As I wrote last week, I spent my Labor Day weekend mingling with farmers, organic foodies and food justice activists at Slow Food Nation ’08  in San Francisco. In addition to sampling artisan breads, loose-leaf teas and fair trade chocolate and sightseeing in the Bay area, my friends and I rented a PT Cruiser and headed up highway 101 across the Golden Gate Bridge to California wine country – Sonoma and Napa Valley .
Our scenic drive through the vineyard-lined roads of Sonoma and the various towns and wineries along Napa Valley’s Route 29 was beautiful. After stopping for lunch at The Plaza Bistro for some wine country cuisine in downtown Sonoma, we made stops at Beringer Vineyards for an hour-long tasting and tour, and then headed down to the Robert Mondavi Winery.
While Beringer and Mondavi certainly aren’t off the beaten path, I wanted to make these familiar estates my first experience with Sonoma/Napa vineyard hopping. I must definitely go back for a longer stay to visit more of the area’s many wineries and to enjoy Northern California’s lush country side (see photos ). A sequel to my trip is in store in order to experience more of the wonderful flavors of wine country cooking that the area is know for, food often flavored with California wine. My first visit to Sonoma and Napa Valley inspired me to add another wine-infused dish to my culinary repertoire and share some of what I’ve learned about cooking with wine.
Cooking with wine adds another dimension of flavor to dishes just as spices and herbs do. Often used in sauces and marinades, wines can also be used in a variety of other ways  including stews and desserts. In this week’s recipe, I use it as a braising liquid.
Two questions often asked about cooking with wine, include:
1) Does the alcohol cook out? 2) What type of wine should I use?
Does the Alcohol Cook Out?
According to various sources, some of the alcohol, but not all of it, evaporates when cooking with wine. How much depends on when the wine is added and how long it is cooked. So basically, it varies by recipe. Most of the alcohol is likely to cook out for braises and the long simmering of sauces, but not so much for wine that’s added at the end of the cooking process and only simmered for a few minutes.
What Type of Wine Should I Use?
The main rule of thumb to remember is to only cook with a wine that you would drink. In other words, no “cooking wine” found near the vinegars in the grocery store. “Cooking wines” are often salty and have other additives. It’s not necessary to cook with an expensive wine, but it should be one that you think tastes good.
You’ll often find that many recipes call for dry white wine. But what is a dry white wine? Typically, those recipes are talking about a wine that’s not sweet. So a Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc would do. I’ve heard that some people will often use dry white Vermouth whenever a recipe calls for dry white wine, but I’ve never tried it.
So if you want a new recipe that incorporates wine, try out my Wine-Braised Chicken with Cherry Tomatoes and Herbed Rice. If you’re totally opposed to cooking with wine, feel free to substitute the wine with chicken broth. Please leave a comment to let me know how it turns out for you. Enjoy!
Wine-Braised Chicken with Cherry Tomatoes
1 whole chicken cut up (2 breasts, 2 thighs, 2 drumsticks with skin – Note: You can use any combination of chicken pieces that you prefer)
1 tbs of extra-virgin olive oil
1 tbs of butter
1/2 medium sized onion, diced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 cup of dry white wine
1/2 cup of chicken broth
1 tsp of dried thyme
1/8 tsp of ground cumin
12 – 16 cherry tomatoes
Salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
1 tsp of chopped flat-leaf parsley for garnish
Rinse chicken and pat dry. Salt and pepper chicken liberally on both sides. Heat the olive oil and butter (hot, but not smoking) in a deep frying pan or dutch oven. Brown chicken well on both sides (should take about 10 – 12 minutes).
Remove chicken from the pan and set aside. Drain all but 2 tablespoons of the oil from the pan. Sautée the diced onion and minced garlic in the oil for about one minute. Deglaze the pan by adding the wine and chicken broth and bring to a boil for about one minute. Use a wooden spoon or whisk to scrape the bits (from browning the chicken) from the bottom of the pan.
Stir in the dried thyme and add the pieces of chicken back into pan.
Add the cherry tomatoes and about 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 1/2 tsp of pepper to the liquid and over the chicken. Cover, reduce heat to low/medium low and simmer for 20 – 25 minutes. Garnish with chopped parsley. Serve with herbed brown rice and a vegetable side dish.
Herbed Brown Rice
1 cup of long-grain brown rice
1 1/2 cup of water
1 tbs of extra-virgin olive oil
3/4 tsp of cumin seeds
1 tbs of chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 tsp of some other herb such as dill (or just stick with the parsley)
1 tsp of salt, plus more to taste
10 whole black peppercorns
Rinse rice 1 – 2 times in water and drain. Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a small to medium sized sauce pan. Add the cumin seeds. When they begin to sizzle, add the 10 peppercorns and heat for 1/2 minute. Add the water and bring to a boil. Add the rice and stir once. Bring water back to a boil, stir once more and cover. Lower heat and simmer rice for 40 – 50 minutes (check for doneness at 40 minutes).
Remove from heat and let sit for 5 minutes. Add fresh chopped herbs and salt to taste and gently stir and fluff into rice. Serve with braised chicken spooning a few tablespoons of the braising liquid over the rice.
Note: If you use white rice, decrease cooking time as directed on package.