Using wine correctly in your cooking

In days of yore, well in my terms in the late 1960’s when I bought Elizabeth David’s compendium of recipe books, it never really occurred to me that cooking with wine would be so important. First we only had either cheap plonk or, if lucky, UK-bottled Claret and Burgundy. Given we were all “young ones” in true Vivien style we would probably swig all the wine and have none left to flavour the Coq au Vin!

After countless attempts at getting Spag Bog correct I moved on to chicken and steak and very quickly learned that wine in the casserole early is sometimes a tad extravagant. On the other hand at the end of cooking it might just be a little “raw”. With this info in mind I started to look at adding my wine into dishes at the right time. When is this you might well ask? Best to experiment like I did but by all means following my examples might help with your decision.

Boeuf Bourguignon – classic French casserole of shin of beef with some veg, including shallots. Wine is essential as a tenderiser and flavour enhancer. Marinate the large cuts of trimmed beef into a previously mixture of boiled red wine (with the addition of 10% wine vinegar and a few herbs, garlic, peppercorns), any red wine! Not necessarily red Burgundy as the name suggests, as the addition of wine vinegar will all but destroy the delicacy of the wine. After around six hours (minimum) remove the meat from the marinade and reduce the liquor by half. Make the Boeuf Bourguignon and add the marinade back to the near-finished casserole or Daube. If you’re seasoning is correct, the meat GOOD and you have paid attention the final dish will be red wine dominant. And so it should be!

Fish however is a very different thing, as again added at the wrong time wine can overpower the delicate flavours and textures. Lighter wines for sauces are fine, added early as a seasoning or in Béarnaise or Beurre Blanc or later perhaps a bigger slosh into a Coq au Vin or similar hearty dish. Both add flavour to the balance of the dish.

Quickly prepared dishes such as pasta with a fresh tomato sauce or sauté of chicken livers would benefit a quick splash nearer to the end of the rapid cooking adding often lifting the natural fruit or savoury flavours to good effect. This is where you can add the wine you are secretly slurping whilst making the dish! But not too much now!

Stephen Barrett is a wine and food writer, chef and proprietor at his restaurant Bistro One in Plymouth’s Ebrington Street. Go to for info.

Tuesday Night Wine Club @ Bistro One. Inaugural meet. An Insight into Port with Stephen Barrett. Tuesday Feb 1st between 7 and 9 includes a Bistro One Supper. £30 inclusive. 01752 313 315 Few places left.

Explore posts in the same categories: Bristol, Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Food, Somerset

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