Cooking with Wine - Part I

Humanity has been cooking with wine since the inception of the grape. And not only wine but spirits in general. There are aficionados who cook with brandy, rum, whisky, you name it. Almost every culture that has spirituous liquors, cooks with them. Yet a lot of us have never cooked with wine, or even thought of it. Adding wine to your cuisine is like adding any other ingredient, herb or spice. Wine gives body and life to many dishes. And if you're concerned about the alcohol, no need to be. Even a teetotaler can use spirits in their cooking. The alcohol content evaporates when subjected to heat and only the flavoring remains.

There are many variations to wine cooking, ranging from using it as a marinade, or to produce a sauce, or even a poaching liquid. In this post I will focus on using wine at its basic: as an item which will combine with other ingredients to produce a lush blend of flavors and aromas. We're not talking about flambeing or flaming a piece of meat or fruit in order to get the taste, although that's also part of it. I'm talking about simple dishes that can be enhanced with a bit of the grape.

When most of us think of cooking with wine, or spirits in general, we immediately imagine those classic dishes such as boeuf bourguignon (beef cooked in Burgundy wine) or duck simmered in port. A lot of us cringe because it seems like such a bother. Here's a secret: it can be simple, and still be flavorful and delicious. Like the recipe given below. Nothing fancy, nothing time consuming. Just your basic lamb chops cooked in wine and herbs. The dish can also be done with pork chops or chicken breasts.

A final word: I know there are cooking wines out there on the grocer's shelf. Skip it. If you're going to cook with wine, use the wine you're going to drink with dinner. If you think it's a rare vintage, then buy something comparable at a lesser price and use that. The whole reason that cooking wines came about was to prevent the hired cooks from drinking the wines. So wines were salted and made unpalatable, and used for cooking. You're cooking for yourself and friends. You're not a hired cook. Enjoy your labors.


4 lamb chops, about 1/2 pound each and about 1 1/2 inches thick
Salt and ground black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons butter or margarine
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup wine, either dry red or dry white
1 teaspoons fresh thyme or 1/4 teaspoon dried
1/2 cup basil leaves, washed and chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled and finely minced
2 medium tomatoes, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

1. Sprinkle the chops with salt and pepper on both sides.
2. Use a heavy fry pan or skillet (I prefer cast iron) large enough to hold the chops in one layer. Heat oil and butter until foaming. Add chops and cook until tender (about 4 minutes per side). Remove from pan and keep warm.
2. Discard fat from pan and add wine. Scrape the bottom to release browned or cooked pieces clinging to the pan. Quickly boil wine over high heat until half of the wine has evaporated.
3. Add thyme, basil, and garlic. Saute for a minute or so. Add tomatoes and simmer for 5 minutes. Return the chops to the pan and cook for 2 minutes more. Remove to a serving platter and sprinkle with the parsley.
Yield: 4 servings (or 2 servings for big eaters)

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