Awesome cooking with wine — How to add amazing flavors to many dishes

Yep, we love drinking wine. Just the two of us or with friends. Happy hour on the balcony, casual lunch, or festive dinner.

Photo by Zan Wrue on Unsplash

However, I learned from my dad many years ago, that wine is a must-have ingredient for many wonderful dishes. He only put white wine in all sorts of sauces but there are many great dishes where red wine and even Champagne can enhance the flavor tremendously.

Julia Child once said, “Food, like the people who eat it, can be stimulated by wine or spirits. And, as with people, it can also be spoiled.” That's coming from who is also known to drop one-liners, like “I enjoy cooking with wine. Sometimes, I even put it in the food.”

Wine can add elements of flavor, aroma, and moisture to a dish. Since red wine is more tannic and has bolder flavors than white wine, it can add light and crisp acidity to many dishes.

My golden rules for cooking with wine
Over time, I’ve learned some of the rules the hard way. Of course, who hasn’t? Here they are:

Never cook with any wine that you wouldn’t also drink!

Never use so-called cooking wines. They are of the lowest quality. You would never drink them.

Use a good quality wine that is able to add characteristic flavors to a dish.

WHAT’S COOKING AMERICA writes: “Wine has three main uses in the kitchen — as a marinade ingredient, as a cooking liquid, and as a flavoring in a finished dish. The function of wine in cooking is to intensify, enhance, and accent the flavor and aroma of food — not to mask the flavor of what you are cooking but rather to fortify it.”

White Wine
Like my dad, I use white wine for many of my chicken dishes. Like a dry Riesling for Coq au Vin or a Sauvignon Blanc for Braised Chicken. For most of my seafood dishes, white wine is a must. Seared Scallops are so much tastier with Pinot Gris. Steamed Clams love to be cooked with Viognier. My favorite: Mussels in Sauvignon Blanc.

Photos by Max Anderson (left) and Nikolay Smeh on Unsplash

My go-to recipe for Steamed Mussels: I cook the mussels in olive oil, garlic, and shallots for about a minute and then add 1–2 cups of Sauvignon Blanc, depending on the number of mussels, close the lid, and steam the mussels for another 5 minutes or so until they open. Important: Serve with Baguette bread to sop up the broth!

Red Wine
Red wine adds flavor to marinades, pan sauces, braises, and more. Cabernet Sauvignon is great for braising meat like ribs and lamb. Merlots are great for pan sauces and sauce reductions. Pinot Noir is a much lighter varietal that cooks nicely with a meaty stew. The light wine will tenderize the meat as it cooks and works with the fatty flavors. (MasterClass).

Photos by Kathy Lee (left) and Jason Leung on Unsplash

You will most often find me using red wine with homemade pasta sauces. As with white wine, I’m cooking with a red that I also enjoy drinking. Bold, dry red wines go best with tomato sauce, so a nice Cabernet Sauvignon or maybe even a Zinfandel will do very well.

I discovered homemade pasta sauce in Germany, of all places. (Well, it’s my home country, of course.) But they use very little red wine. Not to worry, though, here is a recipe I found last year in Zestful Kitchen, and it tastes just delicious!

The secret is in the reduction of red wine. After sauteeing (grated) onions, garlic, and Oregano, I add a half cup of wine and cook it down until it’s almost gone. Then I add another 1/2 cup and let it simmer until it’s reduced by half. THEN you stir in the crushed tomatoes and a little honey. Let it simmer for another 10 or 15 minutes. Toss with pasta and don’t forget the Baguette bread!

Champagne or Prosecco
I prefer dry Prosecco to Champagne for obvious reasons: cost. The good news is: you can practically use Prosecco in most dishes where you cook with white wine. However, there are some dishes that are famous for adding bubbly.

Photos by Julian Pianetti (left) and Jeshoots on Unsplash

Prosecco Parmesan Risotto starts with sauteed onions and about 5 minutes of cooking Arborio rice in them. When the rice is translucent, you start pouring in a cup of Prosecco. When it’s absorbed by the rice, add another cup and then a third cup. Do the same with 3 cups of chicken broth before adding Parmesan. I found this Heather Christo recipe but I gladly substitute Champagne with Prosecco.

As you can see, I have fully incorporated wines and bubblies into many dishes and created wonderful meals that are not too difficult and reproducible.

I want to end with another Julia Child quote: “The best way to execute French cooking is to get good and loaded, and whack the hell out of a chicken. Bon appétit.” I love that woman!

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Rich Neher

Rich Neher

Born and raised in Germany, I dislike politicians and like performing arts. I enjoy writing, acting, opera, cooking, fine wine, traveling, and playing tennis.