Chef David’s Tips to Cooking With Wine – The Saga Continues
Experimentation is the foundation to almost all great dishes. However, your results will be closer to what you are expecting if your experimentation relies on some underlying principles rather than total randomness. Below are some general guidelines to direct you on your culinary journey.
1. Choose the type of wine best-suited for the type of food.
Generally, a light-flavored wine goes best with delicately flavored foods. It would follow that a bold-tasting wine might do well in a boldly flavored dish.
Experimentation can yield good results, however in general, light-colored meats like chicken and fish are best paired with light-colored wines (white), while dark-colored meats, like beef, are paired with dark-colored wines (red). An example of a good pairing is my Braised Beef in Cabernet Sauvignon (similar to Beef Bourguignon). Red dinner wines go well with hearty or highly-seasoned foods such as beef, pork, game, duck, goose, and pasta dishes with heavy red sauces, while white dinner wines tend to work with dishes containing chicken, turkey, fish, shellfish, ham and veal.
2. Dry vs. Sweet
A very dry wine has very few natural sugars remaining and is usually higher in alcohol. In contrast, the sweeter wines still contain a larger amount of natural sugar from the grapes. So choose the type of wine depending on the flavor you want in the dish you’re making.
3. Play off the subtle flavors in wine.
Here are some of the subtle food-like flavors that can come through in wine which you may want to capitalize on by adding some to dishes containing these foods:
White wine: apple, pineapple, pear, citrus, vanilla, melon, caramel, olives and mushrooms
Red wine: berries, peaches, currants, plums, cherries, oranges, chocolate and coffee.
If in doubt, read the back label. Most quality wines will have a description of what supporting flavors are in the wine. This does not mean the wine producers are adding flavors to their wines, it simply means the esters in the wine will have these various flavors. If all else fails, taste the wine and make the determination yourself.
4. Tannins and acid
“Acid” is a term used to describe both red and white wines, and it refers to the sharp bite in the wine (much like you would experience with lemon juice or vinegar). Acids are very important. They can help bring out the natural flavors in a mild food, such as fish (this is why fish is often served with an acidic wedge of lemon).
Tannins are generally found in red wines; this word refers to the bitter element in the wine (similar to the bitterness you find in a strong cup of tea). Tannins act like palate cleansers when paired with foods high in protein, such as meat. The tannins in red wine pair well with strongly flavored dishes and hearty foods, like a nice juicy steak.
5. Consider the preparation
It is important to consider not only the type of meat but the way the meat is prepared when choosing a wine to use in cooking or serve at the table. For example, a dish heavy on the spices usually needs a full-bodied wine to stand up to it. One with a light or creamy sauce calls for a drier, light wine. Choosing a “bone-dry” Chianti to go with your spicy lasagna will enhance the dining experience, as will a nice Chardonnay with your broiled tuna steak. However, if you were to serve the tuna blackened with my spicy Cajun Dirt Seasoning, stick with the dry red Chianti. You will need a full-flavored wine to stand up to the heavy spices, even though white wine normally goes with fish.
6. That last tip to cooking with wine: Have fun!
Feel free to experiment while cooking or baking with wine. Get creative, and try to invent new flavor combinations.
Remember, after you have created something spectacular, don’t forget to write down how you did it! One of the saddest experiences a chef or home cook will have is not being able to successfully recreate a wonderful dish because we did not adequately document the process. I recommend to all my students that they maintain a conveniently small journal where they can make notes, recipes, wine tasting notes, etc. This will go a long way in the recipe development process as well as wine buying (as there are literally thousands of wines available for purchase).
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