Cooking with Wine

By / Food / January 26th, 2011 / 1

These may come across as words from a wimpy West Coaster, but until Jim and Susan invited us to join them for a mid-winter visit to their Edmonton home, I had never before seen lacy ice patterns on the inside of a bedroom window. Cool indeed, even if I remember that it wasn’t that the bedroom was particularly cold, it was that the -32 Celsius night outside was punishingly colder.

So, on the second night of our visit, with all of this global cooling around us, it made sense that to inject some warmth into things, we should set fire to the dining room. Let’s do fondue, said Susan. I know it’s such a yesterday thing, but we’ll heat up a pot of oil, coat everything from the bottom drawer of the fridge with batter, and fondue it.

We were into it, and having made a batter of the simplest of ingredients — see below — including a can of frothy beer, we pre-heated a pot of canola oil, lit the flame beneath it, and began dipping, fonduing and graciously dining.

I can’t recall how near-tragedy came about, but somehow the pot tipped, the fat caught fire, and a fondue dinner immediately seemed like a bad idea. I suggested we douse the now-burning tablecloth with salt, which produced a warm, sodium-tinged hue, but didn’t stop the conflagration. It was ever-practical partner Joyce who high-tailed it to the bathroom, soaked a towel in water, and dumped it on the dinner. We roundly applauded her heroism, and life in Edmonton returned to mid-winter normal.

The addition of beer to batter, and of alcoholic beverages of all kinds to cooking, has been going on for as long as we’ve been drinking and dining — and in moderation, the cooked-up combination has added zesty tastes to the foods we enjoy. For years, I’ve been adding brandy and rum to Christmas cakes, flambéing puddings, poaching pears in red wine, making sherry trifles, and stuffing chickens with cans of beer for a good-old-boy or way-to-go-girl barbecue treat.

Fellow foodie Mia Stainsby, who for years has been doing a stellar job reporting on the Vancouver food scene for the Vancouver Sun, recently ventured into the beer-can-in-the-chicken realm, and these are her observations. You may wish to try it at home.

Says Mia: Recipes don’t call for a beer-can chicken device, a stand upon which you set the beer and the chicken, but I’d highly advise getting one. It’s not expensive, and it not only made for a more stable chicken on the barbecue, the little dish holding the beer can was also a great receptacle for the drippings, keeping it nice and tidy inside the barbecue

Here’s the basic recipe. Use your favourite rub inside and outside the chicken. And for best results, brine the chicken for about an hour or two, using about 1/2 cup salt, 1/2 cup sugar dissolved in water in a stock pot or stew pot.

I’m more partial to rubbing the chicken with a paste than a dry rub, although my husband, unfortunately, prefers the latter. You can make an easy paste: Use a mortar and pestle and smash about 4 garlic cloves (more if you’re a garlic-a-holic like me), 2 teaspoons oregano, a teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon crushed red peppers. Add a couple tablespoons of oil and 3 teaspoons lime juice. Rub over rinsed and dried chicken.

Light the gas grill and heat to 350˚F. Open beer can and guzzle about 1/4 cup of it. Punch a couple more holes into the can with punch opener. Ram the chicken over the beer can (a nicer verb might be “place”) so it’s sitting upright over it. I don’t know if it’s just me, but it looked pleased.

Place the chicken and beer can over indirect heat; cover and roast, with the barbecue lid closed, rotating the bird 180 degrees at the halfway mark. It’ll take a 3 1/2 pound chicken about 70 to 90 minutes; the thickest part of the thigh should be 170 to 175˚F. And you don’t want a chicken much bigger than 4 pounds because it will not be able to stand under the barbecue lid.

Remove from BBQ onto platter, keeping can upright. Rest for about 15 minutes before lifting chicken off the can and onto cutting board. Carve.

