Saturday, March 9, 2013

Cooking with Leftover Wine

I’ve written before about how to save wine to drink later.  The best method is the combination of a gas spray (like Private Preserve) and refrigeration.  But what if you just want to cook with it?  For cooking, I have lower standards for what the wine tastes like, I want an easier way to preserve the wine, and I want to be able to keep it around for a longer time.  Here are some strategies for saving your wine and some ideas for how to cook with it.

How to Save It

Please don’t leave it on the counter!  The same chemical reactions that make wine unpleasant to drink will make it unpleasant to cook with.  To preserve wine for cooking, you don’t need to do as much as you would to preserve it for drinking, but you do need to do something to prevent oxidation and spoilage. 

Freezing is the best option.  It degrades the wine’s flavor somewhat, but keeps it from oxidizing.  A great technique for freezing wine is to pour it by the tablespoonful into an ice tray, as demonstrated in this video by America’s Test Kitchen:

A lazier method I’ve used is to remove the cork (because the wine will need room to expand) and just put the bottle straight into the freezer.  This works if you plan to use the wine all at once.  Otherwise you end up having to thaw it then refreeze it later, which is not as convenient.

You may notice after freezing white wine and defrosting it that there are small white crystals visible in the wine.  This can happen when tartaric acid precipitates out of white wine because it has been chilled and then warmed up to room temperature.  It’s nothing to worry about, and you can still cook with it.

How to Use It

Keep in mind that the flavors in wine will become more concentrated when it’s cooked.  This is why many people follow the rule that if you wouldn’t drink it, you shouldn’t cook with it.  Also consider that wines with heavy tannins and/or oak aromas could contribute too much bitterness or oakiness to your food.  (Find out more about tannin here.)

You can use wine in lots of things you cook.  Here are some ideas:

  • Use to deglaze a pane
  • Use in place of an acidic ingredient
  • Use in place of some of the liquid in the recipe
  • Use a small amount in a salad dressing
  • For red wine:
  • For white wine:
    • Add to soups
    • Add a splash to a stir-fry
    • Use as part of the liquid in risotto
    • Use in a chicken marinade
    • Add a splash over fish before it’s baked or grilled
    • Add to any dish where you’d add lemon or lime juice
    • Use as part of the liquid in bread making

Don’t be afraid to experiment!  I’ve used wine in many unusual places and it’s never turned out badly.  If you’re not sure, just use a small amount so the flavor will be subtle.  If you’re using wine where it will not be cooked (such as in salad dressings), use a very small amount, because the flavor could quickly become overpowering.

What happens to the alcohol when the wine is cooked?

If you’re concerned about any alcohol remaining in the dish, these guidelines from Cooking Light will help you out:

"Conventional wisdom holds that after a few minutes of cooking, the alcohol in wine evaporates. That's not exactly the case. Research from the USDA shows that 85 percent of the alcohol remains after wine is added to a boiling liquid and then removed from the heat. The longer a dish is cooked, however, the less alcohol remains. If a food is baked or simmered 15 minutes, 40 percent of the alcohol will remain; after one hour, only 25 percent remains; after 2 1/2 hours, just 5 percent. But since wine does not have a large amount of alcohol to begin with (generally 12 to 14 percent), the final amount of alcohol in a dish is not a problem for most people." 

So have fun, get creative, and most of all, don’t waste that leftover wine!

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