Cooking with wine is nothing new — the ancient Romans used to liven up their dinners with a splash or two of defrutum, a special brew they used just for the occasion, and the very first cookbook we know of lists dishes that call for wine. But for some reason, when we come across a recipe that instructs us to deglaze the pan with a dry white, we are filled with trepidation.
Adding wine to your dinner isn’t much more difficult than adding it to your favorite wine glass. And skipping the step could end up costing you the best parts of your meal —wine is added to impart flavor, add body, and bring out tastes in other ingredients. Without a dash of merlot, that tomato sauce won’t taste as the chef intended.
By keeping a few simple tips in mind, you can flex your culinary muscles and enjoy the taste of your favorite beverage in your new favorite meal.
1. Aim for middle ground
We've all heard the adage to only cook with what you would drink, and there’s some truth behind it: Cooking wine consolidates its flavor, so a poor wine will taste extra off when it’s reduced in the pot. Then again, the most delicate nuances in fine wine are lost once put to heat, so don’t waste a special vintage on a dish of short ribs.
"You won’t catch me marinating flank steak in vintage Rioja Reserva!" agrees chef Jose Garces, owner of award-winning restaurants in Philadelphia and Chicago, and one of the culinary masterminds on the Food Network’s Iron Chef America. "I have no qualms about using lower-quality wines for cooking, although for dishes where the flavor of the wine will be more apparent, such as light-flavored fish dishes, I prefer something a few steps up from the jug of cooking wine that I always keep in the kitchen."