A wine labeled “cooking wine” is usually an inferior wine that would not be drunk on its own. It typically lacks distinction, and ironically, flavor. Sometimes they are loaded in salt and preservatives.
A good home chef will never use these products, but instead use a good quality wine, they would drink on its own. Be sure to use wine which compliments the food with which it is paired.
That being said, there is no need to spend a fortune on wine destined for sauces and stews. Some of those $10 bottles can taste delicious and will make a significant difference in your cooking applications.
Alternative to wine
If you are anxious about alcohol in your food, beef and chicken broth can be your nonalcoholic substitution, for those recipes calling for a small amount. The dish may not taste exactly as intended, but the recipe should work. Make sure to use the LOW-SODIUM options.
For every 1/2 cup of broth used, you should also stir in 1/2 teaspoon of red or white vinegar or lemon juice before serving, which will replicate some of the acidity otherwise provided by the wine.
Choosing a cooking wine
Chose red wines which are medium-bodied, un-oaked varieties that are not terribly tannic. Use American or Australian wines, or if want a French blend, get one from Côte du Rhône. Heavy Cabernets are not a good choice for cooking.
Australia’s Banrock Station has a Merlot (<$10) which is a softer style of wine. It has ripe fruit aromas of blueberry, raspberry and plum. It starts very crisp, but has a delicate finish. Very faint toasty oak characteristics.
The best white wines for cooking are medium or light bodied, un-oaked varieties, which are not to sweet. Professionals recommend a crisp, dry Sauvignon Blanc or a sweet Riesling, which can compliment subtle food flavors.
I like using a white Zinfandel for chicken or poultry dishes requiring a wine.
Zinfandel consists of red wine grapes originally thought to be indigenous to California. Recently, experts have concluded the Zinfandel grape was brought to the United States from Italy’s Puglia region, and is a descendant of the primitive grape grown there. White Zinfandel is also known as a blush wine.
Fortified wines are have been augmented with a dose of brandy or some other spirit. Fortification can add a distinct flavor to the finished product.
Typically, grape brandy is added to produce fortified wines, the additional alcohol may also be a neutral spirit which has been made from grapes, grain, sugar beets or sugarcane. Regional laws dictate the types of spirits are permitted for fortification. In the United States, only spirits from grapes maybe used.
The fortified wines I keep on-hand are Marsala, Port, Sherry and Vermouth.
These are available at most liquor stores and sometimes in the wine section of your local supermarket.
Marsala’s have a rich, smoky flavor, much of which comes from oxidation during aging.
Dry Marsalas are typically served as aperitifs, whereas many of the semisweet and sweet styles make better dessert wines. Remember, we cook with, what we would drink.
Marsala gives stews, cooking for a long period of time, a silky texture and rich flavor. It works especially well in beef dishes, enhancing the savory umami flavor.
Port is a sweet fortified wine whose name derives from the fact that such wines are shipped out of the Portuguese city of Oporto. It is typically a sweet red wine, but also is available in dry, semi-dry and white varieties.
Ports are classified by their time of bottling, age, and type of grapes used during blending. Typically red grapes, such as Zinfandel or Cabernet Sauvignon are used to make Ports.
Port can be paired with chicken, stews and soups.
Sherry is a fortified wine originally made in Spain, but now is blended in the United States, Australia and South Africa.
Sherries range in color, flavor, and sweetness. They are available from connoisseur quality, to inexpensive, mass-produced varieties.
Sherry is great for caramelizing onions.
FINO – considered the world’s finest sherry. Pale, delicate and very dry.
MANZANILLA – also dry, salty. Served cold and often accompany seafood.
AMONTILLADO – a medium sherry with a very nutty flavor.
OLOROSO – sweet, full-flavored and dark in color. Aged and more expensive.
Vermouth has a shelf life of several months and makes a great substitute for white wine in sauces and savory recipes. Vermouth adds herbaceous notes to any dish because they are flavored with a complex formula of botanicals, including herbs, spices flowers and seeds.
Although all vermouths are derived from white wines, they can be classified as either dry or sweet.
It’s flavor begins to dissipate as soon as it has been opened; therefore, it should be stored in the refrigerator for not more than 3 months.
Although traditionally used in cocktails, there are several recipes using vermouth as a deglazing agent.
Beef Marsala Stew
The Marsala is a very important component and makes the gravy in the stew, silky and velvety – great for a cold winter day.
Beef Marsala Stew
Ideal for the slow-cooker. I made this when I knew my granddaughter was visiting, so I could brown the meat ahead of time and let the slow-cooker do the rest. Very easy to prepare.
- 2 Tbsp canola oil divided
- 2 lbs boneless chuck roast trimmed, cut into 2-inch cubes
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 12 oz frozen, chopped onions
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 Tbsp tomato paste
- 1/2 cup Marsala wine + 2 additional Tablespoons
- 1 1/2 cups beef stock
- 1 tsp black pepper
- 3 fresh thyme sprigs
- 8 ozs button muchrooms
- 4 carrots, cut into 1-inch lengths
- 2 Tbsp all purpose flour
Heat a large, heavy duty skillet over medium-high heat. I advise NOT using a non-stick skillet.
Add 1 Tablespoons of the canola oil to the pan; swirl to coat the skillet. Add half the beef that has been cubed. Turning to brown all sides.
Once browned, place beef in a 6-quart slow-cooker. Add 1 Tablespoon of canola oil to skillet and brown the rest of the beef, then, add it to the slow-cooker. Sprinkle with a pinch of kosher salt.
Add onions to the hot skillet. Cook one minute, stirring a couple of times to prevent burning. Add garlic to skillet. Saute for 30 seconds or until fragrant.
Add tomato paste; cook for one minute; stirring constantly.
Add 1/2 a cup of the Marsala wine to deglaze the pan. Scrape pan to loosen brown bits; cook for two minutes or until half the liquid evaporates.
Add beef stock and black pepper to the skillet, bring to a simmer.
Carefully pour liquid from skillet into the slow-cooker. Nestle the thyme springs into the liquid.
Top the beef mixture with the mushrooms; scatter the cut carrots on top.
Cover and cook on LOW for about 7 - 7 1/2 hours.
After cooking for 7 - 7 1/2 hours, using a slotted spoon, remove the beef from the pot. Place in serving dish.
Strain the remaining liquid from the slow-cooker through a colandar. Discard the thyme sprigs.
Place strained liquid in a medium sized pot and bring to a boil. Cook for 6 minutes or until liquid has reduced to about 2 cups.
Stir in remaining salt.
In a small container, combine the 2 Tablespoons of Marsala and flour. Whisk to form a slurry.
Stir the slurry into the simmering liquid. Cook for one minute or until bubbly, stirring constantly. The liquid should have thickened.
Pour over the beef mixture. Toss to combine. Garnish with fresh thyme. Serve with mashed potatoes.
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