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Cooking with red wine
Pour on the red wine to create hearty stews, flavorful fish, and robust risottos -- vin rouge is not just for drinking
ATLANTA (CNN) -- Dry red wines -- from light, peppery Pinot Noirs, to rich, oaky Cabernet Sauvignons, to robust, full Syrahs and Zinfandels -- are not just for drinking. Good cooks have known for centuries that the richness and depth of flavor imparted by red wines are unmatched by almost any other ingredient.
The first question for many people is -- what wine do I cook with?
You don't want to be popping the cork on that bottle of Chateau Lafite you bought for a week's salary to flavor a beef stew, but on the other hand you want to run -- not walk -- away from any bottle on the grocery store shelves labeled "cooking wine."
Here's a quick rule of thumb: if it isn't a dry red wine you would drink, don't cook with it.
Basic Burgundy sauce
Perhaps one of the simplest and best ways to use red wine is to make a Burgundy sauce for a pan-seared steak. This sauce can spruce up a Porterhouse, ribeye or even a hamburger steak.
To prepare a delicious feast for two, heat a cast iron skillet over high heat. Add salt and pepper to the steak and rub each side with a little olive oil. Sear the meat on either side for about two minutes or more until it is golden brown and crusty. Reduce the heat and cook until the desired doneness is reached. Remove the steak from the pan to a warm plate and cover with aluminum foil.
Reduce the heat beneath the skillet and add a pat of butter. Next add two tablespoons of finely diced shallots or onions. Let them cook for about a half minute until soft. Deglaze the pan by adding 3/4 cup of red wine, scraping up any brown bits from the bottom of the skillet. Increase the heat and let the red wine cook down by half. Remove the pan from the heat and blend in two tablespoons of cold butter to emulsify and thicken the sauce. Sample the sauce and adjust the seasonings by adding salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste.
Cut the steak into inch-thick slices. Arrange the slices on serving plates, spoon over the Burgundy sauce, and serve.
As a variation, stir two teaspoons of coarse ground mustard into the shallots, then finish the sauce as described above.
For this sauce you are looking for richness and depth that comes from a dry, but not expansive, red wine.
An example of a California cabernet sauvignon that can be drunk with the meal and used for the sauce is Beringer's Founder's Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 1997, around $9 a bottle.
Hearty stews and ribs
One of the most traditional ways to use red wine is in Boeuf Bourguignonne, that stew of tender chunks of beef and savory vegetables in a wine-laced gravy.
Mix cubed beef in a bowl with onions, carrots, garlic and a bouquet garni of parsley, thyme, a bay leaf and pepper corns. Pour a bottle of red wine -- in this case a lighter, spicier red such as a Pinot Noir from Burgundy or California -- over the mixture and set it to marinate overnight in the refrigerator.
The classic technique used to cook and tenderize the tough chunks of beef is to braise them over low heat. First, brown the marinated beef in fat rendered from salt pork. Sprinkle a little flour over the meat and cook until it's absorbed. Add the marinade to the pot and scrape any brown bits from the bottom. Then add enough water to cover the meat and slowly simmer over low heat for about three hours until the meat is fork tender. Add mushrooms about 30 minutes before the dish is done.
In their new cookbook, "Julia and Jacques -- Cooking at Home," Julia Child and Jacques Pepin enrich the traditional recipe by adding canned tomatoes and beef stock to the wine instead of water. In addition, Jacques advises opening the wine you are going to drink with the meal and adding a tablespoon or so to the stew just before serving to enhance the "winey" taste.
This technique -- braising a tough cut of meat in red wine over low heat -- can be used for a range of dishes from beef pot roast to lamb or veal shanks to ox tails.
Some wines that can be used to cook these dishes include Sutter Home Pinot Noir, about $6, and BV Coastal Pinot Noir for under $10.
For an intense flavor, Chef Daniel Boulud uses reduced red wine and beef stock to braise browned beef short ribs with sauted vegetables. Once the meat is done, the sauce is reduced further.
Boulud likes to serve the braised ribs on a bed of pureed potatoes and celery root with the wine sauce spooned over.
While Boulud doesn't recommend any specific red wine, a Beaujolais Nouveau, such as the one from George Dubeouf for about $7, is a good choice.
Not just for red meat
Red wine is not limited, however, to hearty beef dishes. It can enhance the flavor of fish and other foods, too.
In his book "Fish and Shellfish," James Peterson combines a fish broth with red wine and uses the mixture to braise Dover sole or salmon fillets. Once done, the fillets are removed from the pan and kept warm. The braising liquid is reduced and thickened by adding a beurre manie -- butter creamed together with flour -- along with a little vinegar and parsley. The fish fillets are served in warm soup bowls with the wine sauce poured over them.
Peterson recommends the technique for any firm-fleshed fish such as black sea bass, halibut, mahi mahi or skate. To make the braising liquid, he favors red wines that have a deep color but aren't too tart.
"Wines from hot climates such as Spanish Rioja, Italian Merlot, California Zinfandel, and French Cotes-du-Rhone are the best," he advises.
One to try: Guigal's 1995 Cotes-du-Rhone, available for about $9.
The chefs of northern Italy not only cook stews and fish in red wine, but use the deep complexity of a Barolo or the young rawness of a Chianti to flavor risotto.
In "Trattoria Cooking," Biba Caggiano makes a sausage risotto with Barolo wine and chicken stock. Mario Batali has a similar dish in "Simple Italian Food."
The "winey" taste of both dishes is enhanced by stirring in about two tablespoons of raw wine just before adding cheese.
Barolos are often expensive, but a good option for risotto is Antinori Chianti Classico Badia a Passignano 1995, about $11.
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