My mom makes a mean linguine and white clam sauce. The plump critters swim harmoniously in a bath of garlic, basil, oregano, stock and white wine. The salt and acidity seamlessly mesh with the al dente pasta.
Why the wine, mom? “It makes the clams happy,” I think was her response. “What would you want to be cooked in?”
Good point. But more to the point, the acid and flavors of the wine draw the best possible flavor out of the herbs and clams, and impart additional flavor. Same with lots of dishes. Imagine chicken marsala sans marsala, beef tips without the burgundy, duck without the port wine reduction. The wines are part of the recipe — and flavor — of the dish.
But you don’t have to be Emeril or Mario to cook with wine. My wife recently stirred together an amazing four-cheese (Gorgonzola, asiago, Parmesan and marscapone) risotto that required a cup of white wine. She started to reach for an Aussie chardonnay, but I suggested we use a dry Italian white to keep the dish on theme and add some nice acidic highlights to an already spectacular recipe. Needless to say, our guests loved the dish, paired with roasted chicken and vegetables. We felt like we could have been dining outside of Florence amid the vines and orchards.
This is just one example. Cooking with wine is as natural as sipping it. Deglaze your next skillet with a splash of cabernet sauvignon and turn an everyday dish into something special. Also consider all the marinades and barbecuing we do. Add a cup of sauvignon blanc to the garlic, salt and pepper you slather on the chicken and shrimp. Or, how about a merlot-based marinade for the tri-tip steaks you plan to drop on the grill? You can thank me later.
While I don’t like a lot of rules in the kitchen or the cellar, I do have a couple of guidelines to help navigate cooking with wine. It will make your clams — and you — happy.
• Don’t use wine you wouldn’t drink. The flavors in the glass are the same in the dish. Vinegar is vinegar.
• Avoid heavily oaked wines, because the wood interferes with the overall flavor.
• Just like wine pairings, it’s best to cook with red wines for beef, pork and lamb, and use whites for fish and chicken.
• Measure before use. You don’t want too much in a sauce. If a recipe calls for 1 /2 cup, don’t deviate. Too much can overpower a dish or make it bitter.
• Don’t break the bank using expensive wines. There are plenty of good wines less than $10 that are well-suited for cooking.
• Sweet wine and salty meats typically don’t mix well. Use drier style wines with reasonable acid levels. Strive for balance.
• Don’t pour wine near an open flame. It can ignite. Remove saucepan from stove to add wine.
New Jose Cuervo
You’ve grown up and no longer take your tequila with salt and lime. Classic Cuervo, too, has grown up and morphed into the new Jose Cuervo Black Medallion, a blend that is aged for more than one year in charred oak barrels. The taste is clearly more mature and smooth with sweet oak, subtle agave and bakery spice flavors and aromas. Sip neat or on the rocks with a twist of lime. $30.