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Cooking with wine isn’t that hard. Step one: never buy cooking wine

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Photo: WANS

Photo: WANS

Cooking with wine doesn’t have to just mean cooking while drinking wine.

One of my resolutions for this year is to eat healthier and cook more meals at home. This is my third annual attempt at this goal but I’m determined to be successful this year. As someone who works with wine every day, and is known to enjoy the odd glass or three, imagine my surprise when I discovered that cooking with wine is healthy, low fat, and will enhance the flavour of most dishes. And I thought I was going to have to cut back on my wine consumption to be healthier! It turns out that you can replace cooking oil and butter with wine, in everything from marinades and sauces to cake recipes. Fantastic, let’s open a bottle and get started.

My previous knowledge on this topic was from recipes that called for “cooking wine.” This is the wine you find in the grocery store aisle. Cooking wine not only tastes bad, but it’s also full of unhealthy salts, avoid at all costs.

If you’re going to drink a $20 wine with dinner, do you need to use that same wine to cook with? Well, yes and no. The rule of thumb is: don’t cook with a wine that you wouldn’t drink. There are lots of great wines under $25, and many in the $15 range that are perfect to cook with. So keep the expensive bottle for the meal and experiment in the kitchen with the affordable but tasty wines that you have been drinking all along.

The first step in cooking with wine is to open the bottle, pour a glass and take a drink. Now you’re ready to start cooking. Since researching my 2013 resolution, I have uncovered a few creative and tasty things to do with wine and cooking. (I’m also working on a follow-up article with more specific recipes, with recipes from a few local chefs.)

Wine is great for sauces and reductions. Just add wine and simmer. Red wine will add flavour and complexity to any type of red sauce. When making a reduction, let the wine simmer until it’s less than half its volume. Use white wine to simmer or poach fish, or make a cream sauce. Don’t be too concerned about the alcohol, as it will evaporate well before the boiling point of water. Just be sure to add the wine early in the cooking process to allow the flavours to concentrate.

Try wine in a salad dressing. This is where you can substitute out some of the oil and still add sparkle to your dressing. If you’re used to sautéing vegetables in butter, just substitute in some wine and reduce the amount of butter. Wine is also a great ingredient in marinades. The acids in wine will aid in tenderizing meat, and it adds lots of flavour. A wine-based marinade will even keep seafood or meat moist while it cooks. And yes, you can bake a healthier cake with wine; just add wine instead of oil to the cake batter and cut back the fat.

One of the keys to cooking with wine is to match up the wine with the dish. The richness of a chardonnay will pair well with a cream sauce. When cooking a sauce with mushrooms, the earthiness of a pinot noir will match up nicely. A heavily reduced red sauce calls for a big red wine, like a cabernet sauvignon or Australian Shiraz. And my personal favorite is making a tomato sauce for spaghetti with Chianti from Italy. Finish off your meal with a Nova Scotia dessert wine, or ice wine poured over berries or ice cream. Don’t be afraid to use the leftover wine from your fridge for cooking, as long as it’s not more than three or four days old.

As always, share with friends and enjoy!

The under-$25 wine review

Jacob’s Creek Cool Harvest Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Australia, NSLC, $14.49

Jacob’s Creek is a big Australian winery that produces lots of affordable, every-day wines. The label that says the grapes are harvested at night “when it is cool to capture the clean, crisp flavour of the grapes” intrigued me. Aromas of citrus and fresh cut grass; smells like a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. Only 10.5 per cent alcohol, meaning flavours are juicy, but there is none of that mouth puckering acidity of a Sauvignon Blanc. Off-dry (read: sweet) finish. It also has effervescence—little bubbles. I’m guessing with the price and catchy label, the market for this line (there are other varietals) is the younger and/or newer wine drinker. More of an aperitif. Serve with something spicy like curry chicken. 84/100

Hogue Genesis Syrah 2009, Columbia Valley, Washington State, NSLC, $18.99

Are you a little weary of those big and jam-like Shirazs from Australia that have the high alcohol and overpower a lot of food? Here’s a nice alternative. French Rhone in style, and much more subtle, with some brambly flavours, a touch of smoke and a chalky, licorice finish. There aren’t a lot of wines from Washington State available in Halifax; this one is great value. Pair with grilled or roasted pork chops. 89/100

80–84: A great sipper, good value.
85–89: Won’t last long, great value.
90–94: Brag to your friends and buy a case—fantastic.
95–100: A classic, run to the store, extremely rare.

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