A Wine Rant: No More “Cooking” Wine!

drainFriends don’t let friends use “Cooking Wine.” Why? Because it’s atrocious stuff that will ruin the taste of your food, that’s why!

Don’t believe me? Let’s start by rounding up every bottle in your kitchen that says “Cooking Wine”, “Cooking Sherry”, “Cooking Marsala,” or “Cooking Anything.” Now let’s see what’s in it. It’s wine, or sherry, or marsala (the cheap and nasty kind to begin with) to which they’ve added salt. Yes, SALT! Then they’ve boiled it. Yes, BOILED it.

You ask, why on earth would they do that to any wine? Because then the bottle is “shelf stable” and can sit on your grocer’s shelf (or in your pantry) for months or years. Every time you pull it out, it adds the same (lousy) taste to your dish. You may not have realized this, but that’s because you’ve never tasted the Real Thing.

So what’s a girl (or boy) to do?

Let’s begin by pouring every bottle of “Cooking Whatever” down the drain. That’s right, just pull the cork and let it flow through your plumbing. Then let’s get ourselves some good wine for cooking.

We’ll start with a basic red and white. You don’t need to be fancy here. Go for a dry red (such as  Cabernet, Shiraz, or Merlot) in the $8 or $9 price range. You’ll probably only use a quarter of the bottle, so guess what? You should drink the rest of it. Right away! There’s no need to put it back in the pantry when a glass of what’s in the dish tastes great with the dish. For a white to cook with, I use something easy on the oak. Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, or lightly oaked Chardonnay work well, and I always sip a glass of it while I’m cooking (notice that I’m not re-corking this one, either).

Let’s go to Sherry and Marsala. The real ones are Fortified Wines, which means grape brandy has been added at some point in the fermentation process. The resulting sweetness and high alcohol automatically give these wines a long shelf life, so you didn’t really need that “Cooking” nonsense to begin with. Go for an Italian-made Marsala (I use Florio Sweet or Dry, at about $15 a bottle)florio and you’ll get a wonderfully rich Marsala sauce that’ll taste like something from Little Italy.  For Sherry, I use a Dry style from Jerez, Spain — there are many in the $14-$16 range, such as Lustau and Osborne.

Should you really spend $15 on one ingredient for tonight’s dinner? Of course you should! Because your bottle of real Sherry or Marsala can be recorked and set in your cupboard, and will taste just as good for the next month or two. Your can get five or six recipes out of it.

So here’s the moral of the story: If you wouldn’t enjoy drinking it, you won’t enjoy tasting it in your food. It’s that simple!

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