There are many religions that forbid the consumption of alcohol as part of their belief. This does not totally prevent someone from using wine in cooking, however. If in the cooking process the wine is reduced to being "dry" (where no liquid remains, just a syrupy glaze), the alcohol has evaporated. The alcohol, having a lower boiling point, will evaporate before all the liquid is gone. To ensure this, reduce until no liquid remains. If this seems like a cop-out, there are a few very good non-alcoholic wines. I would suggest going to a good wine shop and talk to the buyer. He/she treats wine as a beverage to be savored for its flavors, not as a means to consume alcohol, and will respect your request for a beverage with all the flavor of wine, and none of the alcohol. Then, go home and cook with it.
For many people sulfites are a problem. I have spoken to many people who say, "I just can't drink red wine because I am allergic to all the sulfites." I think there are two points to address here. First, for many people, a flushing of the skin or hot flash or headaches is considered an allergic reaction. In most cases, true allergic reactions to sulfites is manifested in respiratory problems. It probably isn't the sulfites causing the symptoms, but rather something else in the red wine. Second, there are actually more sulfites in white wine than in red. and the same sulfites used to prevent oxidation in wine are used to keep the lettuce on a salad bar or a fast food french fry from turning brown, usually in much higher quantities. If you can eat or drink these, it isn't the sulfites affecting you.
When cooking with wine containing sulfites, you do not concentrate them as you would flavor, but rather they evaporate like alcohol. The sulfite goes through a conversion in the liquid of the wine to produce sulfur dioxide. This is actually the compound that prevents the oxidation. It also is a gas, and when subjected to heat, it dissipates into the air. All that remains is some salts, but they are so minute in quantity that they have no affect on flavor.
One final item concerns children. If you are concerned about exposing your children to alcohol, the safest bet is to follow the advice for avoiding alcohol altogether. However, in the most common use of wine in cooking, where the wine is reduced, the exposure is greatly diminished. Typically, in a recipe that serves 4, you may add 1/4 to 1/2 cup of wine. That is approximately 1/2 to 1 glass, if you were drinking it. You are then going to heat this, so some (or all) of the alcohol evaporates, and then divide it among 4 people. As you can see, the amount of alcohol consumed per person eating the dish is not very large, and in fact may not even be there at all.
About the author:
Joe LaVilla originally hails from Rochester, in Western New York State. While obtaining his Ph.D. in organic chemistry from the University of Rochester, he decided to pursue his culinary calling. A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, Joe has worked in Manhattan, Washington, D.C. and at Spago in Las Vegas before settling in Phoenix.
This page originally published as part of the electronic Gourmet Guide between 1994 and 1998.
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Modified August 2007
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