One cannot think of preparing classic Italian dishes like veal marsala or a tiramisu without the use of marsala wine. Many Italian dishes use marsala wine to add that piquant and complex flavor. Marsala is a cooking wine that is made in Sicily from the grapes found in this region, generally catarratto grapes and grillo grapes. It is a fortified wine with a high alcoholic content and is very much similar in taste to that of sherry, port, and madeira.
There are two types of Marsala cooking wine, sweet Marsala and dry Marsala. Most recipes call for the use of dry Marsala, and sweet Marsala is generally used for making desserts or often paired with a sharp flavored cheese like cheddar or Camembert. Marsala is also classified according to the percentage of alcohol present and how long it is aged.
There are four categories according to this classification and they are fine, superiore, superiore riserva, and vergine soleras. Fine Marsala has 17% alcohol and is matured for over one year. Superiore Marsala, superiore riserva, and vergine soleras all have 20% Marsala and are aged for over 2, 4, and 5 years, respectively. Traditionally, Marsala was served as a drinking wine between the first and second course to cleanse the palate, but now Marsala is used more as a cooking wine.
Marsala Wine for Cooking
Marsala imparts a rich smoky flavor to a dish which is hard to replicate with other wines. As the wine matures, the smokiness and depth of flavor of the wine becomes more pronounced and even a person who is not a wine connoisseur can taste the difference between a mature Marsala wine and a young wine.
There are different techniques of using Marsala wine for preparing dishes. The first cooking technique is the method of reduction where Marsala is used for making a sauce by cooking it with chopped onions and minced garlic, allowing the wine to evaporate so that the consistency of the sauce is thick and syrupy. Lamb chops and steak with Marsala sauce is prepared by this technique. Another great way to use Marsala is to use it to marinade meat and vegetables so that the food gets tenderized when cooked. It is a great way to imbibe the meat with flavors and works well with those meat dishes that require a long time for marinating. Marsala is often used for braising and for sauteing.
Substitute for Marsala Wine
If a recipe calls for Marsala wine and you do not have any, you can substitute it with by mixing ¼ cup grape juice with a teaspoon of brandy. Another good substitute for Marsala wine is a mixture of a teaspoon of sherry and ¼ cup of good quality dry white wine. You can also use the same quantities of Madeira, port, or dry sherry in place of Marsala wine while preparing your dish. Although dry sherry and port has the same flavor characteristics as Marsala, it does not impart the smokiness and depth to the dish.
The best Marsala will help you to create the most mouth-watering dishes and two good brands are Florio and Jolina Marsala Cooking Wine. Try to get the best possible quality of Marsala wine and see how your dishes get more flavorsome.