Wine provides a subtle background to ingredients and coaxes out their fullest potential
Southwestern Short Ribs Bourguignon 
Portuguese Mussels 
Wild Striped Bass with Red Wine Butter Sauce 
Coq au Vin with Plums 
Black Forest Cake 
These are the months when Sunday is my favorite day to cook. Nothing keeps the chill away more than filling the house with the tempting aromas of sumptuous beef bourguignon or coq au vin—the kind of wine-laced, slow-cooked dish to delve into when time is not of the essence.
Wine provides a subtle background to ingredients and coaxes out their fullest potential, infusing a richness to red meats, a buttery finish to chicken, or a vinegary brightness to fish. Choose the right wine for cooking and, ironically, you won’t taste it in the finished dish; you’ll taste its essential qualities.
On a recent visit to Asheville, North Carolina, to visit the storied Biltmore estate, I got together with Grand Bohemian Hotel executive chef Adam Hayes to cook up a few new renditions of wine-based dishes, using the time-honored techniques of marinating, braising, and reducing. We even did a little baking, using a sugar-intense port.
Choosing wine for cooking has a few basic tenets, the first of which redefines the term “cooking wine.”
“Don’t cook with wine you wouldn’t drink,” Hayes says. “Try the wine before you cook with it.” Choose an inexpensive bottle from an established label—but don’t waste the auction house purchase you’ve cellared for a special occasion. Serve that with dinner.
For red wine-based dishes, burgundy and pinot noir are excellent in recipes with such herbs as oregano, sage, or thyme. Cabernet sauvignon will bolster heartier dishes such as lamb; zinfandel will add its inherent spiciness. For white wine-based recipes, chardonnay’s buttery, oaky notes pair with stews packed with slow-cooked root vegetables. Use sauvignon blanc’s acidic, herbal qualities to enhance recipes with basil, tarragon, or fennel. For spicy or peppery chicken, shellfish, or fish, go with fruity, floral gewürztraminer, riesling, or viognier. Use fortified wines such as port, sherry, or Madeira for baking with chocolate.
“Adding a dash of wine, even when the recipe doesn’t call for it, can be a game-changer,” Hayes says. “As the alcohol cooks off, the base notes of the wine linger.” I agree—the result combines the rewards of a favorite comfort food and a glass of wine—a perfect prescription for a cold winter day.
Photography: Squire Fox
Chef Adam Hayes heads up the cozy Red Stag Grill in the Grand Bohemian Hotel.
Southwestern Short Ribs Bourguignon
Red meats soak up flavor when marinated in red wine. The acids in wine help break down tough fibers, so this is a wonderful technique for less tender cuts such as chuck (pot roast) or brisket.
After marinating, use a traditional enamel cast iron round brasier, such as this 3-1/2 quart braiser from Le Creuset  to sear the short ribs and cook the dish. Its depth is tall enough to hold most cuts of meat, but shallow enough to provide a larger surface for tenderizing.
- 3 cups red Zinfandel
- 3 to 4 pounds bison or beef short ribs
- 4 to 5 shallots, peeled and sliced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 3 sprigs fresh thyme
- 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
- 1 to 2 jalapeños, seeded and slivered lengthwise or chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, chopped
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons bacon drippings or olive oil
- 12 ounces Yukon gold potatoes, cubed
- 12 ounces cremini mushrooms, sliced
- 1 carrot, coarsely chopped
Place meat in large Dutch oven or resealable plastic bag set in large bowl. Add wine, shallots, garlic, thyme sprigs, rosemary sprigs, and jalapeño pepper. Stir or turn to coat. Cover pot with plastic wrap or seal bag. Marinate in refrigerator overnight.
Preheat oven to 275°F. Remove meat from marinade; set marinade aside. Pat meat dry with paper towels. Season with salt and pepper. Heat bacon drippings over medium-high heat in 12-inch skillet. Add meat; brown on all sides. Remove meat from skillet; transfer to a 3-1/2 to 4-quart Dutch oven; set aside. Reduce heat to medium.
Add potatoes, mushrooms, and carrot to the hot skillet. Cook and stir 4 minutes (add additional oil to skillet, if necessary). Spoon around meat in Dutch oven. Add marinade to skillet. Bring to boiling. Pour over meat and vegetables in Dutch oven.
Bake meat, partially covered, in preheated oven 2 to 3 hours or until meat is tender. Remove meat and vegetables to serving platter; cover to keep warm.
Bring cooking liquid in Dutch oven to boiling over medium-high heat. Boil gently, uncovered, 12 to 15 minutes or until reduced by half (about 2 cups) and is slightly thickened. Serve sauce with meat and vegetables. Makes 8 servings.
Sautéing shellfish in white wine creates a flavorful sauce to enhance their briny taste—think of it as a yin-yang of flavor.
A large stainless steel French skillet has higher walls than a traditional sauté or frying pan, making it useful for adding liquid to an already full pan and creating a sauce after sautéing. This 11-inch French skillet from All Clad  comes with a domed lid that helps trap moisture.
