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 Events  Share this article     Summary of Corkscrew column Not Just Wine 
  Corkscrew Issue 17, March 2004   
Cooking with WineCooking with Wine  Contents 
Issue 16, February 2004 Follow DiWineTaste on Follow DiWineTaste on TwitterIssue 18, April 2004

Cooking with Wine

The famous beverage of Bacchus is not only capable of sumptuously matching the creation of cooking, it can also become a precious ally in the preparation of many and tasty recipes

 For wine lovers it is easy to think that in a table with lots of foods and tasty dishes is always present a good bottle of wine capable of cheering - as well as exalting and completing - the appreciation of a meal. This is certainly the idea lovers of nice food have as well - and that like cooking - however they also see the beverage of Bacchus not only in joyous glasses but also inside the pot. The idea of using wine as an ingredient for the preparation of foods is certainly not something new and there are evidences the use of wine for cooking was done since the times of ancient Rome, and before that, since Etruscan times. Wine and cooking have always made a brilliant and tasty couple since the most ancient times and their bond is still alive today also thanks to the many combinations, old and new.

 Documents of the past, at the time when refrigerator would have waited some centuries before appearing in the daily life of human beings, tell that wine was used as a preservative for foods and in particular for meat. Often meat was left submerged in wine for many hours, sometimes even for days, by making use of the cooking technique which arrived up to our days with the name marinade, and the same wine used for preserving the meat, as well as for flavoring it, was used as a base liquid for cooking: that's how braised foods were born. The use of wine in the kitchens of the past were not limited only to that. Ancient cookbooks clearly show the beverage of Bacchus was widely used in many cooking preparations, not only meat, but also for soups, vegetables as well as desserts and cakes.


Wine as an Ingredient for Cooking

 In the course of the history of humanity, every country which produced wine was used to use it as an ingredient for cooking. Wine was frequently used for diluting sauces and as a liquid for the cooking of foods, the choice of wine instead of water seems to be more appropriate for simple organoleptic reasons. Wine, more aromatic and tasty than water, adds to foods in which it is being used its aromas and its flavors, moreover, according to the type of wine used, it also adds structure, body and color. Wine in kitchen is not only used as a liquid for the cooking of foods - even though this seems to be its most frequent case - and its use is also appreciated in the preparation of cold foods in order to add taste and aromas, last but not the least, a small quantity of alcohol as well. Wine is also frequently used for the preparation of marinades, where the food to be marinated - usually meat, but also cheese and vegetables - are left submerged in the wine for many hours, sometimes for days, or even for some weeks in case of cheese.


 The most frequent preoccupation about using wine for cooking is because of alcohol and there are many who believe a food cooked with wine is also alcoholic; a conviction that usually make people unaccustomed to cooking to not add any wine. Ethyl alcohol begins boiling, and therefore to evaporate, at a temperature of 78.4° C (173.12° F), therefore lower than water, a condition that would make everyone think of its total evaporation during cooking. In case of wine it is appropriate to remember alcohol usually represent about 12%-14% and it is blended with water and therefore the evaporation of alcohol is also regulated by this condition. Generally speaking it is believed that at the end of cooking wine's alcohol is completely evaporated, however recent researches have proved a small quantity of alcohol - even though negligible - can be found at the end of cooking. Moreover it must be noticed the higher the cooking time the lesser the quantity of alcohol left. The use of wine for the preparation of cold foods, of course, does not make alcohol to evaporate, therefore the quantity of wine used in this kind of recipes is pretty small.

 A fundamental principle about the use of wine for cooking is about its quality. Wine's aromas and flavors, as well as its structure, are added to all the other ingredients of the recipe and this is the fundamental concept about using wine for cooking. For many the wine to be mainly used for cooking is the one which is generally not considered drinkable anymore, often oxidized, with unpleasing aromas and tastes. For them the wine used for cooking represent the ultimate chance for using a bad product of low quality. Moreover there are also wines expressly sold as suited for cooking and in case are drunk alone they are absolutely undrinkable and truly bad. The quality of wine used for the preparation of foods is important and fundamental. After all, no one would like to eat a food made of rotten ingredients and having unpleasing tastes and aromas: the wine added to foods contributes to the final result with its aromas and its flavors, therefore a bad wine with evident faults adds bad aromas and flavors to food.

 Using very old wines does not represent, in general terms, a good choice. Not only for the economic value they could have, but also because are more appropriate and pleasing for cooking the aromas and tastes of a young wine. Of course this suggestion is to be considered as a general rule only and the use of very old wine for cooking is not excluded. When the quantity of wine to be added to a food is pretty high, such as in case of braised meat, pasta and risotto, it is good to consider the pretty acid nature of the beverage of Bacchus. Wine's acidity does not evaporate and does not diminish during the cooking process and therefore it is added to the tastes of food. Using wines having a pretty high acidity also means to add a sour and acid character to foods. In these cases it will appropriate to contrast acidity, o better to say, to make it more agreeable and less aggressive, by using ingredients with a basically sweet taste, such as fats and starches. Of course this consideration is only valid in case the typicality of the food is not of acid or sour nature.

