fat and water and alcohol

Cooking With Wine (video): Why and How

Cooking With Wine

fat and water bonded with alcohol

I cook with wine all the time. In fact, sometimes I even add it do the food! In all seriousness, cooking with wine is incredibly beneficial for food! We’re going to go over why that is, if the alcohol actually “burns off”, and what kind of wine you should cook with. So watch the Nerd Lab above, or keep reading to learn all about it!

1. Why Alcohol Helps Food

Alcohol helps food in two ways:

  1. Number one is via the air .  Alcohol molecules are volatile, which means means they evaporate really quickly into the air (spray bottle). For instance, I like really peated, smoky scotch. As soon as I pour it, my wife, who hates really smokey peaty scotch, complains that she can smell it from across the room. Thats because the alcohol is evaporating into the air and into her nostrils. If it was just peaty, smokey, water, it wouldn’t have quite the same effect, but the alcohol carries it. For a more relevant example, it’s the reason we swirl wine and then smell it: when we swirl, we agitate the wine, and the alcohol evaporate and carry wine aromas to the nose. When you add alcohol to food, the alcohol helps bring the aromas from the food it’s bonded with into the air and into your nose.making vinaigrette

  2. Alcohol helps marry flavors together, because it bonds to both fat and water molecules. Think of a classic vinaigrette. Oil is the fat, and vinegar is the water. If you simply put them together, they remain separated. To bond them, you have to mix them together. Alcohol does the same thing: alcohol is the fork; it bonds water and fat molecules together. Things like herbs are garlic are fat soluble: their molecules dissolve in fat. But in order to penetrate into food like meat or fish, they need to be carried into them via water! So the fat hitches a ride in the water “car” into your food.

2: Does Alcohol “Burn Off” When Cooking?

The short answer is no, alcohol does not burn off completely when cooking. There will be alcohol in your finished dish. How much all depends on heat level, surface area, and time. But to give a few examples: something flambeed (light on fire), will still have 75% of its alcohol remaining, something baked for 25 minutes (pulls out cake) will have 45% remaining, and something simmered for 2.5 hours will have about 5% remaining.

burn off percentage

But I wouldn’t worry too much: by the time you take into account the percentage thats burned off, the quantity of alcohol you’re adding, and how many portions you’re diving the dish into, the chances of you getting hammered off a bourbon brownie are slim.

Alcohol In Final Dish  = Burn Off % x quantity used  / portions

An example. If you used 4oz (two shots) of alcohol in a cake that was baked, and then divided into 8 portions:

4oz x .5 (burn off %)  / 8 = .25oz per serving (1/4 of a shot)

3. What Kind of Wine Should You Use in Cooking? 

Most people say don’t cook with something you wouldn’t drink. The thought is that wine flavor gets more concentrated as it reduces. On the other hand, you’re going to lose most of the nuance of any wine you cook with, and if you only drink expensive bottles, cooking with them is a waste. So my go to is a high quality box wine; its good enough for cooking, but not something you feel bad not drinking, and has the added bonus of staying fresh longer so you always having cooking wine on hand. Whatever you do, just avoid so called “cooking wine” which is terribly cheap wine with preservatives and additives like salt. For either red or white, unless the recipe calls for a sweet wine, make sure your wine is dry, or you’ll be inadvertently adding sugar to your dish. With white wine, get a high acid, unoaked wine like pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc, and for red, fruit forward, medium tannin wines like merlot or pinot noir work perfect.

Wine Cooking Checklist:

✅medium quality

✅dry (unless recipe calls for sweet wine)

✅avoid “cooking wine”

✅unoaked, high acid whites (Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio)

✅medium tannin reds (Merlot or Pinot Noir)

Now that you’re a pro on cooking with wine, watch our EPISODES to learn even more about wine, including how to pair it!

V is for Vino | Watch. Learn. Drink.

“The Show to Pair with Your Wine”