- 2 pounds fresh mussels in shells
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 4 cloves garlic, peeled
- 1-1/2 cups sauvignon blanc (preferably from Portugal)
- 1-1/2 teaspoons finely shredded orange peel
- 1/4 teaspoon saffron threads
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs (chives, thyme, tarragon and/or parsley)
- 2 tablespoons butter
- Salt and ground black pepper
- Grilled French Bread
Scrub mussels under cold running water; remove beards and discard. Soak mussels in cold salted water 15 minutes, then drain and rinse. Repeat soaking, draining, and rinsing twice more. Set aside.
Heat large skillet over high heat; add oil. Once pan begins to smoke, add garlic. Cook and stir until cloves begin to brown, about 2 minutes. Add mussels (mixture will sizzle and steam). Cook and stir 1 minute more. Remove from heat.
Add wine, orange peel and saffron. Return skillet to heat. Cook, covered, until shells have opened, about 1 minute. Discard any mussels that have not opened.
Add fresh herbs and butter, stirring gently to melt butter. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve in deep bowl with French bread to soak up the juices.
Wild Striped Bass with Red Wine Butter Sauce
One oft-quoted piece of wisdom from Juiia Child was “Reduce! Reduce! Reduce!” The queen of cookery wasn’t kidding—to intensify the flavors of a wine sauce, cook it down by at least one-half to two-thirds.
To do it best, use a copper saucepan—liquids reach a consistent boil and then simmer, allowing reduction at a consistent level of heat. Mauviel  sets the standard for copper cookware. A 2.6-quart size is a good basic to have on hand.
- 3 cups merlot
- 3 tablespoons sliced shallots
- 3 fresh thyme sprigs
- 1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
- 1 pound unsalted butter, cut into cubes, room temperature
- 1 tablespoon whipping cream
- Salt and ground black pepper
- 6 (6 to 8-ounce) striped bass fillets or other firm-flesh white fish fillets
- 2 tablespoons cooking oil
- Cooked Brussels sprouts (optional)
- Lemon halves (optional)
Preheat oven to 400°F. In medium saucepan combine merlot, shallots, thyme, peppercorns, bay leaf, salt, and white pepper. Bring mixture to boiling over medium heat; reduce heat. Simmer, uncovered, 25 to 30 minutes or until reduced to 1 cup. Strain mixture; discard solids except for bay leaf. Return mixture back to the saucepan. Let stand 5 to 10 minutes or until temperature is about 120°F.
Remove bay leaf if desired. Start whisking in butter. Return saucepan back to heat if butter stops melting, but maintain temperature of 100° to 120°F by moving saucepan back and forth from heat (sauce will break if warmer). Once butter is fully incorporated, whisk in whipping cream. Season to taste with salt and black pepper. Place saucepan on stovetop to keep warm before serving.
Season fish lightly with salt and black pepper. In 12-inch oven-going skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add fish, meaty-side down. Cook until golden; turn. Transfer skillet to oven. Bake, uncovered, for about 12 minutes or until fish flakes easily when tested with fork. Spoon sauce atop fish; serve with Brussels sprouts and lemon halves. Serves 6.
Coq au Vin with Plums
When you braise, you use both dry heat and wet heat for fork-tender results—that means browning the meat in a small amount of fat, then cooking it in a small amount of liquid over low heat.
A pot with a tight-fitting lid is imperative for braising. It gets even better when the lid is fashioned to help the process along. Staub enamel cast-iron cocottes have small “spikes” imbedded in the lid, which allows essential moisture to return to the food as it cooks. A 4-1/2 quart oval cocotte is the perfect size for preparing this dish; Staub USA  is an excellent source if you are looking for one.
- 2 (2-1/2 to 3 pound) broiler-fryer chickens, quartered
- Salt and ground black pepper
- 2 teaspoons freshly grated nutmeg
- 5 to 6 slices thick cut bacon, cut into large pieces
- 1 leek, sliced
- 1 medium parsnip, coarsely chopped
- 8 cloves garlic
- 1/4 cup brandy
- 4 fresh thyme sprigs
- 4 bay leaves
- 4 plums, pitted and cut into wedges
- 1-1/2 cups chardonnay
- 1 (14-1/2 ounce) can chicken broth or stock
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 15 to 20 pearl onions, trimmed and peeled*
- 1 pound mushrooms (chanterelles, cremini, etc.), whole or cut in bite-sized pieces
- 1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- 2 tablespoons arrowroot
- 2 tablespoons water
- Mashed Potatoes
Preheat oven to 300°F. Season chicken pieces generously with salt, pepper and the 2 teaspoons nutmeg; set aside. In Dutch oven cook bacon over medium heat until crisp. Remove bacon from Dutch oven with slotted spoon. Drain bacon on paper towels. Brown chicken pieces, half at a time, in hot bacon drippings until golden brown. Remove chicken from Dutch oven. Drain all but 1 tablespoon drippings from Dutch oven.
