Creating Superb Vegan Wine Sauces
By Nancy Berkoff, RD, EdD
Selecting a wine for cooking is the same as selecting a wine for enjoying at the table. Wines used for cooking must intensify, complement and match the selected ingredients.
Commercial wines are not all vegetarian. There are no ingredients that are not vegan, but during the filtration process, filters may contain animal products, such as bone char. When inquiring at your favorite winery about the vegetarian status of their wine selections, ask detailed questions about the filtration process. Do not assume that all the wines from a particular winery are vegetarian, as you really have to ask about each variety. Some wineries produce a combination of vegetarian and non-vegetarian wines.
The method of food preparation is very important to decide on before selecting a wine. Ingredients that will be poached call for a fragile white wine, while a simmering brown sauce calls for a hearty red wine. Be sure to purchase enough wine when it comes to cooking and serving. The wine used in the sauce or the salad dressing may be perfect for serving at the table. For example, a smoked portobello "steak," quickly seared and deglazed with a Pinot Noir or a Merlot, can be served with the same wine at the table.
Wines to create sauces can either complement or contrast the flavors of the ingredients. Complementing wines intensify and add richness to ingredients, while contrasting wine plays off the ingredients, such as a fruity wine played against a spice combination or a higher-acid wine played against high-fat ingredient, such as soy cheese and fried foods.
Wine sauces are rich in flavor, enhanced by soymilk (rice and grain milks lack the right texture for these sauces), oil or margarine, herbs, or by natural reduction. One rule that must be followed, though, is that garbage in equals garbage out, meaning that if you wouldn't drink it at the table, don't put it into the sauce. Underflavored, over acidic wines do not magically transform into wonder ingredients somewhere in the sauce-making process.
That doesn't mean you have to use the $100 bottle of champagne for your sauces, but don't use the $2 bottle either. A simple red house wine may do for a hearty marinara sauce, but an exquisite sherry may be required for a sauce to be served with a delicate summer squash with poached Rainier cherries entrée.
A word about cooking wines. Cooking wine is usually salted, an extra preservative method for wine which is produced to be around a lot of heat. A common kitchen myth is that cooking wine is salted to deter kitchen staff from imbibing while stirring the sauce.
Deglazing is a perfect way to create a simple, wine-based sauce. Hot wine is swirled in a sauté pan that has just been used to prepare meat or vegetables. Swirling the wine releases the juices and particles remaining from cooking, extracting all the flavor. The deglazing liquid is then reduced over high heat and can be served as a sauce on its own, or added to other sauces to enhance the flavor.
Reduction and the addition of roux is a classic way of building a sauce. Reduction is merely allowing liquid to cook until a portion of it has evaporated, concentrating the flavors and color of the liquid. Roux is made with equal portions of flour and fat, worked into a paste and added slowly to hot stock as a thickener. Reduction is a low-fat method for flavorful sauce preparation, and the addition of roux allows for a creamy appearance without using milk or cream.
Classic sauces are "built" in stages. First a liquid is prepared, as in a stock or a deglazing. The liquid is then flavored or allowed to concentrate flavor with the addition of vegetables, dried fruit, chopped nuts, fresh or dried herbs, and wines and may also be allowed to reduce. Sauces are not finished with ingredients that either don't stand up well to heat (such as soymilk) or have strong or delicate flavors that do not react well to prolonged cooking. An example of the former would be broccoli florets while the later would be cilantro or chives.
When preparing sauces, especially wine sauces, think about how you want the wine to influence the flavor of the sauce. This will help you to decide when to add it; at the beginning will give you a pervasive wine flavor and at the end will suggest a hint of wine.
Some classic wine sauces may be derivatives of leading sauces, such as veloute or demiglaze. To prepare a simple red wine sauce, combine 1 quart of dry red wine with 2 ounces of chopped shallots or onions and allow to reduce until very syrupy. Add one quart of demiglaze or mushroom stock and allow to reduce by one third. Strain before service and finish with 2 ounces of margarine, if desired. To create a red wine garlic sauce, sweat 4 ounces of minced garlic in 1 1/2 ounces or 2 Tablespoons of margarine and add to the red wine sauce, as described above.
