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Classic ways to cook with wine

Published: Wednesday, November 14, 2012 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, November 12, 2012 at 2:28 p.m.

Some of us cook with wine all the time. Others start thinking about it in the cooler months, if at all. I fall into the former category.

Recently, I explored recommendations from chefs, accomplished home cooks, bloggers and cookbook authors to see if their take on the topic intersects with mine. In some cases, it does; in others, not at all.

All agree that we shouldn't cook with a wine we find unpleasant to drink, which eliminates all those “cooking wines” you see in supermarkets.

What we don't agree on is how to choose a wine for a specific dish. Most use color as a rule, pairing seafood, chicken and most vegetables with white wine and meats with red wine. But sometimes seafood is delicious cooked in red wine or finished with a red-wine-based sauce. And if you want the subtle flavors of red meat to shine, your best choice for, say, braising may be a white wine.

Some cooks also recommend using the same wine in the recipe as the one you will drink with the meal, which I don't find so important. Most subtleties of aroma and flavor vanish during lengthy cooking and it can be a waste to use a great wine, especially a pricey one, in cooking. Instead, choose a less expensive wine that is similar in body.

Today's recipes demonstrate two classic ways to use wine in cooking. For more recipes that feature wine as a significant component, visit Seasonal Pantry's blog, Eat This Now, at pantry.blogs.pressdemocrat.com.

Beurre blanc is one of the world's mother sauces, a simple emulsion of butter suspended in a small amount of acidic liquid that forms the foundation of many other sauces. It is not at all difficult to make but you must be certain to keep the heat low — no higher than 130 degrees — or the emulsion will break down.

Classic Beurre Blanc, with Variations

Makes about 1 cup

1 medium red shallot, minced

¼ cup best-quality white wine vinegar, such as Banyuls

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

¾ cup dry white wine or sparkling wine

— Kosher salt

— White pepper in a mill

½ cup organic butter, such as Clover, Strauss or Spring Hill, cold

Put the shallot, vinegar, lemon juice and wine into a small saucepan, set over medium heat and simmer until it is reduced to a scant 3 tablespoons. Season with salt.

While the shallot infusion reduces, cut the butter into 16 pieces, set in a bowl and put in the refrigerator.

Remove the pan from the heat and cool for a few minutes. Return the pan to very low heat and begin to whisk in the butter, 1 piece at a time. Whisk thoroughly after each addition and be certain not to let the mixture simmer. Add the next piece of butter the moment the previous piece has been incorporated.

Remove from the heat, add 2 or 3 turns of white pepper and strain into a warmed sauceboat or pitcher.

Serve immediately.

Variation:

For Beurre Rouge, omit the lemon juice and use a high-quality red wine vinegar and a medium-bodied dry red wine. Use black pepper in place of white pepper.

For Spiced Beurre Blanc or Beurre Rouge, add about 1/2 teaspoon of a whole spice to the shallot infusion. I like cardamom and coriander in beurre blanc; for beurre rouge, I use cloves, allspice, a small cinnamon stick and 1/2-inch-by-2-inch strip of orange zest, depending on how I will serve the sauce.

Coq au Vin is one of the classic comfort dishes of France. Although it is not the traditional companion to Beaujolais Nouveau — boeuf Bourguignon is — they are delicious together. The 2012 Beaujolais Nouveau will be released Thursday (November 15).

Coq au Vin with Chanterelles and Cippolini Onions

Makes 4 to 6 servings

4 to 5 bacon slices, cut into crosswise strips about ½-inch wide

1 large roasting chicken, cut into pieces, or 6 leg-thighs, preferably local and organic

— Kosher salt

— Black pepper in a mill

2 small carrots, very thinly sliced

1 large yellow onion, halved and cut into very thin crosswise slices

3 garlic cloves, crushed

3 cups light-bodied red wine, preferably Beaujolais, Gamay or an inexpensive pinot noir

1 bouquet garni (1 thyme sprig, 6 parsley sprigs and 1 bay leaf, tied with kitchen twine)

¼ cup brandy or Cognac

10 ounces cippolini or pearl onions

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, preferably Clover organic

— Pinch of sugar

10 ounces mushrooms, preferably golden chanterelles, cleaned

2 tablespoons all purpose flour

Select a saute pan or other sturdy pan that can hold the chicken in a single layer, set it over low heat and fry the bacon until it is golden brown and just crisp. Transfer the bacon to absorbent paper and set it aside.

While the bacon cooks, season the chicken all over with salt. Increase the heat under the pan to medium, add the chicken skin side down and cook, turning once, until it is lightly browned all over.

Transfer the chicken to a plate.

Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of the fat and return the pan to low heat. Add the carrots, sliced onion and garlic, season with salt and cook gently, stirring now and then, until the vegetables are limp and beginning to take on a little color, about 10 to 12 minutes.

Slowly pour in the wine, stirring and scraping up any browned bits clinging to the pan. Add the chicken and tuck in the bouquet garni, so that it is submerged in the water.

Pour the brandy or Cognac into a small pan and warm it over low heat. Using a match, carefully ignite the hot alcohol and pour it into the pan with the chicken, agitating the pan until the flames subside.

Increase the heat to medium and when the liquid boils, return the heat to low, cover the pan and simmer very gently until the chicken is tender, about 30 minutes.

While the chicken cooks, bring a medium saucepan half full with water to a boil and blanch the onions for 1 minute. Drain and peel the onions and trim away the roots and tips. Return the onions to the saucepan, season with salt, add a tablespoon of the butter, a pinch of sugar and enough water to barely cover them. Simmer, uncovered, until the onions are tender and the liquid is evaporated, about 10 to 15 minutes.

Heat 2 tablespoons of the remaining butter in a saute pan over medium heat, add the mushrooms and saute until they are limp and tender, about 7 to 8 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and keep warm.

To serve, use tongs to remove and discard the bouquet garni. Transfer the chicken to a warm serving dish and cover to keep warm.

Puree the cooking liquid and vegetables with an immersion blender or standard blender, strain and return the liquid to the saucepan.

Put the remaining 2 tablespoons of the butter into a small bowl, add the flour and mix with a fork until smooth.

Skim off any fat that has risen to the surface of the sauce and bring the sauce to a boil. Reduce the heat so that the sauce simmers gently, add the butter and flour mixture, a bit at a time, whisking constantly, until the sauce thickens slightly. Add the onions, mushrooms and bacon and simmer gently for 10 minutes.

Taste, correct for salt and season with several generous turns of black pepper.

Pour the sauce over the chicken and serve.

Michele Anna Jordan hosts “Mouthful” each Sunday at 7 p.m. on KRCB 90.9 & 91.1 FM. E-mail Jordan at michele@micheleannajordan.com. You'll find her blog, “Eat This Now,” at pantry.blogs.pressdemocrat.com.

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