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Savour the Wine Flavour
I always say when you cook do so with a smile. Food turns out to be tastier! But as gourmet chefs look for more and more intriguing ingredients to improvise their cooking, they do reach out for those little known herbs and those little known ethnic spices. That way, Indian cooking is always an enriching experience as it is a masterful blend of regional spices and ingredients.
Wine as an ingredient
When I travel out of the country, I carry the word that Indian cuisine is number one in the world. But there are many unexplored territories in our cuisine yet. There is so much to explore and excavate. My travels also take me to the lands of the French and the Italians and it is there that we see one unique ingredient on the kitchen shelf: wine. Well, not so much to fortify the cook, but a little bit of it to fortify the food! I remember a long time ago we used beer to mix batter for pakore in the hotel industry.
Coming back to wine. Wine has a rich, complex flavour and it adds new dimensions to sauces and casseroles and risottos. Other regions that use wine, though of a different category, are Japan and China where rice wine or sake is as essential as soy sauce, or as essential as salt is to food. Crystal clear colourless sake in used in Japanese cooking to remove strong flavours and enhance delicate ones. Mirin, a sweet amber coloured rice wine is used as a seasoning for sushi and with dark soy sauce as an ingredient in marinades and for basting grilled foods such as teriyaki when it forms a sticky golden glaze.
Choice of white and red wine
So, what does a new cook look out for? If you are contemplating white wine know that it is dry and best used in fish, seafood and chicken stews and sauces. It is also a favoured ingredient for deglazing pans when one is making sauces for grilled, broiled and fried meats. One step ahead is desserts and white wine can fortify a sorbet beautifully.
Now let us look at red wine. As it is more able bodied in flavour than white wine it lends its nuances favourably to meats, poultry stronger than chicken as also fish preparations that can take strong flavours. Enter a French home and it would be a normal thing to see even vegetables getting a tablespoon of wine or kidney beans or there might be a special dessert of poached pears and macerated strawberries. Yes, the French really wine and dine!
Cooking with wine? Some tips for you
- Wines need to be reduced in quantity before they can be added to food. Boil rapidly uncovered with a few minutes. This reduces them and also concentrates the flavour. This is also known to reduce their acidity and drive off the alcohol. Here, in case there is any objection, let me clarify that the whole objective of using wine in cooking is not to swamp the dish with alcohol but to add flavour.
- The judicious cook also knows that the best quality ingredients give better food on the table. Use the best wine you can afford in cooking as cheat, rough wines, so called ‘cooking wines’, may well ruin a dish and mar the flavour of more costly ingredients. If a wine is not good to drink, it is certainly not good enough to cook with. But the fact is that the hotel kitchens still use cooking wines as good wines are expensive and not really in league with kitchen budgets. But at home do use any good quality wine left over from the party that can be used for cooking within a week’s time of opening the bottle.
- Of course wine, especially when used as the basis of a marinade, can tenderize all types of cuts of meat.
- Use a wooden spoon when cooking with wine - the odd taste of metal is all too easily transferred.
- As wine loses its flavour soon after opening, if you use only a small quantity from a bottle it is advisable to transfer the remaining wine into a smaller bottle and re-cork it. Ideally the wine should be used within a week of opening the bottle.
Don the apron!
Now what would you cook if you did wear a smile and had wine on the kitchen shelf? Here is a recipe to get you started.