Red wine risotto: one of the many recipes
in which wine is a fundamental ingredient
Red wine risotto: one of the many recipes in which wine is a fundamental ingredient

 The choice of wine to be used for cooking also depends by the type of food to the cooked, while remembering that red wine, besides adding aromas, tastes and structure to foods, also adds its color and that in some recipes could not be appropriate. In general terms white wines are used for the preparation of soups, white meat, poultry, fish, vegetables and desserts, whereas red wines are more frequently used for red meat, stewed and braised meat and sometimes for desserts as well. Both white wines and red wines are widely used for the preparation of pasta and risotto, such as red wine risotto, of which the one made with Barolo is probably the most famous one, and red wine pasta. Even sparkling wines are used for cooking: even in this case it is a risotto which represents the most common recipe, such as the renowned Champagne risotto or spumante risotto. In the preparation of this risotto it is fundamental that spumante, or Champagne, is added during cooking and not at the end: this simple trick will avoid wine's acidity to be exaggeratedly evident. Sweet sparkling wines are usually used for the preparation of desserts, fruit salads and dessert creams.

 Sweet wines offer interesting and surprising possibilities in cooking and not only in the preparation of desserts, as it could be easily thought. Sweet wines can be well matched with recipes of red meat and, in particular, with cheese. After all, it should be remembered, in past times it was this type of wine to be used more frequently in the recipes of ancient Greeks, ancient Romans and Etruscans. At those times they used to add sweet wines to pretty robust meats, such as game, and the higher structure of these wines, as well as the copious use of condimental and aromatic herbs, was well matchable to meat. The use of sweet wines in the preparation of foods made of meat is still common today and in many stewed meats is advised the adding of a glass of sweet or botrytized wine. Sweet wines used in pastry cooking always add class, elegance and finesse both to creams and to baked cakes.

 A special mention should be done for fortified wines such as Porto, Jerez (Sherry), Málaga, Madeira and Marsala. These wines, besides being excellent to taste, are also precious allies in cooking, always ready to add extraordinary aromas and tastes to the foods in which are being used. Fortified wines add an incomparable “special touch” to soups and broth, they are extraordinary ingredients for the preparation of foods made of meat, add a wonderful taste to sauteed foods. Try, for example, to add a small glass of Marsala, preferably superiore riserva, but also a small glass of Madeira or Porto, in the pot where the broth is boiling. Or try to add a glass of good Marsala, instead of white wine, to the toasted rice to be used for risotto. A good example of cooking that makes use of a fortified wine is offered by the famous Marsala scallop. In this recipe, simple and quick to prepare, its main and characteristic taste is because of the use of Marsala during cooking. The same recipe would be less tasty in case a less complex and rich wine than Marsala, or other fortified wines, would have been used instead.

 Talking about wine and broth, in some Italian regions still exists an ancient tradition which suggests to add two spoonfuls of red wine to one's own bowl of soup, and when there was no red wine, two spoonfuls of white wine. This is, as a matter of fact, a simple but efficient way to add flavors to a food and the taste is certainly agreeable even though, it seems, not everyone likes it. An alternative to red wine is wonderfully represented by Marsala - or any other fortified wine - that will add to the soup richer aromas and tastes. Wine is also used for the preparation of sauces to be used as a condiment for foods, in particular for the ones made of meat. Generally wine sauces require the use of thickening ingredients - such as potato flour, wheat flour or corn starch - and during their preparation particular attention will be paid on cooking to be done slowly and the boiling point will never be reached. This trick will avoid the sauce to have less pleasing tastes and the wine to lose its aromatic freshness and flavors.

 Wine is particularly used in the preparation of marinades, that is those liquids in which are left submerged, often completely submerged, many ingredients, in particular red meat and game. The preparation of marinades makes use, besides of wine, which can be white and more frequently red, of other ingredients as well in order to add more aromas and flavors to the food. Typical ingredients that complete wine in the preparation of marinades - in particular in Italian cooking - are rosemary, sage, laurel, fennel seeds, black pepper grains, clover and sometimes lemon juice. The ingredients and the type of wine used for the marinade vary according to the type of cooking. After the marinading time has passed, the food is cooked without eliminating the liquid which will contribute to aromatize the food. This technique, common in the preparation of braised meat, will also make a tasty and succulent sauce to be used for the condiment of the food. The slow cooking, typical for these kind of preparations, allows a slow evaporation of water with the result of concentrating and thickening the marinading liquid which in turn will be enriched with other flavors. The slices or the pieces of meat cooked this way are always enriched in the dishes with generous spoonfuls of the cooking liquid.


From Pot to Glass: the Matching

 At the end of “kitchen works” finally come the great moment of serving in the table the results of those magic alchemy called “cooking”. Which wines should be chosen for the foods prepared with the beverage of Bacchus? A famous rule suggests to use the same wine used for the preparation of that food and this is always, in general terms, a very good choice. A Barolo braised meat, for example, should be preferably matched to the same Barolo. This simple rule is confirmed by facts as the flavors of wine used for the making of the food will be in perfect harmony with the same wine poured in the glass. In this way, as a matter of fact, will be reinforced the aromatic and gustatory character of the wine used in the food.

 In case it is not possible to match the food with the same wine used for its preparation, the best alternative is to choose a wine having similar characteristics. For example, in case a robust red wine was used for cooking, it is good to choose a wine having the same body. The same applies to white wines. In case an aromatic wine was used, it is good to choose a wine having at least the same aromaticity, otherwise it will be the food, with its aromas, to prevail over the wine. In other words, the result will be a wrong matching according to an enogastronomical point of view. Another consideration should be done for fortified and sweet wines used for the preparation of salty foods. In case it is not wished to match the same wine, even though this could be a good idea, it will be appropriate to choose a wine, white or red according to the food, having a good roundness and aromatic complexity in order to “compete” with the rich aromas and flavors of the sweet or fortified wine. Enjoy the meal!


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  Corkscrew Issue 17, March 2004   
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