Because it shouldn’t all go into your Martinis and Manhattans.
You know that ghastly “cooking wine” on grocery store shelves? Don’t ever put it into your cart – or in your food. Ditto for any bottle you uncorked weeks ago and are looking to get rid of. If it’s not good enough to drink, it’s definitely not good enough to cook with.
In fact, before you head to the kitchen, how about reaching for a vermouth instead? Think of the botanical-rich aromatized wine as the spice rack of beverages, adding lots of different flavors with just one bottle. Again, though, it shouldn’t be an already-opened bottle that’s been setting on your shelf for months (or God forbid, years). Treat vermouth like the wine that it is rather than a spirit, refrigerating it after it’s opened and finishing it within a couple of weeks or a month.
Cooking is a great way to do this. We’ve compiled some advice from chefs about using vermouth in the kitchen, and included a handy primer with the flavor profiles behind a few of the top brands – and how to use them.
“Find vermouth with similar flavor profiles to what your cooking and play with it,” suggests Tony Chittum, chef at Iron Gate. Opt for flavorful and bitter styles like Cocchi Torino for robust dishes, he says, and more delicate ones like Capitoline White Vermouth or Dolin Dry Vermouth for more lightly flavored ones like crudo.
For his Sea Urchin Vermouth Espuma, Chittum purees fresh sea urchin, Cocchi Americano and clementine juice, then charges it in an iSi container with nitro. It’s foamed on a crudo dish with bay scallops, fresh sea urchin, winter citrus, pickled chili and extra virgin olive oil. “[The vermouth] adds a touch of bitterness, citrus acidity and floral notes, all of which help balance the richness of the urchin and scallops.” When cooking with vermouth, he suggests avoiding heavily spiced dishes that may drown out delicate flavors (if that’s the style you are using), but otherwise the sky’s the limit when it comes to experimentation.
At Red Apron, a restaurant, butchery and charcuterie shop with locations in Washington, D.C. and Virginia, chef Nathan Anda uses Cocchi Torino Vermouth in one of his housemade salamis, where it mainly acts as an emulsifier. “We wanted a liquid that had a depth of sweetness that would allow us to lower the amount of sugar in the cure, had some booze that could help tame the heat from the Calabrian chiles and wasn’t overly acidic,” he explains. The flavor of the salami, which also has white pepper and anise seed, is rounded out by the vermouth.
If you are faced with an oxidized bottle of vermouth that’s been open for too long, all is not lost, according to Anda. He adds a little sugar to it, reduces it to a syrup, and pours it over sorbet. Neil Wilson, owner of Neil Fletcher Wilson Personal Chef Service, makes a cranberry sorbet using Dolin Rouge Vermouth, whose currant and raisin tones really work with the tart fruit. But beyond flavor, there are practical reasons to use vermouth in regular sorbet, too. “Alcohol prevents the sorbet from turning into an ice chunk during storage, [so] I use about a tablespoon for one quart of sorbet.” He’s careful not to use too much though, as the sugar may prevent it from freezing at all.
Wilson also make a foie gras terrine with Cocchi Torino Vermouth, splashing the terrine during the initial prep and curing stage; its tones of vanilla, earth and orange offset the rich liver. As opposed to fortified wines and liqueurs which can have an ABV of 40% or higher, vermouth is much more restrained with lots more flavor. “In general, vermouth adds far more botanicals to whatever I am preparing,” he points out. “Floral notes, raisins, figs, honey, and sometimes a combination of sweet and bitter.”
Just like using other kinds of booze in the kitchen, it’s all about trial and error, Chittum says. “Try as many as you can, even if you don’t find a culinary use for them they sure drink easy.” Well said.
Vermouth styles, brands and suggested uses to get you started:
What is it? A Spanish vermouth produced in the city of Reus since 1957.
Flavor profile: An intensely-flavored, wormwood-forward option, with notes of herbs (especially oregano) and baking spices, along with a more savory rather than sweet profile.
Culinary uses: Since the traditional way to enjoy Miró Rojo is over ice garnished with olives, it would work well in dishes with them, including marinated herbed olives, in an aioli dipping sauce for fried olives, and in a reduction to drizzle over roasted baby lamb chops coated in olives and goat cheese.
What is it? A sweet vermouth made in Torino, Italy, from a recipe dating back a hundred years that includes cinchona and rhubarb.
Flavor profile: Rich and round, with intense notes of red fruit, bitter orange and cocoa.
Culinary uses: Its intense flavor means you either need to use a light hand when mixing Cocchi di Torino with other ingredients, or use it in robust dishes. It would be lovely in a sorbet served over olive oil cake, to macerate the fruits used in fruitcake, or in a pan reduction for seared duck breast with cherries or currants.
What is it? A dry vermouth from the Chambéry region of France that dates back to 1821.
Flavor profile: Made with more than 30 Alpine herbs, this vermouth is fresh, elegant and restrained.
Culinary uses: Its more restrained flavor means Dolin Dry should be used in mildly flavored dishes. Try it in a vinaigrette over endive salad, in a mignonette with shallots and herbs for oysters on the half shell, or to replace the sherry in cream soups.
Kelly Magyarics, DWS, is a wine, spirits and lifestyle writer, and wine educator, in the Washington, D.C. area. She can be reached through her website, www.kellymagyarics.com, or on Twitter and Instagram @kmagyarics.