Wine is the world’s most common beverage, along with beer, these days. It is remarkably compatible with food, not only as an accompaniment, but as as a highly versatile ingredient as well since it blends so nicely with a myriad of foods. It has become a staple and can be added at the beginning of the cooking process, or at the end.
At the beginning of my recipes during the assembly of ingredients and loading the slow cooker, note that I use table wines of all sorts, and at the end, often take advantage of fortified wines that add a dimension of flavor. When you add wine at the beginning of cooking, the sour alcohol taste will burn off and leave the delicious flavor elements, while at the end of cooking, the alcohol content will basically remain. Wine is often used raw as a marinade for meats, it is a great tenderizer, then added to the crock make the sauce. Risottos also can call for wine at the end of cooking. Never add wine at the end of a risotto– add it to the stock, or you will have a shock of raw wine with each bite. If adding wine to a pressure cooker recipe, be sure to bring to a boil and evaporate the alcohol before closing the pot otherwise the alcohol will not evaporate and you will have the raw wine taste in your finished dish. A splash of wine is very complementary with soups, added to a flavored butter, in your tomato sauces, or drizzled over a vegetable.
There are rules for adding wine to your stews and braises. First never, never cook with a wine that you would find unsuitable for drinking. The same goes for those “cooking wines” that can ruin a stew faster than a bad cook in an ill-equipped kitchen. Slow cooking concentrates the qualities of the wine and you will notice all sorts of flavors that can add up to tasting artificial or cloying. And you don’t have to use anything expensive or rare for cooking either. There is a gigantic world in between from which to choose, so worry not.
Leftover opened bottles of red wine are great to use in cooking. It is not unusual for a cook to have an open bottle right next to the stove and every dish gets a splash of that vintage until the bottle is empty. Even if a red wine has sat weeks and turned a bit, it will make your braised oxtails sing. White wine should be used right after it has been opened or within a day even if it has been refrigerated. Vermouth can be refrigerated up to a month. After that, they are a throwaway since they are so perishable. Dry table wines can be used for the most part interchangeably in recipes, but never substitute a sweet dessert wine (like Port or sherry) for a dry wine; you will ruin your dish.
I like adding wine at the beginning of cooking best. It has a chance to evaporate the alcohol and marry with the other ingredients. It gets thoroughly cooked and hence, no raw taste. Wine adds acidity to the components, usually permeating the ingredients, and after cooking ends up melding into a harmonious dish with depth. Slow cooking is perfect for producing this type of dish. If the dish is cooked quickly, a rapid boil will mellow the wine. I often deglaze a pan with wine after meat or poultry has been browned. The boiling wine loosens the residue, it dissolves into the liquid, and becomes the base for the sauce.
Alcohol comes to a boil at 172ºF so it will begin to evaporate the alcohol equally efficiently on the low, as well as high, slow cooker heat settings. After a mere 10 minutes at the low simmer, you will be left with a unique and rich vinous flavor that will add the depth and character most dishes need to taste right.
So select a wine that complements your dish. We have often made suggestions in our recipes, especially if a dish’s flavor depends upon a certain wine. Red wine is stronger than white, so it is not often used in fish sauces, but can be used interchangeably in poultry dishes just fine. If you use a sparkling wine or Champagne, expect that the effervescence will fade and the wine will act quite like a still white wine. Many cooks first choose what they want to drink with their dinner, then opt for a cheaper version for the pot. This works well if you are buying an expensive import; then just substitute a domestic version of that wine. Or not. Use the good stuff and enjoy fully. If you are planning ahead, it is a nice way to be a bit economical, but the choice is yours.
The vision of the cook standing over the slow cooker with a splash here and a splash there, and a sip for the cook, is an endearing image we all should bring to life at least once.
KITCHEN LIQUOR CABINET and WINE CELLAR FOR THE WORKING COOK
Basic rules apply to choosing a wine to serve with your slow cooked dishes and here they are; Red with meat, which with fish is the old standard. Today there is much flexiblity with serving a light red wine with poultry, fish, salmon, veal, or pork. You don’t have to pay alot for great wine, so make friends with a wine merchant and have a great time tasting and choosing your favorites.
The following are considered a good basic collection and will fill all the needs of the recipes in my books. White and red wine, of course, for drinking and use in our recipes. Basic reds can include a Burgundy, Zinfandel, Merlot, Pinot Noir, or Cabernet Sauvignon; whites are Reisling, Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, and Gerwurtztraminer. Store bottles on their side in a dark closet that has an even temperature. Then there are a few others: a dessert wine like sauternes or Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise for poaching fruit; dry marsala and Vermouth; port; dry and cream sherry; brut champagne (there is always an occasion besides braising the sauerkraut in it, a fondue, or poaching fruit), Prosecco, dark and light rum; a brandy such as cognac or Calvados (apple brandy), Grand Marnier, and cassis. You can also stock some Mirin, the Japanese cooking wine.
Slow Cooker Bistro-style Beef Burgundy
A well made beef burgundy, the venerable braised sauté de boeuf à la bourguignonne, is a treasure; the meat melts in your mouth and the wonderful wine does its magic both as a flavor agent and tenderizer. It is a bistro standard and one of the most famous slow cooked beef stews in the culinary world. I love the stew meat cut from the bottom round, or even oxtails (which is fabulous by the way), as you wish. Please, no generic burgundy wines here; choose something nice (the wine makes a big difference) and let the flavor of this wonderful dish entertain your senses. This version the beef is not browned first, but if you like that element in your stews, please do so before adding to the crock; just pat the meat nice and dry out of the marinade. Serve out of the cooking vessel with steamed potatoes and baby carrots in a separate dish or added to the stew.
Cooker: Large Round or Oval
Machine Setting and Cook Time: Low Heat: 8 to 9 hours
Serves 6 to 8
4-pounds stewing beef, cut into 2 inch chunks
1 1/4 cups Burgundy red wine
1/4 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
8 slices bacon, diced
1 large onion, diced
2 medium shallots, minced
1-pound firm fresh white mushrooms, halved or quartered
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1/4 cup all-purpose flour or rice flour
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon crushed dried thyme leaves
1/2 cup beef broth
1/4 cup Cognac, optional but nice
A bouquet of fresh parsley, stems tied
Salt, to taste
1. Marinate the beef in the wine, oil, and pepper overnight in refrigerator (this can be done in the crock if you like).
2. In a large sauté pan over medium-high heat, cook the bacon until soft, but not browned. Add the onion and shallots, and cook until soft with the bacon; place in the crock. You can dab up the bacon fat with a pice of paper towel if there is too much, but leave some. Add the mushrooms to the pan and cook until the mushrooms give off some of their liquid and begin to brown; add the garlic and cook less than a minute, just to take off the raw edge. Transfer to the crock.
3. Drain the beef, reserving the wine marinade, and add to the crock; sprinkle with the flour, turning to coat the meat. Pour the wine marinade, tomato paste, thyme, broth, and Cognac (if using) into the sauté pan and place over medium heat; bring to a boil and pour into the crock. Nestle the parsley bouquet in the stew.
4. Cover and cook on LOW for 8 to 9 hours. Skim the fat from the surface, if desired, and discard the parsley. Season to taste with salt.
Excerpted from Not Your Mother’s Slow Cooker Cookbook, by Beth Hensperger and Julie Kaufmann. (c) 2005, used by permission from the Harvard Common Press.
Recipe and text copyright Beth Hensperger 2016
Please enjoy the recipe and make it your own. If you copy the recipe and text for internet use, please include my byline and link to my site.