Port is a fortified red wine with a full, rich flavor. To prepare a port wine sauce, combine 1 quart of ruby port, 6 ounces of fresh orange juice and 1/2 ounce of fresh orange zest. Cook over high heat until reduced to syrup. Add 1 1/2 quarts of vegetable stock and reduce by one-half. Strain the sauce and finish with 2 ounces of butter, salt and pepper, if desired.
Wine is a wonderful addition to sauces, enhancing flavor and color. The number of calories from alcohol in a dish will depend on the amount of alcohol that is cooked off before it is served. The longer the heating, the more alcohol calories are lost. However, even the longest heating does not dissipate all the calories or alcohol. When alcohol is added at the end of cooking or to cold items such as salad dressings, all the alcohol and calories remain. This may be an issue for those who are counting calories or who are avoiding alcohol.
Alcoholics' Anonymous suggests that foods that are prepared with any type of alcohol, even alcohol-free wine or beer (since it is impossible to remove all the alcohol in any product), pose an issue for recovering alcoholics. Be sure to discuss this with your guests or family members, if this is a concern for them.
Wine sauces don't necessarily need to be cooked or hot to get on the menu. The tannins and acids in wines not only add flavor but can act as a tenderizer for tough vegetables. You can simply allow ingredients to marinate in wine, in a combination of wine and wine vinegar or you can create a wine-based marinade. For example, for a marinade powerful enough to stand up to turnips or carrots, combine a hearty red wine, sherry vinegar, olive oil, diced olives, dried thyme, minced garlic cloves and fresh lemon zest. Always use non-reactive containers when marinating with wine to avoid having the metal of the container leach into the food.
Wines enhance the flavor of cold salad dressings and vinaigrettes, which by the way can be used as marinades. For a speed-scratch solution, add wine, sherry or port to prepared salad dressings.
Most wine experts will tell you that there is a wine for every cuisine and for every ingredient. Well, that's almost true. Wine experts can recommend wines to add to chili, to complement Thai cuisine, and to add to the dressing on your cole slaw. The one ingredient that defies wine pairing is that thorny thistle, the artichoke.
Artichokes contain cynarin, an acid that tricks your taste buds into tasting flavors that just aren't there. For eighty per cent of the world, cynarin creates a sweet taste, even for water. So, a lightly fruity wine will became cloying and overly sweet in the presence of cynarin and even a tart, dry wine will taste slightly sweet, unpleasantly so. The only solution for this seems to be to cook the heck out of the artichoke (as in deep-frying); this appears to disable the cynarin reaction.
Wine can lift the spirits of any dish: soups, entrées, desserts and especially sauces. Visit your local wine merchant and plan to include wine in more of your meal creations. Here are some cooking suggestions for just a few of the wonderful wines of the world
Light (such as Muscadet, Sauvignon Blanc, Pouilly Fume) can be used for poaching, steaming, sautéing, stir-frying and is appropriate for flavoring pates made from nuts and grains, and spreads such as bean dips and hummus
Medium (such as Chenin Blanc, Pinot Blanc, Semillon, Gewurztraminer) can be used for all cooking techniques and is appropriate for flavoring light appetizers, such as stir fries of light vegetables made with carrots, snow peas, green peas, summer squash and steamed tofu and seitan
Full (such as Tokay or Sauterne) can be used for baking and pastry-making and is appropriate for flavoring soy cheeses, smoked tofu, portobello mushrooms, and for fruits and desserts
Light (such as Beaujolais, Chianti, Rioja) can be used for sautéing, stir- and pan frying and deep-frying and is appropriate for dips and sauces (tomato sauce, hummus, bean dips, etc.)
Medium and Full-bodied (such as Pinot Noir, Merlot, Medoc, Cabarnet Sauvignon) can be used for sautéing and pan-frying, roasting, braising, broiling and grilling tofu, seitan and tempeh and is appropriate for flavoring hearty pasta dishes, barbecued tempeh and veggies (such as carrots, beets, potatoes)
Variations on Veloute
Variations on Demiglaze