Add leek, parsnip and garlic to Dutch oven; cook 4 minutes over medium heat or until garlic lightly browns. Remove Dutch oven from heat. Carefully add brandy to Dutch oven. Return to heat. Cook and stir to scrape up any browned bits from bottom of Dutch oven and until brandy glazes the bottom of the Dutch oven. Add thyme, bay leaves, and half the plums. Add wine. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, until mixture is reduced by one-third. Add chicken stock. Bring to boiling. Add chicken pieces to Dutch oven. Cover Dutch oven; place in the oven. Bake 30 minutes or until chicken is no longer pink (180°F).
Remove chicken from liquid and set aside. Strain braising liquid; discard solids. Skim fat from braising liquid. You should have about 2-1/2 cups liquid.
Heat oil in Dutch oven. Add pearl onions; cook 6 minutes or until browned. Add mushrooms and remaining plums; cook 4 minutes more or until tender. Add braising liquid and remaining 1 teaspoon nutmeg. In a small bowl combine arrowroot and water; add to Dutch oven. Cook and stir until mixture is slightly thickened and comes to a boil. Stir in bacon and chicken pieces; heat through. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve with Mashed Potatoes. Makes 6 to 8 servings.
*Tip: To peel pearl onions, cook trimmed onions in medium saucepan in enough boiling water to cover 1 minute; drain well. Cool onions slightly; push onion from peel by squeezing root end.
Black Forest Cake
While Black Forest Cake usually calls for kirsch, or cherry-flavor brandy, we decided sweet cherries soaked in port would be an admirable substitute. We also lightened the cake batter, giving it a more airy texture.
To help achieve this, non-stick cake pans make the job easier. We used the Williams-Sonoma  Goldtouch nonstick 9-inch round cake pans. The aluminized steel distributes heat evenly and the nonstick surface helps release the cake layers without sticking. For this cake, we still recommend lining the pans with parchment paper to ensure the finished layer doesn’t stick to the pan.
- 4 cups fresh or frozen pitted sweet cherries
- 1-1/4 cups good-quality port
- 2 8-ounce cartons mascarpone cheese
- 3 tablespoons powdered sugar
- 6 ounces sweet baking chocolate, chopped
- 2-1/4 cups milk
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 4 eggs
- 1 egg yolk
- 2-2/3 cups granulated sugar
- 3 tablespoons port
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 cup butter, softened
Whipped Cream Topping
- 3 cups whipping cream
- 1-1/2 cups powdered sugar
- 3/4 teaspoon vanilla
- 3/4 teaspoon lemon extract
- Toasted coconut chips (3 cups)*
For Port-Cherry Filling:
Thaw cherries if frozen; drain. In medium bowl combine cherries and 1-1/4 cups port. Cover; let stand 1 hour. Drain cherries, reserving liquid. Transfer well-drained cherries to food processor. Cover; process until nearly smooth. Add mascarpone cheese and the 3 tablespoons powdered sugar to cherries. Cover; process until just combined. Transfer cherry mixture to large bowl. Cover; chill until ready to assemble cake.
For Chocolate Cake:
In medium saucepan combine chocolate and milk. Cook and stir over low heat until melted; set aside to cool. In medium bowl combine flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt; set aside. Preheat oven to 350ºF. Grease bottoms and sides of three 9x2-inch round cake pans. Line bottoms of pans with parchment paper. Grease parchment paper and generously coat pans with flour.
In large bowl combine eggs, egg yolk and 2 cups granulated sugar. Place bowl over skillet or saucepan of simmering water. Cook and stir until an instant read thermometer reaches 110ºF. Remove from heat.
Using an electric mixer, beat mixture until it becomes very light and thick, about 10 to 15 minutes. Whisk in 3 tablespoons port and 1 teaspoon vanilla until just combined.
In very large bowl beat butter and remaining 2/3 cup granulated sugar until well combined. Alternately add flour and chocolate mixture, beating on low speed after each addition just until combined. Carefully fold in egg mixture just until combined. Divide batter evenly between prepared pans.
Bake in preheated oven 20 to 25 minutes or until wooden toothpick inserted near centers comes out clean. Cool in pans on wire rack for 10 minutes.
Brush tops of cakes with 2 tablespoons of reserved cherry mixture. Remove from pans and cool thoroughly on wire racks. Remove and discard parchment paper.
For Whipped Cream Topping
Combine 3 cups whipping cream, 1-1/2 cups powdered sugar, 3/4 teaspoon vanilla and 3/4 teaspoon lemon extract in large mixing bowl. Beat with electric mixer on high speed until stiff peaks form.
To assemble cake, brush cake layers with another 2 tablespoons reserved cherry liquid (discard remaining cherry liquid). Place one cake layer on serving platter. Spread with half the cherry/mascarpone mixture. Repeat layers ending with final cake layer portion. Spread top and sides of cake with whipped cream mixture. Press toasted coconut shards onto the sides and top of cake. Makes 16 servings.
*Tip: To toast coconut chips, preheat oven to 350°F. Spread coconut chips in an even layer in 15x10x1-inch baking pan. Bake 5 to 10 minutes or until lightly golden brown, stirring once. Fresh peeled coconuts are available at some grocery stores and melissas.com. Use a vegetable peeler to peel shards from coconut meat; toast as directed.