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Whether dining out or just entertaining at home, it’s important to know and understand which wine to serve with which food. When dining out, don’t be hesitant about asking your server what wine would go well with your entrée choices. Some menus will offer wine suggestions to complement each entrée, and a really good wine list should include a description of the wine’s characteristics.
Choosing a wine
Good wines aren’t always necessarily the most expensive ones, as I’ve found some great tasting wines at reasonable prices. Try to choose a wine with the same characteristics as your entrée. If you’re having a light fish or poultry dish, choose a light wine, such as a Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay or Chablis, or even a mild Pinot Noir or Merlot. A heavier red meat entrée requires a more robust wine, such as a Burgundy or Cabernet Sauvignon. Sweet wines go well with spicy and sweet foods. Try to find a balance between the wine and food, so that neither overpowers the other.
On the other hand, choose a wine that you would want to drink by itself. Despite the “rules” that I outlined above, you’ll probably drink most of the wine without the benefit of food, either before your food is served or after you’ve finished your meal. Even if the match is not perfect (red wine with seafood or white wine with steak), you will still enjoy what you’re drinking. Just remember one standard rule: light foods go with light wines and heavy foods go with heavy wines.
Cooking with wine
Never cook with any wine or spirit that you wouldn’t drink. The process of reducing a sauce will bring out the worst in an inferior wine. Once the alcohol has been burned off, the sauce will bring out the full flavor of the wine.
Never, ever use the so-called “cooking wine” commonly found in supermarkets. If you’ve ever drank any of it straight, you would know why. It is not only an inferior product, but most contain additional salt. Choose a wine that you would enjoy drinking.
Use dry, white wines for delicate seafood and poultry dishes. Full-bodied, red wines are better suited when making hearty meat dishes, stews and rich, dark sauces. For slow-cooking dishes like stew, add your wine about 20 minutes or so before it’s finished, as the flavor of the wine will dissipate during prolonged cooking. The final addition will give it more balance.
Beef in Burgundy
This classic dish features beef slow-cooked in a rich, red wine sauce with onions and mushrooms.
6 slices bacon
3 lbs. good stewing beef
Olive oil or peanut oil
3-4 cups burgundy or dry red wine
2 cups beef stock
2 Tbsps. tomato paste
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 tsp. thyme
1 bay leaf
Salt to taste
16 oz. sliced baby portabella mushrooms, browned in butter
2- 3 yellow onions, peeled, chopped and browned in butter
Roux of 1/2 cup flour browned in 1/2 cup butter
Cut the bacon into little strips. In a large fry pan or kettle, fry bacon gently, being careful not to burn or to darken the fat. Remove bacon from the pan and, in the fat, brown the beef. You may want to add a little olive oil or peanut oil to the pan. Brown the meat carefully and rapidly so that is deep brown on all sides. Place meat on a platter and cover.
Note: Don’t flour the meat when you brown it for a stew or casserole. Browning floured meat means that you have browned flour, and the point here is to brown and color the natural sugars in the meat. Heat the pan, adding a bit of oil. Sear or brown the meat very quickly, then add to stewpot. The color and flavor will be much improved.
Deglaze the pan by adding the wine and beef stock, stirring up the browned bits clinging to the pan, over high heat until wine is reduced, about 1 minute. Return the meat to the pan. Add the tomato paste, garlic, thyme, a bay leaf and a little salt to taste.
Cook on low heat for 2-3 hours. When beef is tender, add cooked mushrooms and onions. Cook additional 20 minutes, and then thicken with the roux. Serve with burgundy or dry red wine, along with some cooked green vegetables and a huge salad.
Another classic dish, it is also really easy to prepare. Serve with a light, dry white wine.
1 lb. veal cutlets/scaloppini, 1/4 in. thick
1/4 cup flour
1 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsps. lemon juice
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 Tbsp. capers
2 Tbsps. chopped fresh parsley
Salt and pepper to taste
Fresh lemon, sliced for garnish
Combine flour, salt and pepper. Coat veal slices lightly on both sides with flour mixture. Melt butter in skillet over medium-high heat. Cook veal slices 4-5 minutes until golden brown, turning once. Remove from pan and keep warm. Add white wine and lemon juice to pan, scraping to loosen any browned bits. Place meat slices back into the pan, along with capers; cover and simmer 10-15 minutes until sauce is thickened. Before removing from pan, sprinkle with fresh parsley. Place equal portions of veal on each plate and garnish with lemon slices. Serve with linguini topped with a little extra-virgin olive oil and grated Parmesan cheese. Makes 4 servings.
Slow Cooked Mushrooms
These are great for parties or large get-togethers. Any leftovers can be refrigerated up to a week.
4 lbs. small button mushrooms
1/2 cup butter
1 bottle dry red wine
1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 Tbsp. chicken soup base
1 Tbsp. beef soup base
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp. dill seeds
1 tsp. garlic powder
Add all above ingredients to a large pot and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Then, reduce to medium-low heat to maintain a slow boil. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 4 hours, or until the liquid has been reduced to one cup. Makes about 10-12 servings.