7 Secrets of Cooking With Wine

Raise a glass to this low-fat, high-flavor ingredient

By Elaine Magee, MPH, RD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Expert Column

You know those bottles of wine you picked up because they were on sale, and now you're wondering what you are going to do with them? I've got your answer: Cook and bake with the wine. You probably wouldn't want to cook with a special bottle of wine but those wild-card bottles collecting dust in the pantry -- why not?

When I think of wine, I think of a great fat substitute in recipes. I'm probably unusual in this regard, but I actually use wine more often in cooking than I do as a beverage with dinner.

When you take some of the fat out of dishes, you usually need to add another ingredient to replace the lost moisture. Here are some examples of how wine can do just that:

  • Instead of sauteing veggies in heaps of butter or oil, you can saute them in a smaller amount of oil plus some wine for flavor and moisture.
  • Instead of making a marinade with 1/2 cup of oil, decrease the oil to 1/4 cup and add 1/4 cup wine.
  • Instead of adding 3/4 cup of oil to a cake mix recipe, add 3/4 cup of white or dessert wine to the batter.

Here are my favorite ways to use wine in light cooking:

  • Wine helps cook and add flavor to fish. Deep-fried fish dipped in tartar sauce, albeit tasty, defeats the nutritional purpose of eating fish. One way to add flavor and moisture to fish without adding fat is to cook it with wine. You can add wine to the pan while the fish is simmering, poach the fish over a saucepan of boiling wine, or drizzle fish with a tablespoon or two of wine and bake it in a foil package.
  • Wine is a great ingredient in marinades. Wine is basically an acid ingredient (which helps tenderize the outside of the meat) and it has a lot of flavor. The wine-based marinade helps keep meat, poultry, or seafood moist while it cooks, too.
  • Wine can help cook and simmer foods. Add wine to dishes you're cooking in a skillet on the stove, in a slow cooker, or in the oven. Simmered along with the food, it adds flavor and moisture to whatever dish you're making.
  • Wine can be used in baking, too! For certain types of cakes, using wine or sherry in place of some of the fat not only lightens up the cake but adds complimentary flavors.

7 Secrets of Cooking With Wine

Ready to start experimenting with wine cookery? Here are seven basics you should know.

1. Play off the subtle flavors in wine.

Here are some of the subtle food-like flavors that can come through in wine -- which you may want to capitalize on by adding some to dishes containing these foods:

  • White wine: melon, apple, pineapple, pear, citrus, vanilla, caramel, olives, and mushrooms
  • Red wine: berries, peaches, currants, plums, cherries, oranges, chocolate, and coffee

2. Choosing dry vs. sweet

A very dry wine has very few natural sugars remaining, and is usually higher in alcohol. In contrast, the sweeter wines still contain a larger amount of natural sugar from the grapes. So choose the type of wine depending on the flavor you want in the dish you're making.

3. Tannins and acid

"Acid" is a term used to describe both red and white wines, and it refers to the sharp bite in the wine (much like you would experience with lemon juice or vinegar). Acid can help bring out the natural flavors in a mild food, such as fish (this is why fish is often served with an acidic wedge of lemon). Tannins are generally found in red wines; this word refers to the bitter element in the wine (similar to the bitterness you'll find in a strong cup of tea). The tannins in red wine pair well with strongly flavored dishes and hearty foods, like a nice juicy steak. "Tannins will act like palate cleansers when paired with foods high in protein, such as meat," says Marshall Rimann, host of The Wine Cellar, a radio show originating in Kansas City, Mo.

4. What type of wine should be used to cook which type of food?

Generally, it's thought that a light-flavored wine goes best with delicately flavored foods. It would follow that a bold-tasting wine might do well in a boldly flavored dish.

Don't be afraid to do your own thing, but generally, light-colored meats like chicken and fish, are paired with light-colored wines (white) while dark-colored meats, like beef, are paired with dark-colored wines (red). What about the "other white meat?" You can serve either red or white with pork, says Rimann. "Red dinner wines go well with hearty or highly seasoned foods, such as beef, pork, game, duck, goose, and pasta dishes, while white dinner wines tend to work with dishes containing chicken, turkey, fish, shellfish, ham, and veal," he says.

6. Consider the preparation