Wine is one of the most common and flavorful additions to any meal — and not just as a companion during preparation and eating, either. Cooking with wine is a great addition to the home chef’s arsenal of tools and tricks, but not using it properly can ruin a meal. From ignoring flavor faults to tossing out old wine, here are nine of the more common mistakes the home chef can make while cooking with wine.
Ignoring the Details in Taste — for Wine and Dish
Taste matters, especially in wine and food, and it can be tricky to ensure that the subtle and distinct flavors in a particular wine will match and enhance the meal you have in mind.
When cooking spicier fare, use aromatic and fruity wines like gewürztraminer and riesling. For heartier and more robust dishes, try a bigger wine like a zinfandel. If what you’re making is light, try a pinot noir or chianti, because their flavors are more subtle and aren’t likely to overpower the dish.
If you regularly buy your wine online, City Wine Cellar is a great place to peruse different wines. Their descriptions are thorough and telling, which will help ensure you make a good choice when you have a particular recipe in mind.
Sticking With Common Meats
Photo Credits (Flickr CC): Roast Beef by Christopher
Far too many home chefs stick to the big three: chicken, pork and beef. It can be harder to find more exotic meats, but using different meats when you’re cooking with wine will really up your game. More exotic meats like quail, venison or elk take well to red wine sauces and reductions. They can take a little longer to cook, so you’ll have plenty of time to whip up a wine-based sauce.
Using Expensive Wine
Photo Credits (Flickr CC): Wine by Brendan
It can be tempting to think that an expensive bottle of wine will make a better sauce, but the truth is: Excellent wine should be enjoyed with the meal — not as the meal. The subtleties and delicacies of a high-quality bottle of wine rarely translate in a cooked environment. Save your money, and cook with less expensive wines.
Ignoring Faults in Flavor
Photo Credits (Flickr CC): Steaming Pot by Eddie
Of course, not every cheap bottle of wine should be cooked with, either. Before you cook with any wine, smell it and taste it. If you discern anything unpleasant that you wouldn’t want to have in your food experience, skip it and choose another — even if it’s brand-new.
Not Using Old Wine
Photo Credits (Flickr CC): Wine Bottles by velkr0
While it’s rare in a wine-loving household, sometimes you open a bottle of wine and don’t finish it. If you have an older bottle of wine sitting around, as long as it doesn’t smell skunky or metallic, stick it in the fridge and use it for cooking. Too often, wine lovers believe that the wine they cook with has to meet the standards of the wine they drink. It isn’t true. As long as nothing unpleasant exists in taste or scent, you’ll be fine.
Photo Credits (Flickr CC): Wine Reduction by nanamin2003
A red wine reduction is a perfect addition to almost any meal, but if you aren’t used to making one, it can be hard to avoid hurrying it along. Every time you turn the heat on high, however, you risk ruining the sauce, and every time you take it off the burner before it’s been reduced by at least half, you risk it being too watery. Practice patience in regards to reductions. They really are worth it.
Photo Credits (Flickr CC): Deglazed Pan by Evan
After you’ve pan-fried or seared anything, it’s time to deglaze the pan. Simply add a bit of wine to the pan, and let it absorb and dissolve any remaining remnants of food. Add a bit more wine and some stock and reduce it. It’s a perfect complement to whatever you just cooked.
Not Making Your Own Pasta Sauce
Photo Credits (Flickr CC): Pasta by Taz
Unless you grew up with an Italian mother or grandmother, you probably don’t make your own pasta sauce, which is a shame. Tomato sauces, in particular, are remarkably simple, and a little red wine added to the batch will work wonders, because the acidity in the wine and the acidity in the tomatoes play so well off one another. Simply sauté some onion, garlic, thyme and carrots until tender, add a quarter cup of red wine and a can or two of tomatoes. Simmer for about 45 minutes, and serve over your favorite pasta.
Assuming the Alcohol Cooks Out
Photo Credits (Flickr CC): Stove by NDStrupler
While most people wouldn’t bat an eyelash at some residual alcohol lurking in a dish, if you’re cooking for children or pregnant women, you need to keep an eye out for this one. Heat will eventually cook alcohol out of a dish, but the timing varies, and in most cases, some alcohol will remain. Here’s a handy chart that will help you gauge how time, heat and alcohol affect one another.
If you’re a home chef venturing out into the exciting world of cooking with wine, you’re about to love eating at home even more. Simply avoid these nine missteps, and pay close attention to what you do, and you’ll have mastered the art of cooking with wine in no time.
Editor’s Note: This post is in collaboration with City Wine Cellar.