Somm Things I Think About: Easy wine sauces for easy wine pairings

“I cook with wine, sometimes I even add it to the food.” 

The Famous W.C. Fields quote has a lot of truth to it  – if you want an easy way to make a wine pairing, it’s certainly easier if it’s added to the dish. The rule of thumb is whatever wine you use in the recipe, drink with the recipe! I am however, not asking you to use the 20 year old Grand Cru Burgundy, but a cheap(er) Pinot Noir in the sauce and a nice Pinot Noir at the table and you will make magic happen! The following recipe is more of a guideline that I’ve learned working in the restaurant industry and will make the perfect wine pairing really easy! Feel free to expand the recipe for a larger amount and you can certainly use a cheaper wine for the cooking process and a nicer bottle to drink.

The wine:

One of my favorite things to do is use the same wine in the dish and the pairing. You only use a few ounces of the bottle so there is plenty left to have with dinner. I love this because it is a perfect scenario for a couple on a weeknight when you don’t want to make it a big deal but want it to be nice!  Here are a few of my favorites to use, just make sure it’s not too oaky, it will come off as bitter in the sauce.

For pork, chicken and salmon I love the Schug Pinot Noir. It’s under $20 so you won’t  mind using a few ounces for a sauce while still having enough to enjoy with dinner.

For chicken, turkey, and meaty fish I love Robert Oatley Signature Chardonnay. Also under $20 and really crisp yet rich so it’s perfect to drink with and make a sauce.

For white fish, chicken breast, and generally lighter dishes I love Sauvignon Blanc. It’s high acid and citrus flavors are amazing in a wine sauce. My favorite is Silverado Miller Ranch Sauvignon Blanc.

For steak or chops, this is a little harder, but I look to Australia and there great range of quality wines that score consistently high while being very reasonably priced. d’Arenberg High Trellis Cabernet Sauvignon.

Restaurant style dinner for 2:

Ingredient list

  • 2 pieces of protein 6-8oz like chicken, pork chop, skirt steak, or a meaty fish. Portobello Mushroom caps are brilliant too!
  • 1 large shallot or a ¼ onion
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, depending on how much you love it.
  • dried ground spices like paprika, turmeric, or mustard seeds (optional)
  • 8 ounces mushrooms sliced (optional)
  • 4 ounces (½ cup) of wine, red or white depending on the protein
  • a tablespoon of butter
  • a tablespoon of high temperature cooking oil, like grapeseed or canola

Prep ahead of time:

  • on a plate or shallow dish, place a cup of flour, whole wheat, almond, cornmeal or all purpose is fine. season with a teaspoon each of salt and pepper and any dry ground up spices you like.
  • Dice one ¼ of a large onion or use 1 large shallot and 2-3 cloves of garlic and set aside. If you wanted to make it a mushroom sauce, make sure to have those sliced and ready too.
  • Feel free to brine or marinate the protein ahead of time, just make sure to dry with paper towels before dredging in the flour.

Ready to cook!

Over high heat pour the tablespoon of cooking oil and heat it up until it shimmers.  I prefer a medium sized metal non-teflon pan, if you have only non-stick pans it will still do the job, but you actually want a little sticking, it encourages a deeper caramelization, and offers more fond for deglazing.

Cook the protein over a high heat to get a good sear and crust, 1-3 minutes per side depending on what you use, and the amount of doneness desired. cook it a little less than you like, because it will be finished in the sauce and set aside.

Remove most of the oil leaving a teaspoon left in the pan. Lower the heat to medium or med-low. Add the aromatics and mushrooms, and any dried spices you would like, a tablespoon of paprika, Turmeric or cracked peppercorns are a few ideas. Continuously stir things around to caramelize the garlic and shallots for 4 minutes or so. Be careful, garlic can burn easily and will contribute a bitter flavor.

After the vegetables have softened and turned a little golden brown add a ½ cup of wine and deglaze the pan. This means taking a spatula or wooden spoon and scraping the brown bits off the bottom of the pan  and incorporating it into the liquid. If you are using fresh herbs, add them now, or add a few sprigs of thyme or rosemary if you would like, and let it reduce by half. At this time place the protein on top of the sauce, do not turn over, the side facing up is your presentation side, and let sit to finish the cooking process. This will take about 5 minutes.

The sauce is almost ready, stir in a tablespoon of butter to give it a smooth and creamy texture, remove the sprigs if needed, salt & pepper as desired and serve!

For the best presentation cut the protein into thin slices against the grain, strain the sauce to remove any solids, and serve over the protein with a sprinkle of  fresh chopped herbs like Italian parsley, chives, marjoram or chervil.

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