TV chefs pour wine into cooking pots all the time. But does alcohol improve the average dinner recipe? Is it a waste of good plonk or a secret ingredient that makes a good meat meal great?
By Ben Canaider
If you’ve ever had the misfortune of watching an annoying TV chef toss a salad or drizzle olive oil over mutilated ingredients, then you’ll no doubt have witnessed the same chef deglaze his frying pan by tipping wine into it. Is there any method to this wasteful wine madness?
As much as I hate TV chefs, I’m afraid I have to say ‘yes’. But there are some myths about the process that need to be stamped out. The one about cooking with the same quality wine as you would drink with the dinner is the biggest furphy. Cask wine is fine to cook with, as is cheap brandy. Cook with the cheap stuff and drink the posh, pricey gear.
When using wine in stews and sauces, keep two things in mind: volume and boiling. For most home cooking, no more than about one cup or 250ml of wine is needed. In order to get the right flavour out of the vino, however, you need to make sure it boils.
So, when you pour the wine into the casserole pot, let it briefly boil with the other ingredients before putting the whole thing on simmer. If a brief boil isn’t achieved, the alcohol in the wine remains in the stew or sauce, and that leads to bitterness. Boil the alcohol off and you’re left with the flavour of the wine only.
Stick to red varieties with most meat stews. White wine is a good replacement when you’re cooking a lighter lamb, chicken or rabbit stew.
Now for the marinating: use red wine to marinate dark meats. Contrary to popular belief, this doesn’t make the meat any more tender; it simply imparts flavour. So forget that ‘marinate for 24 hours’ nonsense. About 30 minutes is ample. And certainly for kangaroo fillets, 30 minutes is tops––any more and you can ruin the taste of the meat. If you pan-fry a good quantity of meat, don’t be afraid to use a small splash of brandy to help dislodge the burned bits stuck to the bottom of the pan.
Keep the heat on low, add brandy, then add ordinary stock and some cream, and there you have it––a restaurant-quality sauce for your dish.
Beer is also fantastic to cook with. It makes for a brilliant batter (see below) and it goes well in stews, too. Chicken casseroles with lager work well, but my favourites involve stout. A can of Guinness added to your oxtail or osso bucco veal stew will elevate the final product. The stout assists in cutting through the fattiness inherent in such dishes.
BEN’S BRILLIANT BEER BATTER
2 cups self-raising flour
1½ stubbies/cans of
1 egg, separated
Mix the flour and egg yolk together in a large bowl and slowly add the beer until you have a consistency not unlike cold sump oil. Drink the remaining beer. In another bowl, beat the egg white until it resembles fairy floss. Fold the fluffy egg white into the batter. If you are battering fish, pat extra flour onto the surface of the fillets just before you dip them into the batter to help it stick properly. Fry in whatever cooking oil you can get your hands on––you don’t need buckets of it, just enough for the fish fillets to be half-submerged––then flip them over to cook on the other side. Serve and enjoy!