Long screeds have been written, about serving wine with food. But what about cooking with wine? Recipe instructions may specify "dry" sherry or "dry white wine." Occasionally - though not often enough - there will be a warning against using salt-enriched "cooking wine," along with another axiom: "Don't cook with wines that taste so bad you wouldn't serve them to drink."
At the other end of the spectrum, only the most gullible can suppose that coqax Chambertin is really made with Chambertin, a red Burgundy that retails for $15 a bottle and up. It's perfectly acceptable to use something more modest, the experts say.
That's about the extent of the guidelines available to the conscientious cook. And therefore the Food Section decided to conduct its own experiment. Each of four dishes was prepared three times. The only variable in each recipe was the quality of wine. One was make with a standard, generic wine. A second was made with a medium-priced, varietal table wine. The third utilized a wine of great reputation and considerable price. A dozen persons sampled the foods without knowing the identities of the wines involved and voted for their favorites. Each dish was served as a separate course.
In three of the four comparisons, the costliest wine won out - but not necessarily by a decisive margin - and the medium priced wine was not always the second choice. In the fourth recipe, ironically, the most expensive wine was the loser by the most decisive margin of all. But several important points were made. When cooking with wine:
A great wine will improve the dish, but probably not enough to equal the difference in cost between it and a non-aristocratic wine.
The longer a dish cooks or marinates, the less significant the difference in wine quality becomes. But do not go second-class when the wine is not cooked, as in our fruit compote, or when a fortified wine such as brandy or sherry is added near the end of the cooking process.
The differences discerned came most often in the taste, not the smell, of the food or the sauce. The dish with the lesser wine had - or left - a harsh quality, indicating an imbalance such as ecxcessive alcohol or acidity.
The recipes and wines used were as follows:
A pate of duck, calling for red wine and sherry, cooked at least a day ahead and served at room temperature. The wines were: Borbones Vino Tinto ($1.49) and Gallo Cocktail Sherry ($1.99); Domecq Domaine Rioja ($3.49) and Offley Amontillado ($3.99); Brane-Cantenac, 1966 ($17.99) and Sandeman Royal Esmeralda ($8.99). The Brane-Cantenac-Sandeman pate was the favorite, followed by the Borbones-Gallo combination. The Domecq-Offley pate was criticized as being "harsh" with the wines masking the duck taste.
Sole poached in a wine and water court bouillon and served with a Beurre blanc sauce that began with a reduction of shallots and wine. The wines were: Sebastiani Mountain Chablis ($1.99); Concannon Sauvignon Blanc, 1977 ($3.99); Meursault Genevrierers, Hospice de Beaune, Cuvee Phillip Le Bon, 1974 ($12.99). The preparation utilizing the Meursault was the most popular, the Concannon was second and the Sebastiani trailed. All three preparations were accounted successful and there was general agreement that in this course the taste differences were minimal.
Coq au vin, served without the flavorful but palate-distracting traditional garnishes of mushrooms, pieces of bacon and small onions. The wines were Sebastiani Mountain Burgundy ($1.79); Marquis d'Aulnay, 1976, a non-appellation red from Burgundy ($3.99); La Tache, 1970 ($27.99). The La Tache, from a famous small vineyard in the village of Vos-Romanee, was bottled by the prestigeous Domaine de la Romanee Conti. When first added to the pot, the odor was remarkably fruity and aromatic. That odor was not apparent when the three coq au vin were served and all but one taster selected the La Tache preparation as the least favorite. The Marquis d'Aulnay was the most popular, but it was close. The Sebastiani had considerable support as well.
Fruit in wine, a combination of fresh fruits chilled in wine for about four hours before it was served. The wines were Inglenook Navelle Chenin Blanc ($1.99), an appellation controlee Sauternes, 1975, shipped by Lawrence Hayward ($2.99) and a classified Chateau Rieussec, 1971 ($8.99). The Rieussec-anointed fruit was the clear favorite of a majority of the tasters. The Sauternes was next and the Inglenook trailed. The difference in taste were considerably more pronounced, however, when the wines were first added. Over time the flavors and acids in the fruits performed something of a leveling function.
Some general guidelines:
Wine performs the functions of any other liquid, but adds flavor and aroma. If a recipe calls for wine to simmer for a long time, or to be flamed, the alcohol disappears. Therefore the dish may be served to children or non-drinkers.
If only a small amount of wine is required, consider using some from the bottle that will be served with dinner. For an almost instant sauce, add a little wine to the pan in which meat or chicken has been sauteed, place over heat and scrape the bottom to free the flavourful essences. Bring to a boil, add some broth or water, seasonings and perhaps a little butter. Pour over the meat.
Vermouth, which often is on hand awaiting the call for a martini - is an acceptable substitute for dry white wine in recipes. It is flavored with herbs, however, so if the amount is half a cup or more, use half vermouth and half water. Leftover wine should remain drinkable - and therefore cookable - for several days. The only sure test is to taste it.
