Cooking with wine was first introduced by the Romans but it is French chefs who have been credited with refining the techniques. Even though other cultures have used wine in cooking, it is the classic French methods that have prevailed. These include braising, deglazing, marinating and poaching.
Braising with Wine
Braising will help to take a modest cut of meat and make it become extra special. You can use simple cuts such as beef, lamb or pork shoulder, beef or lamb shanks, chicken thighs, beef brisket or various stewing meats. You can even use this process with vegetables.
Braising meat in butter or oil sears it to create a dark golden flavourful crust. Wine and stock are then added and the meat is then left to simmer. The acidity of the wine tenderizes the meat while the alcohol cooks off.
Bold flavourful red wines such as Shiraz or Cabernet Sauvignon are best for braising as they will provide good flavour, complexity and richness to your dish.
Deglazing with Wine
Deglazing a pan with wine is one of the easiest ways to make a sauce. Start by pan-searing chicken, pork, beef, lamb or even eggplant to brown them as described in braising above. Once seared, add wine to the pan to loosen the caramelized brown bits. The wine reduces and becomes concentrated in the hot pan. In addition to helping to make a tasty sauce it helps to clean the pan.
Deglazing works best with meats and vegetables that are thick enough to brown before becoming overcooked. Be careful not to rush the process in order to prevent charring. A generous amount of oil in the pan will help with the browning. Any excess can be poured off prior to adding the wine. To give the sauce more length and flavour, stock, cream, chilled butter, sour cream, water or jam may be added.
Depending on what’s on the menu, either red or white wine may be a suitable choice. When selecting a red however, it is important to select one with lower tannins. Otherwise, when the wine is concentrated it will become bitter. A Pinot Noir or Gamay is always a good choice.
Marinating with Wine
Wine will infuse flavour into whatever meal you are preparing. The acidity in the wine will break down meat tissue and tenderize it.
Marinades usually consist of an acid (wine, lemon or lime juice or vinegar and oil) as well as flavour additives, such as maple syrup, soy sauce, brown sugar, herbs, spices, sesame seed oil or mustard.
The wine to use in the marinade should be selected in the same manner as you would when pairing a wine to enjoy with the dinner itself. The meat, fish or vegetable being prepared should determine the wine selected for the marinade. For darker meats like beef or lamb, red wine will complement their flavour. White wines are better suited for fish, poultry or vegetables.
That being said, keep in mind that the wine needs to have enough acidity to tenderize the dish. Either the description on the wine label or the store shelf should provide the necessary information. If not, the store staff should be able to assist you in making the appropriate selection.
Poaching with Wine
Poaching simmers delicate foods like fish and poultry in a flavourful liquid. The acid in wine, lemon or lime juice or vinegar helps cook the food and enhances its flavour. The poaching liquid needs to be well seasoned and the food is often served with a sauce to give additional flavour. The food being poached should always be simmered and be completely submerged to ensure it cooks evenly.
In order to avoid discolouration of what is being cooked, white wine is usually recommended when poaching. Suggested grape varietals include Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc.
When pairing the wine with what you are preparing, select a wine of the same colour and similar characteristics. Lighter dishes should be paired with a lighter bodied wine while heavier dishes should be combined with medium or full-bodied wines.
No matter what you are preparing and how you are preparing it, keep in mind that you will also want to drink it. Most recipes don’t require an entire bottle of wine so what’s left should be something that you will enjoy drinking.