If you’ve watched cooking shows and competitions, you’ve probably seen a lot of chefs cooking with wine and wondered why it is they do that.
Wine, and any alcohol for that matter, is added to cooking in order to accomplish several things in the cooking process.
Like most alcohols, the use of wine helps to tenderize the meats that you are cooking with, adding a nice acid to the overall composition of the plate. Any secret you can use in order to tenderize meat is well worth paying attention to, and doing so with wine gives you the added benefits of being able to instill a little bit of flavor into the meat itself while doing so, unlike pounding out your meat to tenderize it in the more traditional sense. The inclusion of a bit of acidity is not a bad thing as well, as most meat has an inherent sweetness to it, that the acid acts as a foil for to balance the palate.
Cooking with wine can change the boiling temperature of what you are cooking in, allowing things to cook faster or slower than normal. Alcohol boils and evaporates at a lower temperature than water does, and that allows stocks to start building up their flavor much more quickly. Also, most cooks add additional salt to their water in preparations in order to speed up the cooking time to bring the water to a boil. Most stocks and broths, thus, are generally very high in salt, which is not a good thing for the more heart conscious among you.
Red wines especially are good for adding a little bit of color to a dish, like when a chef poaches an egg in red wine, or deglazes a pan with it. Food is eaten with the eyes, as well as the other senses, and by being able to use a simple ingredient in order to change the appearance of food, you add another tool to your kitchen arsenal. Foods of all the same colors tend to give a bland impression to the diner, even if they are packed with flavor profiles, it helps to foil that just a little bit with a splash of color, and why not add that color with something that will add to and enhance the flavors and textures of your food, instead of using garnishes or food coloring to do the job?
Wines are tremendously flavorful bases for reduction sauces and impart quite a bit of flavor to these as well. The varieties of wine out there can bring a lot of diverse flavors into the meals they are added too. Reduced down, wine intensifies in color, flavor, and texture, becoming a thick glaze-like consistency eventually that is good for highlighting other foods. If you deglaze a pan with wine after searing meat and vegetables in it, wine is especially good at drawing up those flavors from the pan, so that they are fully incorporated into the sauce.
Basic Beef Red Wine Reduction Sauce:
1. After searing a roast of your choice in a pan at very high heat, and setting it in the oven to begin roasting, take a cup of your favorite red wine, Merlot is good for this, and add it slowly to the hot pan with the grease from the sear, whisking slowly to work the wine around and gather up all the flavors that cooked off the meat.
2. Take the resulting liquid, after its come to a boil, and pour it into a medium sized sauce pan and add another cup of the Merlot to the mixture, along with some fragrant herbs. Thyme and Rosemary work especially well for this.
3. Bring the mixture to a boil again, stirring all the while, then reduce the heat to medium and continue to cook, stirring often, until the liquid is reduced to about half its former volume, about a cup.
4. Remove the heat from the pan, and pull out your roast. The sauce should be well reduced before the roast is finished in the oven, unless your working with a very small roast indeed.
5. Brush or ladle the sauce over your roast, being sure to cover the top of the meat as thoroughly as possible. You can also slowly pour the sauce over the roast directly from the pan if that’s your preference.
6. Return the roast to the oven and finish out its cooking time. The sauce will work the flavors into the meat, both from above with the liberal coating, but also up from the pan where the drippings rest, working into the muscle tissue of the beef and awakening all the various flavors, without having to continually baste it continually.