Thank you Mia.

pears poached in wine

Savoury red wine poached pears are a perfect dessert option anytime, but even better in the fall and winter. Do them for dinner, or for some oohs and ahhs at the end of a weekend brunch. Pears are naturally sweet, and in combination with a fruit-forward red wine, they colour up beautifully and the mélange of tastes is a treat indeed. Add a splash of vanilla if you wish, and perhaps a sprinkling of cinnamon.

1 1/2 cups red wine, Zinfandel, Shiraz or Merlot
3/4 cups granulated sugar
2 tbsp lemon juice, zest too for more colour and flavour
2 tsp vanilla
2 tsp cinnamon
4-6 pears (peeled and cored). I leave them in halves, but slice if you wish
mascarpone, crème fraiche or Devonshire cream

1. Combine all ingredients, except pears, and bring to a boil. Once the wine mixture is boiling, turn heat down to a simmer and add the pears.
2. Simmer pears for 10 to 12 minutes and then turn pears and simmer for an additional 8 to 10 minutes — until they are tender.
3. Remove pears and let them cool. Boil wine sauce until the liquid has been reduced by half. Pour sauce over pears and serve with mascarpone, crème fraiche or Devonshire cream.

In the same general taste palate, one web source suggested that a quick but delicious way of serving fruit is to briefly fry it in a little butter, before adding orange juice and muscovado  (less refined) sugar followed by rum, which is set alight to burn off some of its alcohol. Pineapple tastes particularly good if you add a few vanilla seeds. I’ve often fried and made flambés of pineapple slices.

beer batter

1 1/2 cups light beer 

1 1/2 cups flour 

1/2 tsp salt 

1 tsp paprika 

1 cup flour (for dredging)
lemon wedges

1. Pour the beer into a large bowl. Sift the flour, salt and paprika into the beer, whisking until the batter is light and frothy. (This batter may be used immediately, or stored in the fridge for up to a week with occasional whisking.)
2. Heat at least 2 inches of oil in a frying kettle or electric fryer. Just before it reaches 375˚F, quickly dredge pieces of fish, shrimp or vegetables with flour, shaking off any excess, then drip in the beer batter, coating well, and drop the pieces into the hot fat a few at a time.
3. When they are brown on one side, which will take less than a minute, turn and brown the other side. Drain on paper towels. Serve hot with lemon wedges and your favourite dip.

sherry or rum trifle

This has been in my three-ring binder of recipes for years. The rum or sherry make it a better-than-average dessert. And rich? Phew!

Rounds of yellow, sponge or layer cake
2 tbsp rum or sherry
1/2 cup jam or jelly or 1-2 cups sweetened fruit
1/4 cup slivered almonds
Rich custard (see recipe below)
Whipped cream

Place the cake in a deep dish. Sprinkle with the rum or sherry. Spread with the remaining ingredients. Pour on the custard. Garnish, if desired, with whipped cream.

rich custard

3/4 cup sugar
2 tbsp cornstarch
1/8 tsp salt
2 cups milk and cream mixed
4 well-beaten egg yolks
2 tbsp butter
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
1 cup whipped cream

1. Mix the sugar, cornstarch and salt in the top of a double boiler. Gradually stir in the milk-cream mix. Cook over the boiling water for 8 minutes without stirring.
2. Uncover and cook for about 10 minutes more. Add the egg yolks and butter. Continue to cook and stir these ingredients 2 minutes longer.
3. Cool, stirring occasionally to release steam, then add 1 1/2 tsp vanilla, then fold in 1 cup whipped cream. Chill the custard. It will have consistency of heavy whipped cream.


Our West Coast wordsmith Duncan Holmes likes to cook all parts of the meal—hot and cold apps for the eyes; big, generous mains, where timing, color and taste come together on sparkling, white plates—and there’s always enough for seconds. But it’s at dessert time when he really shines. Not with precious fancy dancy, but with a melt-in-your-mouth-pastry apple pie. Granny Smiths, of course, and French vanilla ice cream.

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