Dessert wines can do more for your table than simply fill the goblet next to an apple tart. The sweet drinks also act as a crucial cooking ingredient. It's important to learn the differences between cooking wine and authentic dessert wine. For example, sauterne is not the same as Sauternes, and knowing what a dry sherry can do for a cream sauce transforms your dinners from boring to beguiling.
A Sneaky Substitute
Sauterne cooking wine is meant to evoke the dessert wine Sauternes, named for the district in France that produces it. Authentic Sauternes is a sweet white dessert wine, recommended for serving with blue cheese or nonrich desserts. In contrast, sauterne and other cooking wines contain preservatives such as salt and potassium sorbate, which are added to extend the liquids' shelf life after they are opened. Sauterne cooking wine is not palatable as a drinking wine.
Skip the Sauterne
While some people use sauterne cooking wine in hearty soups and other cooked dishes, the standard advice from chefs is to only use wine that is good enough to drink. If you have a dish that calls for sauterne cooking wine, consider adhering to the higher cooking standard without breaking your budget. The wine from Sauternes is an obvious solution but perches on the higher end of the cost scale. Dessert wines similar to Sauternes but less expensive include riesling and white zinfandel varieties.
Digging Dry Sherry
Sherry is a fortified wine, meaning that brandy has been added to it. Dry sherry, known as fino sherry, is generally more expensive than sweet, or oloroso sherry, to which more brandy has been added. Amontillado is a well-known dry sherry, as is manzanilla. As with other wines, dry sherry is a better choice for cooking than the liquids sold as cooking sherry. Cooking sherry suffers from the same salty undertone imparted by sauterne cooking wine and is equally thin and artificially enhanced.
Finesse With Fino
Use fino, or dry, sherry in dishes that let you appreciate its nutty undertones. A creamy sauce, for example, benefits from the spike of flavor provided by dry sherry. Hearty soups and stews, especially those that involve browning meat and aromatics first, get an extra boost from the roasted quality of a dry sherry. Sherry is also a traditional ingredient in cooked seafood dishes. Add it to lobster bisque or shrimp stir-fries. Finally, use dry sherry to cut the richness of cheese sauces, whether for dolloping over steamed vegetables or for adding to root vegetables cooked au gratin.
When to Splurge
Whether the wine called for in your recipe is imported or domestic, white or red, sweet or dry, a few rules can help you determine how much to spend on wine destined for the saucepan rather than the glass. If the sauce or soup is heavily based on the wine -- in other words, if a large amount is needed -- spend your dollars on a better class of wine, especially if it is a briefly cooked dish. Multiingedient, long-cooking dishes are not as affected by inferior wines.
- Cook's Thesaurus: Dessert Wine
- Cook's Thesaurus: Fortified Wine
- Cooking Light: Cooking With Wine
- Epicurious: Five Tips for Cooking With Wine
- What's Cooking America: Cooking With Wine
- The Gourmet's Guide to Cooking With Wine; Alison Boteler
- Seattle Times: A Reader Is Looking for a Substitute for Sauterne
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