"Only cook with wine you'd drink."
This is, of course, one of those towering, carved-in-granite cliches of cooking advice. Taken at its most literal meaning, it is also a poor guideline, at least for me. But I'm wondering how others interpret it. And to what extent they [you] adhere to it. Is my palate just underdeveloped? Am I reading too much between the lines of this advice? Too little?
Part of the issue is that it's always a bit unclear what is really meant by this sage old wisdom. Possible interpretations:
1. 'Don't use cooking wine.'
- Okay, I'm on board here. Cooking wine doesn't taste good, it's as expensive as many cheap real wines, and it makes it harder to control the salt level in your dishes. Sometimes it seems like this is all the advice boils down to. But then wouldn't it be better to say 'Don't cook with cooking wine' instead?
Also - does this apply to mirin, which I can only get in a salted variety because I live in a tyrannical sobrocracy (commonwealth of PA)? It's OKish, and every once in a great while helps more than, say, sugar and sake would. Am I a bad cook/person?
2. 'Also... don't use any [real] wine that tastes godawful.'
- I'm down with this too. If uncle Jeb fermented it himself up in his bathtub and now it tastes like his feet and Irish Spring, then I can see how cooking with it would be a bad idea. This, to me is just basic cooking judgment - if it tastes like something is wrong with one of your ingredients, don't use it. Do we really need advice for this scenario?
3. 'Only cook with wine you'd drink' - literally.
- Wait, wait, wait - I don't even like marsala or sherry as drinks, but does that mean those delicious sauces I've made with them should never have happened? Or say you're a hard boiled/pickled wine snob/afficionado (I'm not, not that i have anything against wine lovers) who only drinks bottles costing upwards of $100 and starting with the word 'Chateau.' Is their food really only well served by sticking to the lofty and expensive wine they drink? Should my wife stick to cooking always with white wines, as she doesn't like drinking reds? Should 15-year-olds cook with wine coolers exclusively?
4. 'Whoa there, Keller - step away from the Yellowtail'
- I guess this is probably where the real debate comes in. I use Yellowtail as an example because it's pretty ubiquitous- hopefully most of you have tried it, but if you haven't suffice to say that it tastes pretty much like cheap wine. And I do drink it when served to me (though I usually don't start really enjoying it until about the 3rd glass). It always seemed to me that by the 'only cook with what you'd drink' line, some/many meant to say that using something like Yellowtail is bad for your food and should never be done. I haven't really found that to be true.
For starters, it seems to me that the cooking process flattens out more complex wines, especially when used in the presence of other strong flavors. In other words, the flavors of whatever you're cooking will completely overwhelm the subtleties in a nice bottle of wine, especially if wine isn't the most-used ingredient. So while a reduced wine sauce may benefit from going a step above the cheap stuff, a red sauce splashed with wine will not. Is this true for others, or is my undeveloped palate for wine just missing things? To be fair, I've found that when using cheap wines, you have to be a bit more careful and adjust for the acidity of your final dish. A BIT. That's not too bad or too hard to deal with.
Truth-be-told, it's just far more convenient and economical to keep a box of OKish cheap wine in my fridge (doesn't go stale anywhere near as fast as bottles) for regular use and splurge (a bit) for any meal that really calls for the wine to take the forefront. I like to think of my palate for most foods as pretty decent and I just haven't found the difference to be very significant.
I've rambled on enough. Other CHers?