For some, cooking with wine may entail holding a spatula in one hand and a glass of sparkling wine in the other. You may not know yet how to put it into recipes, but white wine has been a firm favorite in cooking for centuries. You find it both in the most illustrious recipes and the humblest stew.
Many people won’t even cook at all without adding some wine—whether white or red. The flavors and changes it makes to the food will be discussed in this article.
But what about when you run out of wine, or if you prefer not to have alcohol in your house at all? We will cover that too.
Firstly, however, we need to know what white wine actually does in cooking. What are its properties that transform a dish into a masterpiece?
What Does White Wine Do in Cooking?
Knowing what white wine does to your cooking will enable you not only to use it more effectively, but also to know with what to substitute it when you have no wine in the house.
There are two factors to consider:
- How it enhances the flavor
- What it does to the chemistry of the food
The first fact is that white wine adds to the flavor. The addition of just about any ingredient is going to affect what your food tastes like. So, let’s go through the basic flavors of white wine, and how it will add to your food’s aromas.
The most frequent use of white wine is in sauces for meat, vegetables or pasta. Here’s how it can be used in practice.
Wines have a variety of acids in them – this enlivens the flavor of the dish. Note that if you add some wine to a sauce, and simmer the food, the wine will become concentrated, and stronger. So, limit how much you initially put in.
All grape juice, and therefore wine, has both sweet and sour in it. Even the driest wine has at least some sugar in it. This will affect the eventual taste of your food. When planning how much to put int, know that the more sugar the wine has, the sweeter the taste once it has been reduced (boiled). So, it’s best to start off with the driest wine you can find.
Wines have a myriad of aromas. White wine tends toward the citrus, apples and topical fruit aromas. Select your wine carefully so that it enhances the flavor of the food and doesn’t detract from it. Keep in mind that wine should be an undertone, not a dominant theme.
Note: It’s a worthwhile point to remember that the wine you use in your food should be good enough to drink. If you can’t drink it, then it won’t taste good in food.
White wine is also used for deglazing the pan after cooking meat. At times, there are bits of meat left sticking to the bottom of the pan once you’ve browned the meat. White wine becomes handy, because, once you pour it onto the bottom of the pan, it lifts the browned bits off the bottom so it can become part of the cooking sauce.
Were you aware that there are chemical reactions that occur between your food and the wine that you add? Wine’s acidity is of great benefit to your cooking, because it produces ‘acid-induced hydrolysis’ of proteins. This means that your meat will become more tender thanks to the wine.
Now, let’s discuss what you can substitute for white wine so you still get similar flavor and chemistry of your end product.
Substitutes for White Wine in Cooking
White wine substitutes can be used if you have no white wine in your kitchen – for whatever reason. Perhaps you know your guests prefer not to consume alcoholic beverages at all?
You need something that mimics the wine, and because wine has specific properties, that may mean combining several items to get the same outcomes. You’ll need to take into consideration that some of these substances are very strong, like vinegar, and you often have to put in a lesser quantity than you would the wine.
What then could you use as substitutes for white wine?
White Wine Vinegar
White wine vinegar has high acidity, and is therefore a perfect substitute for white wine, because it has some of the same flavors. However, the acidity is far greater, meaning that you must use much less in your cooking compared to wine. If a recipe calls for a cup of white wine for example, you would use only a tablespoonful of vinegar.
This is the only substitute that also breaks down the proteins in meat, making it tender, and is the only flavorful liquid that can be used as a deglazing agent. Water can be used, but isn’t as effective, so you’ll have to scrape the pan to get the bits off the bottom.
Also Read: The 11 Best White Wine Vinegar Substitutes
This may seem like a strange substitute for white wine, but it has the same dry, sweet taste as white wine, so you can use it as a replacement. It’s best if it contains no sugar, but if you get something that’s less sweet, it will work well. Obviously, your food will have to suit the ginger taste. It shouldn’t clash.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Another alternative is apple cider vinegar. It has a similarly aged depth, and it has the same level of sweetness as white wine. It can be substituted cup for cup of white vinegar.
Chicken, or Vegetable Stock
You can use a cup of chicken or vegetable broth instead of a cup of white wine. This gives the recipe a different flavor, but also adds body to the food. If you want the same level of acidity, add a tablespoon of vinegar. You have to be careful not to add any salt, because some broths are already sufficiently salty.
Apple juice is sweet, and therefore a good substitute for white wine. It’s sweeter than white wine, so you have to dilute it, or add vinegar or lemon to reduce the sugar.
White Grape Juice
This has the flavor of white wine, but is sweeter, so similar to using apple juice, you need to reduce the sweetness with some lemon juice or vinegar.
Adding water to the dish you’re cooking won’t change the flavor, but it does add volume. This may be something that you want in a sauce, but, for instance, in pasta, you may wish to add milk, especially if it’s a cheesy sauce.
You can of course add some lemon juice. It’s acidic and not sweet, but you will again have to ensure that it’s not overpowering, especially when reducing a sauce.
Now that you know about some substitutes for white wine in general, let’s discuss substitutes in specific recipes.
Substitute for White Wine in Risotto
Risotto is a rice dish that you cook in a pan. Basically, you place rice in a pan, and add juices to enable it to cook.
You can remove the wine altogether, and not add anything apart from water. You could also add some chicken or vegetable stock, with a splash of lime juice for acidity.
We’ll include one recipe so that you can see how it works.
- 350 g risotto rice
- 1.3 liters vegetable or chicken stock
- 3 cloves garlic chopped
- 1 onion, large, chopped
- 4 portobello mushrooms, large
- 12 g dried portobello mushrooms
- 25g butter
- 3 tbsp parsley
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Lime juice – a splash
- Parmesan cheese, grated
- Sauté the onions in a pan over a low heat for approximately five minutes until translucent. Add the butter and the garlic.
- Chop and add the mushrooms and sauté. Turn up the heat to medium and cook for 4 – 5 minutes.
- In another pot, heat up your stock and add the dried mushrooms. Make sure they’ve become completely hydrated.
- Add rice, salt and pepper to stock pot, and mix well. Decrease the heat and cover with a lid.
- Cook for about 25 minutes, until it has absorbed most of the stock, stirring occasionally.
- Add the sauteed mushrooms and the lime juice.
- Grate parmesan on top, and garnish with some parsley.
Substitute for White Wine in Pasta
There are a number of substitutes for white wine that you can place in pasta. You can use Verjus, from Australia. It’s pressed from unripened grapes. Or, you could use a sweet vinegar, like Muscat vinegar. Alternatively, try some of the items mentioned above, like lemon juice or chicken/vegetable stock.
White Sauce for Pasta without White Wine
- Chicken stock – 1 cup
- Garlic – 3 cloves
- 3 Shallots/1 large Onion
- Butter – 25g
- Flour/cornflour – 1 – 2 tbsps
- Cream (or yoghurt) – about half a cup
- Parmesan cheese, grated
- A splash of lemon or lime juice
- Pasta of your choice
- Meat or vegetables of your choice: mussels and ham do well
- Sauté the garlic and onion/shallot until translucent.
- Add flour or cornflour, which will thicken your sauce.
- Add stock, then cream/yoghurt and simmer for a few minutes. Note that if you add yoghurt, its sour taste may mean you don’t have to put in that splash of lemon juice.
- Add Parmesan cheese and stir well until melted.
- Add your pre-cooked meat, seafood, or chosen vegetables and stir.
- Cook your pasta as normal.
- Add the sauce and serve with a garnish of parsley.
Now that you’ve found out all these delicious substitutes for white wine in recipes, why not give some of them a go! Let us know in the comments what you think.