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Wine, or wine not?

When I cook with wine or beer, does all the alcohol burn off or does some remain, which could be a problem for a strict teetotaler, such as a recovering alcoholic?

Does the vino lose its power in the Crock-Pot overnight?

In a flambe baked Alaska, does the brandy lose its bite?

Does the alcohol all burn off as the cookbooks say it does?

Or can you eat a plate of coq au vin and get a little buzz?

Well, when you cook with wine or cook with brandy, here's the scoop:

There will always be some alcohol remaining in the soup.

-- From "What Einstein Told His Cook."

Many cookbooks assert that all or virtually all of the alcohol "burns off" during cooking (what they mean is that it evaporates; it won't burn unless you light it). The standard "explanation," when there is one, is that alcohol boils at 173 degrees, while water doesn't boil until 212 degrees, and therefore the alcohol will boil off before the water does.

Well, that's just not the way it works.

Pure alcohol boils at and pure water boils at 173 degrees. But that doesn't mean that they behave independently when mixed; each affects the boiling temperature of the other. A mixture of alcohol and water will boil at a temperature that's somewhere between 173 and 212 degrees -- closer to 212 if it's mostly water, closer to 173 if it's mostly alcohol, which I certainly hope is not the case in your cooking.

How much weight should you give these test results when trying to accommodate your guests?

One thing you should consider is the dilution factor. If your recipe for six servings of coq au vin calls for 3 cups of wine and if about half of the alcohol cooks off during a 30-minute simmer (as the researchers found), each serving will wind up with the amount of alcohol in 2 ounces of wine. On the other hand, those same 3 cups of wine in a six-serving boeuf bourguignon that simmers for three hours and loses 95 percent of its alcohol (according to the test results) will wind up giving each diner the alcohol equivalent of only two-tenths of an ounce of wine.

Still, some alcohol is still alcohol. Use your judgment.

Sunday, June 09, 2002

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