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Posted August 12, 2009 | Copyright © The Northern Virginia Daily
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Winchester chef shares tips for adding wine to recipes

By Josette Keelor -- jkeelor@nvdaily.com

Cantina D'Italia chef Kori Azarkhish holds a Chicken Picatta dish
Cantina D'Italia chef Kori Azarkhish holds a Chicken Picatta dish at his Millwood Avenue restaurant in Winchester. The dish is a simple one that can be made at home with white wine. Rich Cooley/Daily

Azarkhish works on a recipe
Azarkhish works on a recipe using white wine in the kitchen of his restaurant. Rich Cooley/Daily

Chicken Picatta
A finished plate of Chicken Picatta is shown. Rich Cooley/Daily

It's mid-summer. The sun hangs high in the sky late into the evening, the cooling air inviting family members outdoors. What better time to enjoy a late European-style dinner, something Italian or French maybe?

All your meal needs is the perfect wine sauce.

Though cooking with wine might sound complicated and elaborate, it doesn't have to be. Just a couple choice steps will turn regular spaghetti and chicken into Tuscan cuisine.

The first rule is simple: Choose a wine you like.

"Use something that you're going to drink," says Kori Azarkhish, owner and chef of Cantina D'Italia at 242 Millwood Ave. in Winchester. Even better is to use a cup of your favorite wine in the dish, and then pour yourself a glass to accompany your meal.

"If you're cooking with a wine, finish the wine with dinner, that way you're not wasting it," Azarkhish says. Many meals will require only a half cup or so of wine, and unless you plan to cook with it every night for a week, the flavor of the wine will diminish before you can use it, he says. Matching it with your food will complete the meal.

According to Azarkhish, you can add wine to pretty much anything.

"You can, but there's steps," he says.

Add the wine too soon and the flavor will be diminished; wait too long to add it, and all the ingredients will taste like wine.

"The easiest thing for someone at home to do would be a chicken dish," he says. "When you're cooking with wine there's basically two steps, deglazing and reducing."

Deglazing, he says, is adding wine to the food while it's cooking in order to break up any meat, chicken or fish protein stuck to the pan and mix the ingredients together.

"It loosens up some things when you're making a pan sauce," he says.

Reduction of the wine happens while it's cooking with the food, with a good chicken or meat stock.

"Swanson makes a good one," he says.

"The wine actually needs to simmer with the food for a while," he says. Ten minutes is standard for the reducing of a sauce to nearly the consistency of a syrup, which enhances its flavor, he says.

The wine you choose will depend on your taste, he says.

Cantina D'Italia uses a white wine Chardonnay from California for many of its dishes.

If you don't like white wine, use red, he says. Or if you aren't fond of Chardonnay or Pinot Grigio, but you enjoy Riesling, use that. People might think a dish will be ruined by choosing a different wine, but it's more about finding the wine that's right for you.

"[For a] red sauce you can actually use red wine," he says. Red wine pairs well with red sauces, he says, though many people might choose to use a white wine.

Red or white wine can also be used in marinating, not just in sauces.

Marinating helps tenderize the meat acid and cut through the fat in the meat, he says. Use wine in the same way you would use any other marinade, adding whichever spices you like most, he says.

But, never use a "cooking wine."

"Cooking wines simply have additives and salt," he says. "Then you have to adjust your recipe for salt.

"Basically you want to stay away from anything that says 'cooking wine.'"

Ingredients are not everything, though. The cooking equipment is equally important in making sure the meal comes together right.

Azarkhish recommends using non-reactive cookware, made of stainless steel, when cooking with wine.

"You don't want to use cast-iron or aluminum," he says "The flavor of the wine should be coming through," he says, which will happen more efficiently in non-reactive cookware.

As a rule, use 1/4 cup of wine per serving, Azarkhish says.

Now you're cooking

Pair dishes with a suitable wine:

  • Young full-bodied red or robust red wine: red meat, red meat dishes and red sauces.

  • Earthy red wine: beef stock, root vegetables, soups.

  • Dry white wine: shellfish, seafood, poultry, pork, veal.

  • Crisp dry white acidic wine: seafood, soups, boulle base.

  • Sweet wines: dessert dishes.

Some tips for cooking with wine:

  • Cook with a wine you would drink.

  • Enhance flavor of dish by simmering wine with food.

  • Use non-reactive cookware to cook with wine.

  • Never use "cooking wine."

Chicken Picatta
serves 2

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 cup flour (for dredging)

2 chicken breasts (trimmed and pounded to 1/4-inch thickness)

2 teaspoons unsalted butter (one reserved for later use)

1/2 teaspoon chopped garlic

2 teaspoons capers (rinsed)

1/2 cup dry white wine

1 cup chicken stock (homemade or store-bought)

Juice of half a lemon

Finely chopped parsley

Salt and pepper to taste

1. Heat olive oil in a non-reactive skillet on medium-high heat.

2. Spread flour on a plate or in a bowl and lightly coat chicken breasts in flour

3. Add chicken to heated skillet, lightly browning 2-3 minutes per side.

4. Remove chicken from pan and keep warm.

5. Discard olive oil.

6. Return pan to medium high heat, add 1 teaspoon butter, garlic and capers.

7. Lightly sauté garlic until lightly colored

8. Deglaze by adding wine and, using a wooden spoon, stir and scrape to release any bits and scraps remaining from sautéing meat. Reduce mixture by half.

9. Add chicken stock, bring to a simmer, return chicken breasts to pan.

10. Reduce sauce by half again, and add remaining butter, lemon juice and parsley. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serve over pasta or vegetables.

-- Source: Kori Azarkhish, owner and chef of Cantina D'Italia

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