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Publication: I'm Not Martha
Cooking with wine.

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         I'M NOT MARTHA - Tuesday, February 27, 2007

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Hi! I'm Lizzy!!  and I'm not Martha!!!

*Lizzy, I really enjoyed your column on champagne. I learned 
a lot that I never even thought about before.  That got me 
to thinking about cooking with wine.

I've never had much success with that.  Part of the problem 
is that I don't know what wines to use.  I don't want to 
spend a lot of money and don't know what to look for when 
a recipe calls for a "dry white wine" or even red wine. Do 
you have any suggestions on what to look for?  I also was 
wondering about how long can it be kept after opening?

Thanks for your help and all your great information!!


Great question!!!

Centuries ago, cooks made sauces from wine to mellow what 
were then strong-tasting chickens or to rescue meats gone 
bad.  Wine in a sauce tenderizes the meat and infuses it 
with flavor.

Thank goodness for refrigeration! As with pairings, the 
general rules of wine and food apply. Reds go with meat. 
Whites go with chicken and fish. But salmon, a heartier 
and oilier fish, stands up to a red wine sauce. Pork is 
versatile.  Some recipes will call for a red, some a rose, 
and some pair with port.  Vegetarians can find delight in 
a mushroom casserole made with red wine.

All this being said...White wine is probably more versatile 
for cooking than red.

Think of all the flavors of wine and their differences: 
Zinfandels can have a raisin-like quality; a lighter-style 
white wine can be apple-like and citrus-flavored. Reds add 
depth of character to foods that can stand up to challenge. 
These flavors contribute to the flavors of a sauce. If you 
change the wine, you could have a sauce that tastes dif-

There's a saying that "what grows together, goes together" 
— if possible, choose wine from the region your recipe 
comes from for a guaranteed flavor pairing. This of course 
falls apart as a theory on a region-less recipe but there 
you go.

You don't need to use the same wine in the sauce as the 
wine that will be served at the table. Since you're cooking 
the wine, grape variety isn't a big deal. Use whatever wine 
you have on hand. It's silly to use a fancy bottle to 
braise with. Reach for a bottle that is both drinkable and 
intended for drinking. The best features of an expensive 
wine disappear in the cooking.

Another put another way -- Pick a decent, but not stellar 
wine for cooking. Don't use a wine that you wouldn't want 
to drink and don't use a wine that you really want to drink.

Avoid using "cooking wine" or "cooking sherry"  from the 
supermarket; it contains added salt.  When it reduces, your 
dish will be too salty...yick.  And a great waste of time 
and everything else.

If you don't drink wine, buy half-bottles.  They are more 
expensive ounce for ounce but then you aren't being wasteful 
on a grander scale.

Wine will hold its flavor for a week if corked and in the 

How about using a Sauvignon Blanc, known for its herbaceous 
quality as a wine, in a dish highlighting herbs. Zinfandels 
have a berry or cherry character, which would be a nice 
background to a fruit sauce for duck. A buttery Chardonnay 
is the perfect base for a beurre blanc. If you want a 
sweeter sauce, choose a sweet wine; if you want a jammier-
tasting sauce, choose a fuller-bodied wine.

When making a wine sauce, add butter at the end for a rich 
taste.  Sometimes additional wine is added at the end, too, 
when its raw taste will reinforce its identity.

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* What happens when you cook with wine?

The final result depends on when you add the wine and what 
you do after. The alcohol, having a lower boiling point, 
will evaporate before all the liquid is gone. The alcohol 
content in wine evaporates at 178 degrees F. Water boils 
at 212 degrees F. So if you deglaze a hot pan with wine, 
initially more alcohol will evaporate than water.  

As the amount of alcohol decreases in proportion to the 
water, less  alcohol evaporates. This is called reducing 
or making a reduction.  When you reduce, you decrease the 
volume and increase and amplify all the flavors.

Depending on how much you let the wine reduce (and if other 
liquid is present), 0-60% of the alcohol could still remain. 
Extended cooking time will also decrease the amount of 

* Many people think that the sulfites in red wine cause them 
headaches or a flushing and they say they are allergic.

In most cases, true allergic reactions to sulfites is man-
ifested in respiratory problems. It probably isn't the 
sulfites causing the symptoms, but rather the tannins in 
the red wine.

Second, there are actually more sulfites in white wine than 
in red.  The same sulfites used to prevent oxidation in 
wine are used to keep the lettuce on a salad bar or a fast 
food french fry from turning brown, usually in much higher 
quantities. If you can eat or drink these, it isn't the 
sulfites affecting you.

When cooking with wine containing sulfites, you do not con-
centrate them as you would flavor, but rather they evaporate 
like alcohol.

Typically, in a recipe that serves 4, you may add 1/4 to 1/2 
cup of wine. That is approximately 1/2 to 1 glass, if you 
were drinking it.  

You are then going to heat this, so some (or all) of the 
alcohol evaporates, and then divide it among 4 people. As 
you can see, the amount of alcohol consumed per person 
eating the dish is not very large, and in fact may not 
even be there at all.

Remember W.C. Fields said: "I cook with wine. Sometimes I 
even add it to the food."


Questions...Comments...? email Lizzy

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