News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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October 28, 2012

GRAPE SENSE: Food author makes stop in Indiana, gives tips on cooking with wine

TERRE HAUTE — So much fuss is made over pairing wine and food that the home cook may not think of wine as an asset in flavoring their dishes.

Michael Ruhlman, one of American’s most prolific and authoritative food authors, said wine can be used as a great marinade to enhance foods. Ruhlman, known for his 18 books and appearances on the Food Network and with Anthony Bourdain on the Travel Channel, made a recent brief visit to Indiana.

The Cleveland native said one of the most important rules is an old one. “Always use a wine that you would feel comfortable drinking,” he said. “But not a Chateau Margaux (very expensive French wine). You don’t want to throw that in a pot of stew; use a drinkable, affordable wine.”

“I like to add it in the beginning when the alcohol tends to burn off faster. You can add it at the end but it definitely flavors it different. I always add it first at the first de-glazing or adding of the liquid ingredients.”

Ruhlman has written books with some of the country’s top chefs. He also has learned from them while writing. His big career break came when he had the opportunity to help Thomas Keller, chef at The French Laundry in Napa, write The French Laundry Cookbook. The iconic wine country restaurant has long been considered one of the country’s best.

“I learned this from Thomas Keller,” Ruhlman said. “People often like to put wines in marinades but the alcohol in marinades will actually de-nature the exterior of the protein and prevent any flavors from entering the meat. You’re not really helping the meat; in fact, you’re helping the outside become slightly mushy by marinating in wine.

What I learned from Keller is that if you’re going to use wine, and it’s a great thing to marinate with, cook off the alcohol first then add the aromatics. Add the onions, carrots, and thyme or whatever you want. Throw in the pepper and some salt so that it steeps and cooks then flame it and make sure you can’t get any flame. Once the alcohol is cooked off then you have this really tasty fluid to marinate your meat.”

Ruhlman said he’d even eat boneless, skinless chicken breast if it was properly marinated. “And let’s face it, chicken breast is the skim milk of the protein world that America relies on. If home cooks would learn to marinate it properly they’d have something really tasty.”

As a celebrity chef often recognized for his appearances as a judge on Food Network’s Iron Chef, Ruhlman also gets asked about wine and food pairing.

“I tell people to use their common sense and pay attention,” he said. “Does it go well with the food? Does the red wine go with the fish or does it overpower the fish? How does a white wine contribute to the flavor? Does it have the right acidity for the dish?

“We educate ourselves by paying attention to what we eat and drink. There are no hard and fast rules. I try to tell people not to be intimated by wine. There’s so much to learn and there are experts out there to varying degrees. Don’t ever feel cowed by the experts and rely on your own taste.”

Howard W. Hewitt, Crawfordsville, writes every other week for 20 Midwestern newspapers. Read his wine blog at: www.redforme.

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