Cooking with Wine

If You Won’t Drink It, Don’t Cook With It

As the old saying goes, “I enjoy cooking with wine… sometimes I even put it in the food!” Keep that in mind as you ponder which wine to use when you’re cooking, along with Chef Jill’s mantra:

“Cook with a wine you would actually drink!”
               – Chef Jill Garcia Schmidt

This is one of the most important rules of cooking with wine. It doesn’t have to be the highest quality wine at the liquor store, but don’t use a ‘cooking wine’ from the grocery store that is going to give your food a vinegar-y taste. If you have a bottle open that you enjoy drinking, use it!  You don’t have to open a new bottle. But please take a whiff of your open wine to make sure it doesn’t have an acidic or ‘off’ smell.)  If it does, pour it down the sink.)

So, which kind of wine should you cook with? Here are some notes to keep in mind on that point:

  • If your recipe calls out a specific wine varietal (e.g. a dry rosé, Chablis, etc.), then use that one.
  • Pinot Grigio wine is a crisp, dry white that offers a floral, fruity flavor.
  • Riesling wine will be sweeter.
  • Chardonnay wine is dry, with an earthy, woody flavor.
  • Red wine traditionally works well with red meat, like a steak.
  • Merlot pairs well with dishes that are tomato-based.
  • Cabernet Sauvignon is a good compliment to dishes with an beefy, herby flavor.

Bottomline, cook with what you like and what marries with the dish you are making.

Sauteed Fish with Wine SauceTry this tasty wine sauce for your sautéed fish at home and prepare it using a Pinot Grigio (or similar varietal):

  • Mince 2 cloves of garlic and 1 large shallot.
  • Sauté two to four fish steak or filets in a medium hot skillet in which you have melted about 2 tablespoons of butter. Once you have good color on both sides, remove from heat to a plate to rest while you prepare your wine sauce. (Be careful not to have the heat so high that the butter burns.)
  • Turn your heat down. Add a little more butter to the pan, plus the minced garlic and shallots, and brown (but don’t burn!) your garlic, then remove the pan from the heat. Leave the burner on low if you are using an electric cooktop or turn the burner off completely if you are using a gas burner.
  • Add about 1/2 cup or so of wine, pouring at the edge of the pan to avoid flames, then return the pan to the heat.  If it flames, just let it burn out. If you get nervous, put a lid on the pan. (Don’t douse it with water or baking soda.)
  • Let the wine reduce down, so all the alcohol is cooked off and the flavor remains.   Chef Jill uses the ‘Drunk Uncle’ method of deciding when the wine is cooked off enough to continue with your recipe. She explains it like this…  When you add your wine to the pan, it’s going to smell very much like wine – in fact, it smells a lot like the breath of someone who has had a bit too much VINO at the party! She recommends letting the wine simmer until you no longer get that ‘wine breath’ smell. At this point, you should just get the wonderful smells of your fish, the garlic and butter, plus any other herbs & spices you choose to add to your sauce.
  • When the liquid is reduced and the wine cooked off, season with salt, pepper and a bit of fresh green herbs to taste, if desired. Pour it over your fish to serve.  Enjoy!

One last thing to keep in mind when cooking with wine…  Follow your recipe instructions, if given. But feel free to experiment. You can trade out wine for broth, stock, water, juice, tea, etc. Just do an even-Steven swap.

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We’d love to hear your ‘cooking with wine’ stories. Leave a comment below and let us know!

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