Wine is one of the most ubiquitous ingredients in all of cooking. It is a must-have ingredient in much of Spanish, French, and Italian cooking, but certain types of wine can also appear in dishes from England, Germany, or even China. Regional variations in wine types and preparation methods mean that cooks who specialize in a particular sort of cuisine can craft their dishes with their own local wines, adding to their authenticity.
Why is wine such a popular ingredient? Part of its success has to do with the intensity of flavors that it can carry. Unlike cooking with water, cooking with wine can deliver a powerful punch of fruitiness, sweetness, acidity, or even spice to the heart of your dish. Additionally, the alcohol in wine can actually help to develop other flavors in your food. This is why vodka cream sauce with pasta is such a huge hit.
If you’ve been using wine in your recipes, but you don’t quite know why, here are five things that you might not know about cooking with wine.
1. Not All Wines are Created Equal
Have you ever wandered into the “cooking wine” aisle of your grocery or liquor store? Well, in case you ever do, remember to back away as quickly as possible. When we cook wine, we’re reducing it down, concentrating all of its flavors. Good flavors become better and bad flavors become worse.
Those of us who have tried to drink cooking wine at one point in our lives know why this is a bad thing. Much of cooking wine is completely undrinkable, filled with artificial preservatives. In fact, cooking wine can often contain salt, which — needless to say — does not boost its flavor profile.
However, the poor quality of cooking wine doesn’t mean that you have to or even should start cooking with top shelf Napa Valley wines. Here’s my rule of thumb: find a cheap drinkable wine that suits your dish and cook with that. It’s drinkable, so you know that the flavors are good, and you won’t break the bank by spending $30+ on a wine just so that you can add a splash to your risotto.
2. Unlike Diamonds, Wine is Not Forever
Although wine is famous for developing as it ages, its maturing properties should not be taken as a rule in the kitchen. In fact, about 99 percent of all wine should be drunk shortly after being purchased. However, the most important thing to know in the kitchen is that wine will start to go bad within a few days of opening. Once exposed to open air, wine starts to turn to vinegar. Most wines should last for a few days in the fridge with the cork back on, but after that they won’t taste as good.
For this reason, I actually like to cook with boxed wine a lot of the time. Many dishes only take a splash or two of wine and, if you don’t plan on finishing the bottle with that very same meal, you’re not getting the wine at its best. Box wines are protected from exposure to the open air, making them last much longer than your average bottle without the use of preservatives.
3. You Can Cook With Homemade Wine
Alongside the farm-to-table trend in restaurants, home cooks are trying to do more from scratch while relying less on pre-mixed ingredients from the grocery store. From personalized spice mixes to garden veggies, homemade is in. What might surprise you, though, is that you can make wine at home too.
It takes quite a while — a couple months at least — but once you’re finished you’ll be able to create a more personalized dish than ever before. Once you’ve tasted your homemade wine, it’s probably best to save it for a special event.
4. Wine is Good for You — In Moderation
Certainly one important part of home cooking is our ability to know exactly what it is that we’re putting in our food. For many of us, this helps us keep out unhealthy processed foods while tracking our consumption of things that are good for our gut.
Well, you can add wine to the list of health foods, right under vegetables, fermented foods, and fish. Today, many scientists believe that the tannins common in red wines can contribute to heart health. New research is going so far as to suggest that wine may help treat mesothelioma, a form a lung cancer.
5. People Have Been Using Wine for Millennia
Wine is probably one of the oldest ingredients in the human culinary experience. The oldest known wine is about 9,000 years old. Made from rice and honey, this drink predates the Roman Empire and the Pyramids.
Although modern wine is prized for its flavor and complexity, wine was popular among early humans because it was often cleaner than the local water. The fermentation process that all wines undergo actually kills off many harmful bacteria, turning ordinary grapes into a safe, tasty beverage. Over many many years, the careful growing of grapes in historic vineyards across Europe has led to wine as we know it today.
A bottle of wine is something that you’ll see in almost every kitchen. By knowing more about how to cook with wine and why we do it, we can all become better home cooks. Happy cooking!
This was a guest post by Katie Kapro
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