Cooking with wine adds vintage flavor to dinner.

By Natalie MacLean
September 30, 2005
Take your seafood dinner up a notch with a perfectly paired wine.

Wine enhances seafood, whether you're sipping it or cooking with it. Splash some red wine into spaghetti sauce, substitute white wine for part of the liquid when cooking rice, or drizzle Champagne over panna cotta.

These tricks provide several bonuses. Wine is fat-free, and its natural glycerin helps bind sauces, minimizing the need for oils or other fats. Its acidity brings out the flavors in food. Also, because wine adds so much flavor, many cooks find they don't need as much-or any-salt, a plus for those on low-sodium diets.

Cooking with wine is essentially applied chemistry in the kitchen, but unlike high school lab class, experimenting with C 2H 5OH tastes great and doesn't require an asbestos apron. Alcohol releases and integrates the flavors of other ingredients that often don't dissolve in fat or water. That's why wine so effectively deglazes pans. After browning meat or seafood, stir in wine to lift off the juices, fats, and bits of food that cling to the pan. Then use the infused broth as the base for a delicious sauce.

Cook with a wine that marries well with your dish. Generally, white wines impart a light, fresh taste to food, and reds add richness and depth. Using reds when cooking light-colored meats and seafood can turn the food an unappetizing blue, but there are exceptions, as in the classic coq au vin-chicken with red wine.

Sparkling wine that's gone flat makes a good substitute for white wine in cooking, and can add a crisp, citrus note. But bubbly and still wine that have been open too long may deliver an unpleasant oxidized taste.

Good wine belongs both in the kitchen and the dining room, and now "cooking wine" has earned new respect. Forego those bottles sitting alongside vinegars in the supermarket and choose a wine you can sip while you sauté.

Vino Veritas
• Use nonreactive pans, especially when cooking with wines that have high acidity.

• If your recipe has a short cooking time, the wine's flavors will be more evident in the final dish, so choose a good-quality bottle.

• For a regional theme, consider cooking with a wine from the same origin as that of the recipe.

• Dry vermouth substitutes nicely for white wine, and vermouth will keep longer.

• Don't overwhelm the dish (not to mention the guests) with too much wine.

• Add wine to a sauce before other liquids, so that it integrates and doesn't leave a heavy alcoholic taste. Don't incorporate wine late in the cooking process unless the recipe directs you to.

• Stop reducing a wine sauce when it coats the back of your spoon.

• Taste as you cook to see how the flavors are coming together. Taste before and after you add the wine, and throughout the process, to see if you need to adjust.