Some of us cook with wine all the time. Others start thinking about it in the cooler months, if at all. I fall into the former category.
Recently, I explored recommendations from chefs, accomplished home cooks, bloggers and cookbook authors to see if their take on the topic intersects with mine. In some cases, it does; in others, not at all.
All agree that we shouldn't cook with a wine we find unpleasant to drink, which eliminates all those "cooking wines" you see in supermarkets.
What we don't agree on is how to choose a wine for a specific dish. Most use color as a rule, pairing seafood, chicken and most vegetables with white wine and meats with red wine. But sometimes seafood is delicious cooked in red wine or finished with a red-wine-based sauce. And if you want the subtle flavors of red meat to shine, your best choice for, say, braising may be a white wine.
Some cooks also recommend using the same wine in the recipe as the one you will drink with the meal, which I don't find so important. Most subtleties of aroma and flavor vanish during lengthy cooking and it can be a waste to use a great wine, especially a pricey one, in cooking. Instead, choose a less expensive wine that is similar in body.
Today's recipes demonstrate two classic ways to use wine in cooking. For more recipes that feature wine as a significant component, visit Seasonal Pantry's blog, Eat This Now, at pantry.blogs.pressdemocrat.com.
Beurre blanc is one of the world's mother sauces, a simple emulsion of butter suspended in a small amount of acidic liquid that forms the foundation of many other sauces. It is not at all difficult to make but you must be certain to keep the heat low — no higher than 130 degrees — or the emulsion will break down.
Classic Beurre Blanc, with Variations
Makes about 1 cup
1 medium red shallot, minced
? cup best-quality white wine vinegar, such as Banyuls
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
? cup dry white wine or sparkling wine
— Kosher salt
— White pepper in a mill
? cup organic butter, such as Clover, Strauss or Spring Hill, cold
Put the shallot, vinegar, lemon juice and wine into a small saucepan, set over medium heat and simmer until it is reduced to a scant 3 tablespoons. Season with salt.
While the shallot infusion reduces, cut the butter into 16 pieces, set in a bowl and put in the refrigerator.
Remove the pan from the heat and cool for a few minutes. Return the pan to very low heat and begin to whisk in the butter, 1 piece at a time. Whisk thoroughly after each addition and be certain not to let the mixture simmer. Add the next piece of butter the moment the previous piece has been incorporated.
Remove from the heat, add 2 or 3 turns of white pepper and strain into a warmed sauceboat or pitcher.
For Beurre Rouge, omit the lemon juice and use a high-quality red wine vinegar and a medium-bodied dry red wine. Use black pepper in place of white pepper.