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First, Cook Your Marinade

Why You Shouldn't Marinate in Raw Wine

May 03, 2000|THOMAS KELLER and MICHAEL RUHLMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Marinating meat in wine is one of the most frequently misused kitchen techniques today, in home kitchens, cookbooks and professional kitchens. It's not that the wine is so bad, it's that you must be absolutely sure to cook the alcohol out first.

Marinating does not tenderize meat, and alcohol doesn't either. Only slicing, pounding and cooking can tenderize meat. In fact, alcohol will, in effect, cook the surface, keeping the meat from absorbing the marinade. If you cook off the alcohol first, the meat will absorb the full flavor of the fruit of the wine.

There's another great perk: Cooking off the alcohol gives you the opportunity to introduce other flavors into your marinade. Saute aromatic vegetables--thin slices of carrot and thinly sliced onion, smashed garlic--until wilted, then add fresh herbs, peppercorns, a cup or so of red wine, and simmer.

To get rid of the last bit of alcohol, try to light the simmering wine. Carefully hold a match to the liquid to ignite the alcoholic fumes. It won't explode. A weak dark blue translucent flame will flutter over the surface. It's fire, so keep your shirt-sleeves out of it.

The liquid should be moving, but not so rapidly that the rising steam blows out the fire. When the flame dies, almost all of the alcohol will be gone and the wine will have begun to absorb the flavors of the vegetables and herbs. Depending on how much alcohol was in the wine and how long the marinade has simmered, the wine may not light at all. Your nose should be the final arbiter. If you no longer smell harsh alcohol, it is sufficiently cooked.

Let this cool and then add your meat to it. It's a wonderful all-purpose marinade for braised short ribs, leg of lamb or virtually any kind of meat that is enhanced by marination.

The final benefit of the wine marinade is that it can become the base for a sauce for the meat. When the meat has marinated at least 24 hours, remove it from the liquid, then pass the marinade through a fine mesh strainer into a small sauce pan, the smaller the better.

Bring the marinade very gently to a simmer. The albumen from the meat will begin to coagulate and rise to the surface, forming a kind of "raft"--the term for the combination of egg whites and meat used to clarify stock for consommes--that will clarify your wine. Don't boil this or the protein will emulsify into the marinade, clouding its appearance and flavor. Skim this raft off the wine, and strain the wine once more through a fine-meshed strainer.

This liquid can now be added to a little veal stock, minced shallot, fresh herbs, salt and pepper and reduced into an elegant sauce. Or, if you are braising meat, it can be added with its vegetables to the stew pot as part of the cooking liquid.

We can't stress enough the importance of using good wine for the marinades. Don't use anything called cooking wine and don't use jug wine. The bad flavor will permeate the meat and remain in your finished sauce. Use a robust Zinfandel, Merlot or Pinot Noir.

Other important points:

* Be sure that whatever meat you're marinating is completely covered by the marinade.

* Allow plenty of time for the marination, especially if you're marinating a large piece of meat like a roast or a leg of lamb, at least 24 hours and as many as 48.

* Be sure you've cooked off all the alcohol. You should smell only the wine and aromatics and not feel a harsh burning sensation in your nose.

* Be sure to let this marinade cool to room temperature before adding it to you meat, or it will start cooking your meat. Letting it cool also gives the liquid more time to pick up the flavors of the vegetables and aromatics.

White Wine-Marinated Grilled Chicken Breasts With Garden Tomatoes and Basil

Active Work Time: 1 hour * Total Preparation Time: 1 1/2 hours plus 1 day marinating

1 small onion, sliced

3 cloves garlic, crushed

2 1/2 cups Sauvignon Blanc or other dry white wine

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

3 cups chicken stock (if using canned, use no-salt variety)

Salt, pepper

2 cups peeled, seeded and chopped tomatoes

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1/3 cup thinly sliced basil leaves (do not cut until ready to use)

* Combine onion, garlic and wine and bring to simmer. Carefully ignite fumes of wine (if flame blows out, reduce stove-top heat). When flame subsides, pour into noncorrosive container large enough to contain breast pieces without overlapping. Chill.

* Add breasts to cold marinade; they should be completely covered. Cover and refrigerate 24 to 36 hours.

* Remove chicken from marinade and strain liquid into small saucepan. Bring gently to simmer; do not allow mixture to boil. Skim surface of anything that floats to top. Continue simmering and skimming until wine is clear; this will take at least 20 minutes. Add chicken stock to wine and, skimming as it cooks, reduce gently to 1/2 cup. This will take about 45 minutes.

* Season chicken breasts with salt and pepper to taste at least 5 minutes before cooking, then grill over medium-high heat until cooked through but still moist inside, 5 to 6 minutes a side.

* Add tomatoes to reduced wine and stock, bring to simmer and stir in butter by the tablespoon until incorporated. Add oil. Add basil leaves. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

* Divide sauce among 4 plates and top with grilled chicken breast.

grams carbohydrates; 45 grams protein; 0.74 gram fiber.

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Provenc,al napkins from Lavender Blue, Los Angeles, and Jordanos, Santa Barbara and Montecito.

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Keller is chef at the French Laundry in the Napa Valley. He and Ruhlman are co-authors of "The French Laundry Cookbook" (Artisan, $50). Previous columns by Keller and ruhlman can be found on The Times' Websote. at: httpL//www.latimes.com/keller.

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