Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Eats Sheet: Am I a culinary wine-bibber?

Do you cook with wine?

I know a lot of Mormons (I don't know if this is the majority view or not) who see eating something cooked with an alcoholic liquid as a violation of the word of wisdom. I don't. For one, the revelation itself only says that strong drinks are not for the belly, not that strong foods are not for the belly. This might seem like doctrinal hair splitting, but I feel okay about it since David O. McKay once relied on this interpretation when he accepted a piece of rum cake, quipping that "it only says we can't drink rum, not that we can't eat it."* I don't have a problem with the idea that some alcohol in food is okay. Most vanilla and other flavor extracts are alcohol based, but I've never heard of a Mormon baker cutting vanilla out of the recipe or substituting for it. Though I do admit that I would have second thoughts about eating a Guinness stew, where the entire base of the dish is beer (does that even taste good?). And while I know that Joseph Smith was not a teetotaler, I am not focused here on the historical practice of the word of wisdom, but with its current status.

Like I said, I'm okay with a little booze in my food. But even if using some wine in a sauce is not doctrinally verboten, I choose not to for other reasons: I don't want wine in my house because I might offend a home teacher or other ward member with more W of W scruples than I, the stuff is expensive, I don't want my kids to have the chance to get at it, my kitchen is small and there's no room for bottles, I probably wouldn't use it before it went all vinegary, etc. So if you choose not to use wine, how do you substitute in a recipe that calls for wine?

Usually, if it calls for white wine I'll use white grape juice with a bit of apple cider vinegar. This seems to work, but I don't know what to compare it to, since I don't know what it would taste like with the wine. Once, I used concord grape juice cocktail in a recipe that called for red wine and it turned out way too fruity. I've also heard of using beef or chicken broth, and I've wondered about mixing some broth with some juice and vinegar. Last night I made a roasted tomato and basil soup that called for white wine. I used apple juice and a bit of cider vinegar. It was good, but also quite sweetly pungent. I had to add a lot of salt to balance it out. And what about cooking wine? Is it true that it is much less alcoholic than the potable stuff? I've never used it, for many of the same reasons I don't use normal wine, but I wonder if its a good option.

So what do you do? Use the real stuff, use cooking wine, or substitute? What do you use to substitute?

* That's from Greg Prince's David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism. I would get the page number, but it's packed away and I'm not going to get it out. We're moving at the end of September.


Kjerstin said...

The lowdown on cooking wine: yes lower alcohol content, also it's very salty--at least sherry is. I think it's a nice substitute though, the flavor of the wine is really lovely in most dishes. (My mom makes a killer stuffed mushroom whose flavor depends almost entirely on a dash of sherry. Sometimes her sisters wonder why they can't get theirs to taste as good, but my mom's not telling.)

Bjorn said...

Since wine has been marketed to death, it's available in many sizes. You could get a tiny four inch tall bottle, and squirrel it away. I would imagine that the apple vinegar would be close. Although, there is something about the wine, which adds to the flavor of a dish. Although, it depends on how long the dish is cooked, that extra flavor isn't really alcohol, just the left overs. My suggestion is to tweak the meal around the lack of wine, substitute the sauce for something you enjoy, rather then trying to make a dog look like a pony.

JKC said...

Okay, here's a few more questions.

Doing some research on cooking wine I noticed that most cooking wines contain, in addition to fermented grape juice, some preservatives (I assume this is to avoid the vinegar-ization effect) and some salt. I wonder, is the salt supposed to be a preservative, or is there some other reason for it? I also wonder how much the salt alters the taste.

I also noticed that the serving size was 2 tablespoons, which makes me wonder if it would be as useful in larger quantities. For example, the tomato soup I made the other night called for 1.5 cups of dry white wine. Had I used cooking wine, would my soup have been totally salty and nasty?

Cabeza said...

I don't know all the answers. I can understand your hesitance to keep wine in your house, but I too have wondered what to do with recipes that call for wine or other forms of alcohol (I once had to ditch a chili recipe I was looking forward to because of the prominence of beer as part of the base).

But I did find this list of alcohol substitutes at about.com. Also, there are apparently non-alcoholic wines available for not too much money that you could use. They don't appear to be salty cooking wines, but just normal wines that have had the alcohol removed. I don't know if their being inexpensive will make them taste like cheap wine--I'm no bibber myself.

bwebster said...

I seldom mix wine in with dishes that I'm preparing, but I do use wine frequently in marinades (for smoking turkey breast and leg of lamb). I most often buy the little 4-packs of 6-oz bottles; that way, I can get just as much as I need, and I don't keep it around the house.

I also use beer in my marinade for shish kabobs; a single can is all I need, so I just go out and buy it on the day that I'm making up the marinade. My daughter Jacqui always got a kick out of running to the store with me just so she could watch her dad buying a can of beer. ..bruce..