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How to Cook with Wine Like a Pro

No, you don't cook with wine by drinking it. Here's how to unleash your inner Emeril Lagasse.

My husband and I love to entertain guests at our apartment. It's actually become our hangout spot when we aren't at events. The thing is, my husband's circle isn't always the same as mine—and that means that I often end up with his guyfriends toting along girls I've never met.

This is all pretty chill, except for the fact that I look pretty intimidating to most people. I have a giant scar across my face, I wear all black, my nails are well over an inch long, and I have a "sharp voice."

In other words, I can be scary-looking to girls who randomly walk into an apartment covered in graffiti. It doesn't help that I'm usually holding a large knife while I'm cutting up veggies for dinner either. This is obviously not conducive to making people feel at home.

I learned a way to make them feel more at ease, though. I ask them to come to the kitchen, then ask them if they know how to cook with wine. They hem and haw, usually saying no after a little unease.

I then say, "Here, let me show you!" and down a glass of vino. They laugh, and I pour them a glass. It's a nice gesture that helps people loosen up a little bit.

Let's be real here though. Cooking with wine is a wonderful thing. It unlocks flavors, adds juice to meat, and also looks extra fancy. If you want to learn how to use wine as a cooking ingredient the way a chef would, there are plenty of tips you can learn.

First things first, get some decent wine to cook with.

A word to the wise: Sherry wine and cooking wine is not the kind of wine you're going to need if you want to do a red wine demiglaze or anything similar. Using those grocery store items will wreck your meal.

Though you shouldn't use vinegar-y wine, you also don't need to splurge on vintage wine to get a good meal going on. This tip for having a wine and food pairing party revolves around the idea that you should never cook with wine you wouldn't want to drink.

Most of the time, the best wines to cook with are dry reds and whites—unless the recipe specifically asks for a sweet wine. Excess sugar can make certain dishes taste strange, especially when it comes to meats.

I personally use boxed wine that I place in the fridge for cooking. It keeps longer, tastes decent, and is also easier to measure out. This one from Black Box is amazing!

Taste the wine before you add it in.

True story—I once made my world famous red wine broth fondue with a different bottle of wine than my regular go-to. I didn't taste the wine at all; I just dumped it right into the broth the way I always did.

Big mistake.

By the time the fondue started to heat up and release its aroma, I realized something had gone horribly wrong. Rather than its normally savory, peppery scent, it started to smell rancid. The wine, as luck gave it, was corked!

I ended up having to throw away the fondue because it smelled so foul that it killed our appetites. Don't make the same mistake I did. Grab a shot glass and sample a little bit of wine before you use it.

Pair the wine you cook into your dish like you would pair them regularly.

You know how wine pairings suggest using a white wine for a chicken dish and a dry red for a steak in every beginner's guide to wine pairing? Those little wine pairing rules still apply when you cook with wine—for the most part, anyway.

Certain foods, like berries and fruits, can go with both whites and reds. Meats and veggies are a little stricter. If you're not sure what to add to your recipe, use this simple wine pairing poster from Wine Folly to figure out.

If you want a quick way to cook with wine, use it in place of vinegar when you marinate food.

Vinegar is a great marinade aid, and helps infuse flavor throughout food. With meats, it also acts as a tenderizer that adds a lightly acidic touch. But, have you ever tried replacing the vinegar with wine?

Oh good Lord! It is some good stuff. Seriously, just switch out vinegar or lemon juice in your marinade for wine. You will get flavor you never thought possible. This is a particularly good way to work with fish; just use a dry white!

Use a recipe if you're new to using wine in the kitchen.

Believe it or not, I've seen plenty of people who are so used to adding wine to food that they no longer need to measure things out. They just know when to stop pouring. It's what happens when you use a skill so often, you just gain an instinct for it.

There are plenty of books out there that will teach you how to cook with wine using simple recipes. The Wine Cookbook is a good place to start if you're just looking for recipes that involve wine in one way or another.

Baste your dish with wine.

You would think that basting food with wine would lead to a drier meat, right? Though alcohol can dehydrate people, it definitely doesn't dehydrate food. Basting meats and vegetables with wine actually makes it juicier as it cooks.

If you're gonna baste your food with wine, I strongly suggest using a baster. Tossing wine on your food with a spoon can get pretty messy!

Make your own pan sauce.

When you go out to restaurants, you have probably seen menus featuring dishes that contain a red wine sauce or a white wine sauce. Impressive as they are, most are pretty easy to make in a pan.

Just add red wine to some broth and a little steak seasoning, and you will be able to make your own pan sauce that kicks your red meats up a notch. This is my go-to steak sauce.

Want another way to cook with wine sauces? Above is a quick tutorial for a superb white wine pasta sauce.

Use it as a baking ingredient.

Yes, it's true, even baking can be made better with wine. Recipe books that feature wine-related recipes will have plenty of good options to choose from, and personally, I've had some pretty good luck making my own baked chicken with white wine.

That said, scraping very creamy white wine sauce from a baking dish is not always that easy. I suggest getting a high quality cast iron baking dish if you're going to go hard on sauces. They are often easier to clean.

Time things out before you add more wine to a dish.

One of the hardest things to learn when you're first cooking with wine as an ingredient is figuring out when you need to add more. A little wine goes a long, long way—and it will change in flavor as your meal continues to cook.

Not sure if your dish needs more wine? Set a timer for 10 minutes, then give the meal a whiff or a taste. If it still feels lacking, add a little more wine. If not, well, you just saved your dish. 

Don't be afraid to pair your dish with the wine you used in it.

Want to learn what food pairs best with wine? When you cook with wine, pair the leftover wine with the food you just made. The wine that you cooked with no longer tastes the same as the wine you'll pour in the glass, but compliments it in such a way that makes for a delicious dining experience.

Despite it tasting a bit different from the wine in your food, it tends to pair very well with whatever dish you're making. So, when you cook with wine you also get a built-in wine pairing. Bon appétit!

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