Pour the Wine and Stir
For years my sister has been telling me to broaden my wine repertoire. Her exact words are usually, “Amari, you need to expand your palette.” She is what happens when you take one wine course at Cornell University as an undergrad: You start describing wine as oaky and contemplating opening a vineyard in Napa.
Sometimes I like to think of us as wines. While she is an expensive bottle of Merlot or Pinot Noir; rich and piquant, with great potential for aging. I am a $5 bottle of Moscato bought at Trader Joe’s; light and fruity, like a juice box.
I aspire to be taken seriously like red wine. I aspire to drink red wine like someone who is taken seriously. So, when I saw this week’s recipe called for cooking with dry red wine, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to start maturing my palette. But, for some reason, the act of cooking with wine has always seemed somewhat pretentious and unnecessary to me. It’s something I associate with high ranking chefs, more so done for flair than flavor. My intense intake of romantic movies where the protagonist owns a restaurant and Chef’s Table on Netflix had led me to believe cooking with wine is meant for French and Italian cuisine — not Jamaican.
But there I was, in my kitchen, pouring a bottle of Chateau Souverain’s Merlot into a sizzling pan of beef and shaking my head because I knew the rest was bound to waste away in my fridge. The wine added a nice coloring to my braised beef with tomatoes and herbs, but the flavor was very subtle and didn’t give the stew any kick. Which is why, with a heavy hand, I sprinkled in some paprika, jerk seasoning, and crushed red pepper. Adding those extra flavors helped to elevate the stew, but it still didn’t taste as good as I wanted it to. It didn’t satisfy me the way cooking jerk chicken did.
I’m still working to accept the fact that not everything I cook is going to taste as good as it does in my head and that sometimes an hour in the kitchen won’t yield a meal to look forward to later on in the week. But the more time I spend in the kitchen the more confident I become in my cooking and better understand what goes into making a meal. And while I don’t particularly like braised beef with tomatoes and herbs, I like that cooking is increasing my already high tolerance for spice and that I’m getting closer to knowing what I do like.