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Tips on Cooking with Wine

Food & Wine's Marcia Kiesel shares her expertise.

Her 20+ years at Food & Wine have taught Test Kitchen Supervisor Marcia Kiesel exactly how to cook with wine. Here, she shares her best tips:

1. Dilute wine marinades and braises

"I love wine-based stews, but I think they need to be cut with chicken or beef stock; otherwise, they're too astringent. I prefer to use a ratio of half or one-third wine to stock. If I'm braising an exceptionally flavorful cut of meat for several hours, like lamb shanks, I have no problem adding water instead of stock. When marinating meat, I never use straight wine—again, it's just too harsh. For marinades, I cut the wine with oil."

2. Save nice wines for drinking

"Some people say that it's best to cook with the wine you're drinking. That's fine if it's an everyday $10 bottle, but not if it's something much more expensive. For the most part, wine's nuances are killed by heat, so I usually cook with an inexpensive dry white or red, even if I plan to drink a nicer bottle. If a recipe calls for a wine that's more expensive, like a Châteauneuf-du-Pape, I downgrade to a similar but less complex wine, like a Côtes-du-Rhône."

3. The exception to rule #2: Aromatic whites can transform a dish

"Usually, it doesn't matter what wine I use when cooking, but there is an exception: I've found that perfumy whites, like Riesling, Vouvray and Muscat, can give an ordinary dish so much character. When we tested a chicken-with-Riesling dish from chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, I couldn't believe how well the floral notes of the wine came through. The Riesling literally turned a simple braised chicken into an extraordinary dish."

4. If you have leftovers of a special bottle, make vinaigrette or steam mussels

"If, for some reason, I don't finish a bottle of excellent wine, I make a salad dressing with it. First, I soak minced shallots in the wine to mellow the oniony flavor. Then I add minced garlic and whisk in some good olive oil. It's not as tart as a vinegar-based vinaigrette, but it still has a lovely winey tang. If I have about a half-cup of wine left, I love to steam mussels in it. The wine is heated only briefly, so it maintains some of its distinctive flavors, which meld so beautifully with the mussel liquor. Champagne-steamed mussels are my favorite, on the rare occasion that I have any left over!"

5. Fat enriches wine sauces

"If a wine-based sauce tastes too sharp, swirling in cream or butter rounds it out so it's not quite so harsh. Plus, since fat absorbs and carries flavor, I find that cream or butter actually enhances the taste of wine in a sauce or stew."

Published October 2007
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