Wine you'd be happy to drink (Recipe: Grandma's beef brisket in the slow cooker)
Question: Why should you cook with wine you'd be happy to drink?
Answer: So you can drink the leftover wine!
That's a good reason -- a great reason -- but it's not the only reason.
When you apply heat to wine, the alcohol and water evaporate, leaving behind the flavor of the grapes, a bit of acidity, and the natural sugars in the fruit.
Never, ever, ever use cooking wine, which is bumped up with excess salt, artificial flavoring agents and food coloring. When that combination is concentrated by heating, you'll be left with a nasty, salty, technicolor taste. (The one exception is Chinese shao hsing wine.)
In cooking, wine features in marinades, as a primary cooking liquid, as a deglazing medium for sauces, and as a flavoring for dishes like risotto. This isn't the time to use an expensive bottle; a good, drinkable wine under $10 will be perfect for grilled swordfish with ginger-soy marinade or marinated London broil, Provencal lamb stew or Irish beef stew, chicken with pomegranate wine sauce, and red wine risotto.
If, like me, you cook with wine but don't drink, or if you're not wine savvy (am I the only one who chooses wine by how much I like the art on the label?), start by matching red wine to meat, and white wine to chicken and fish.
For more specific guidance, bring your recipe with you when you go wine shopping; it's not the recipe title, but the specific ingredients (especially spices) that will help your wine merchant choose a wine for the dish.
Grandma's beef brisket in the slow cooker
The original version of this recipe called for Manischewitz kosher wine, but it's too sweet for me. If you have time (and self-control), make this at least one day ahead, and store in an airtight container in the braising liquid to keep the meat moist. Leftover brisket makes the best sandwiches. I have a 6-1/2 quart slow cooker; if yours is smaller, halve the recipe. Serves 8.
4-5 lb beef brisket, in two pieces, well trimmed of visible fat
Seasoned salt (I use Penzeys 4/S Seasoned Salt)
2 enormous yellow onions, peeled and thickly sliced
1 bay leaf
12-15 black peppercorns
1 bottle dry red wine
Rub the meat liberally with seasoned salt on all sides, and brown in a hot frying pan (do not add any oil or fat to the pan). Place half of the sliced onions in the bottom of a 6-1/2 quart slow cooker. Add the browned meat, then the remaining ingredients. Add water to fill the slow cooker, leaving an inch at the top. Cook on low for 9 hours.
Remove meat from the liquid and allow it to rest for 20 minutes before slicing. Be sure to slice against the grain. Cooked brisket can be frozen in a container with some of the cooking liquid.