By Julia Timakhovich
You don’t cook because you need to.
In our instant gratification-obsessed society, it is simple to order and pay. A whole industry makes a living devoted to the concept of feeding you.
You cook because you choose to. However frequently.
Because you like food.
Or perhaps you cook because you like to eat, and you are not afraid to learn what your roast chicken ate before it was your dinner.
Or you like to learn how to handle wild mushrooms.
Or why organ meats can be so valuable.
Food is like wine. When you honor it, it’s more than sustenance. Yes, it keeps you alive. But to know the difference between, say, sirloin tips and dry aged rib-eye, and to know the difference between Bordeaux and Napa Cabernet, is to honor both the living things – the cow, the grapes – that were once your food and wine, and those few people who grow, harvest and ferment the ingredients you buy at the store.
Wine is an omnivore’s product, meaning that it’s part of the edible universe that includes everything from grass to wild game. Which means that when it comes to cooking, you can’t ignore the wine.
At least that the premise of the “Cooking with Wines” class at the Boston Center for Adult Education.
Cooking with wine is something you arrive at organically, because it started with the question of what to do with your leftovers. Don’t like that experimental red? That acidic white? That cloyingly sweet port or stale bubbly?
Throw it in the fridge and use it as cooking liquid.
That was the message of instructor and chef Diane Manteca, a former owner of Brickyard Café in Cambridge, which she operated for seven years. Manteca demonstrated to a class of fifteen hungry adults what to do with each major type of wine—dry red, acidic (dry) white, and sweet port. Under careful supervision and collective slicing and dicing, the class concocted four speedy dishes—Chianti beef stew, chicken Marsala, ravioli in white wine sauce, and roast pork tenderloin in port reduction with dried fruit.
We learned tricks, like why garlic is not the first thing to sauté in a pan. (It burns too quickly.) And why you boil white wine for a few minutes before making sauce. (It tones down acidity and brings out the sugar.) And why you should only use a very dry red as marinating medium for beef. (Spicy and fruity wines can ruin the natural flavors of meat juices.)
Manteca loves cooking with real ingredients and good quality wines, but she’s sensible about it too. “You don’t want to use wines so cheap you wouldn’t drink them on their own,” she said. “But it’s not necessary to use your grandfather’s 100-year old port, either.”
Wine, it turns out, is easy to cook with. Once the alcohol evaporates, wine permeates its bouquet into the food and serves as a stoic, enhancing liquid. It’s able to withstand high temperatures and absorb spices and herbs without overpowering the dish.
Go ahead and experiment.
The worst outcome?
You lose the wine you sacrificed for cooking anyway.
A delicious meal.