Table wines usually are only 6 or 7 percent alcohol, so they will not burst into flames near direct heat as does brandy. Pour table wine directly into the cooking pan, but ignite brandy or whiskey in a spoon or separate pan with a long match or by tipping the pan toward the flame. Beware of pouring wine into another liquid or brandy over something cold such as ice cream and then trying to flame it. Chances are the alcohol won't catch fire. Ignite it, then pour.
Recipes for the four dishes follow. The choice of wine is yours. DUCK PATE (8 servings) 4 ounces duck livers (or duck plus chicken livers) 4 ounces raw duck meat, fat removed 1/4 cup red wine Grated ring of 1/2 orange 1 tablespoon minced parsley 4 ounces pork-sausage without casing 1 medium onion, chopped fine 1 slice dark bread, soaked well in orange juice Salt and pepper to taste 2 Tablespoons Amontillado sherry 1 bay leaf Thinly sliced strips of pork barding or bacon to line the mold
Chop liver and duck meat fine. Place in a bowl and add wine, orange rind, parsley, sausage and onion. Marinate for at least 1 1/2 hours.
Add bread soaked with orange juice, season with salt and pepper and stir in sherry and bay leaf. Line a 6-cup mold, or 8 individual molds, with barding and fill with the pate mixture. Place mold in a larger pan in a preheated, 350-degree oven and fill pan with boiling water half way up the sides of the mold. Bake for 1 hour. Remove from oven, place a weight on the mold and chill for at least 24 hours before serving.
Adapted from "Entertaining With Wine" by Ruth Ellen Church FILLETS OF SOLE WITH BEURRE BLANC (4 servings) 4 sole fillets, plus sole bones or bones from another non-fatty fish 2 cups white wine Bouquet garni made from a bay leaf, 3 or 4 sprigs of parsley and 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme Salt to taste 1/4 cup dry white wine 1/4 cup finely chopped shallots 6 ounces butter (1 1/2 sticks), cut in small pieces but still cold 2 Tablespoons creme fraiche* Salt, pepper and several drops of wine vinegar, as needed
Place sole bones in a pan. Add 2 cups wine, an equal amount of water and the bouquet garni. Bring to a boil, skim and cook at a mid simmer, partially covered, for 20 minutes. Remove bouquet garni and strain out bones. Pour liquid into a pan large enough to hold the sole fillets. Taste and add salt as desired. (This may be done ahead.)
For final preparation, bring fish broth to a simmer, add fillets and poach without boiling for 3 to 5 minutes. Do this while making the sauce.
Pour 1/4 cup wine into a saucepan with the shallots. Add 3 tablespoons fish broth, bring to a boil and cook until only a generous tablespoon of liquid remains. Let pan cool somewhat, then add butter bit by bit, beating continuously with a whisk, on and off the heat. The butter must not melt completely, but remain in a fondue consistency. When all the butter is used, beat in the creme fraiche. Taste and season with salt, pepper and vinegar as desired. Serve some sauce over or beside the sole. Pass the rest in a sauce boat.
*Creme fraiche may be purchased at speciality stores or made at home. COQ AU VIN (4 or 8 servings) 1 or 2 whole chickens, cut into quarters 2 tablespoons bacon drippings or lard 1 tablespoon cooking oil 2 carrots, diced 1 medium onion, peeled and diced 2 heaping tablespoons flour 1 bottle dry red wine 1 whole head garlic, unpeeled but cut in half crosswise Bouquet garni made from 1 rib celery, 2 bay leaves, 1 teaspoon dried thyme and 5 or 6 sprigs parsley, all tied in a cheesecloth bag Salt and freshly ground pepper
Heat lard and oil in a large pan with high sides. Brown chicken pieces, seasoning them with salt and pepper. Remove chicken and pour off all but 2 tablespoon fat. Add carrots and onion and stir over high heat until they begin to brown. Lower heat, sprinkle on flour and stir until it browns. Pour in some wine and scrape bottom to free browned particles. Add remaining wine, chicken pieces, garlic and bouquet garni.
When sauce bubbles, cover pan and simmer chicken for 25 to 30 minutes, or place in a 350-degree oven for the same length of time. Remove chicken and reserve. Recover pan and simmer sauce for an additional 45 minutes. Skim sauce and strain it. Taste sauce and adjust seasoning as desired with salt and pepper. Discard vegetables and bouquet garni.
Clean pan, return chicken and pour the sauce over it. Dish may now be stored for use the next day or reheated until chicken is heated through, 15 to 20 minutes.
Cooked mushrooms, small onions and bacon pieces should be added as garniture, along with garlic-flavored toast triangles. MIXED FRUIT WITH WINE (6 servings) 1 apple, cored and diced 1 pear, cored and diced 1/2 pound strawberries or cherries, hulled 2 oranges, peeled and sectioned 1/3 cup chopped walnuts Enough sweetwine to cover fruit 1 large banana, sliced
Prepare the fruits, except the bananas, and mix together in a serving bowl. Add the wine and refrigerate until well chilled. Just before serving, mix in bananas.