. Obviously, if you need half a bottle for your dish, then make sure it is not too expensive, but also good enough to drink. My rule of thumb is that if the freshly opened bottle is not good enough to drink, then please don’t use it in your food.

My father once told me a story about his business trip to Paris many years ago. It must have been in the early ’50s. After a long day at work, he ended up at a small, intimate kosher restaurant in the Le Marais district. In Paris in those days, postwar period, good kosher wine was a novelty. He ordered a French red table wine and beef and chicken soup as the appetizer. I remember his description of the aromas from the soup; it was amazing. Just as he was about to pick up his spoon and try the soup, the waiter came over and suggested that he pour a healthy tablespoon of the red table wine into the soup. He followed the suggestion and was pleasantly surprised by the aromas and additional flavor. It became a home ritual growing up (and continues to this day) that when a good beef or chicken soup was served, a tablespoon of wine was dropped into your bowl. It does wonders for a soup, and many of our friends, including their (semi) adult kids are adventurous enough to pour wine into soup.

Do not stress if you would like to cook with wine. Start simple and work your way up to more sophisticated dishes. One of the easiest ways to use white wine is in baked fish such as salmon and flounder. Another easy recipe where white wine could be used is Chicken Marbella. Just follow a simple recipe and you will succeed.

If you like to use a robust red wine in your cooking, then try dishes such as beef bourguignon or Coq au vin. It does require a little more experience, but again this is not rocket science. After a while you will find yourself using wine as a regular ingredient. Used correctly, wine will transform any dish, creating enhanced aromatics and flavors to your audience’s applause.

Wine is also often used for deglazing. It is a wonderful thing and is actually very simple. Deglazing is a cooking technique for removing and dissolving browned food residue from a pan to flavor sauces and soups. You can use both red and white wine utilizing this technique. I personally prefer red wine when making a sauce—some people would call it gravy—from a roasted meat or fowl dish. It also gives some body to the final product and is a good alternative for the lack of heavy cream that is traditionally used after deglazing in the non-kosher world. You may still need to add some starch, either a little flour or cornstarch.

Please don’t forget to adjust the taste of the sauce with freshly ground pepper and other spices if needed. Parenthetically, I am not a big fan of cooking with a lot of kitchen gadgets. Keep your tools simple, but a pepper grinder is a must in your kitchen. If you don’t have one, that should be the next present from “the cooking beneficiaries” in your home.

An important part of cooking with wine is to remember to drink a glass of the wine while you cook. It is one of my favorite parts of cooking with wine. I once asked a known wine connoisseur about selecting the best wine in general. He quickly answered that the best wine is the wine that you enjoy the most. It all depends on the mood you are in and with whom you enjoy it. I believe the same is true for the dish that you have so carefully prepared. In good company and with people who truly appreciate your efforts, it will always be a success.

Bon Appetit.


Jan Meyer is the founder and senior counsel of The Law Offices of Jan Meyer & Associates, a 10-attorney law firm based in Teaneck and New York City. He serves as chair of The Teaneck Zoning Board and is an active member of TVAC, the Teaneck Volunteer Ambulance Corps; www.janmeyerlaw.com 

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