Vermouth is something I never would have come across without the cocktail habit. Dry (French) Vermouth for Martinis, Sweet (Italian) Vermouth for Manhattans. I figured you needed some of each to have a well-stocked bar. Fortunately, they come in half bottles (less expensive, less to waste) so I picked some up last year. Never used either one of them. During a trip to Atlanta last year, I came across one liter bottles of dry and sweet vermouth at a Trader Joe’s. They were only $6 a bottle, about what I had paid for one third that much vermouth in the half bottles. It was an impulse buy – I didn’t need them, but the price was so just too good to pass up.
Well, they’ve been sitting around since I got them home. Every now and then I would try to figure out what to do with them. It finally dawn on me that the dry vermouth would work as a cooking wine. It has been pressed into service several times now. The most basic use is in a court bullion – a poaching liquid. It also works well in a white sauce for scallops. I used it most recently to poach a chicken and some rabbit pieces that were going into a Brunswick Stew. After boiling the meat for an hour or so, I strained the liquid, returned it to a pot on the stove to simmer until the volume was reduced by half. This made an aromatic stock that was the base for the addition of the stew components.
Court Bouillon from La Varenne Pratique
- 1 liter of water
- 250 ml dry white wine
- 1 carrot, sliced
- 1 small onion, sliced
- bouquet garni
- 6 peppercorns
- 1 tsp salt
Combine and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes.
The sweet vermouth was more of a challenge until Michael Bitten’s recent column gave a wonderful recipe for an ancient Italian steak marinade. His recipe includes red wine, cloves, ground cinnamon, orange zest and sugar. These are combined, simmered, cooled and then used to marinate a steak for several days (about 350 cc for two ribeyes). I tried it, and it was quite good. The steaks paired well with an Italian red wine. After giving it some thought, I’ve simplified it to this:
- 1 liter of sweet vermouth
- zest of one orange
- 18 cloves
- 2 cinnamon sticks
Add spices to the bottle of vermouth, recap and set aside until needed.
This technique has several advantages – the wine is cheaper, and there are no pots to clean up from the marinade prep. Also, I’ve noticed when making ginger syrup that a cold soak infusion gives more delicate flavors. You’ll probably want to strain out the spices and zest after a few weeks, but from then on your vermouth is ready to go. Might want to store in a cool dark spot and downsize the bottle as you use it up to minimize the air in contact with the liquid.