Many amateur cooks are wary of using recipes with alcohol at first. They may worry that too much alcohol will remain in their finished dish, and they may be reluctant to serve food prepared with wine to children or guests who don’t drink alcohol. Understanding the basic chemistry of cooking with wine should help alleviate some of these concerns.
What Happens When Using Wine in Cooking
When you use wine in a recipe, the majority of the alcohol “cooks out” during preparation. For example, if you’re making a white wine sauce, you add the wine at the same time as the broth (or other liquid) and spices. You turn the heat up to high and let it boil until the liquid is reduced by about half. Much of the alcohol is first to go as the liquid evaporates.
Meanwhile, as the wine sauce reduces, the sauce thickens and the flavors become concentrated. This means that any prominent notes in the wine will lend a lot of flavor to the sauce and to the finished dish. For example, if you’re using a semi-sweet wine like Riesling, your finished dish will have a sweet taste. Likewise, a dry white wine with hints of fruit will have a much stronger fruit flavor in the finished sauce.
Cooking Alcohol Chemistry Lesson
When you use wine in cooking, the alcohol evaporates quickly because alcohol has a lower boiling point than water. Water boils at 212 degrees Fahrenheit; alcohol only needs to reach 178 degrees Fahrenheit in order to evaporate. Most stovetop wine recipes boil long enough to “reduce” the liquid by about half. At that point, most of the alcohol should be gone.
Sulfites in wine are also affected by the cooking process. These salts, which many winemakers add to their wines to prevent oxidation, also evaporate when heated. The same compound that prevents oxidation dissipates when the wine is heated, leaving behind only a few salts that won’t affect the flavor of the finished dish.