Chef Dez on Cooking: To add or not to add water instead of something more flavourful

Flavourful alternatives

How many recipes have you seen that list water as an ingredient?

A pasta sauce recipe, for example, may say to add a cup of water.

But how much flavour does water have? None.

I am always preaching to be innovative while cooking – and to add ingredients other than water, such as wine, broth, beer, juice, etc., because they have more flavour.

Although most can, some recipes cannot adapt to that type of modification. It will usually depend on the amount of seasonings and flavours already in the dish.

The amount of water the recipe suggests can be important. If little water is called for, then typically, replacing it shouldn’t be a concern. The replacement liquid should accent the existing flavours without risk of overpowering of the dish.

If the recipe requires a large quantity of water, then consider the other ingredients and how much flavour they will impart.

That is not as complicated as it may sound. The most effective way to determine if a recipe can accept any variation is to make it the way it is written first, and then listen to your taste buds.

Could it use more flavour?

If so, what would complement it, and how pungent – or mellow – can the liquid be? Maybe just replacing a portion of the water would be the solution, or leaving the recipe in its original state is just fine. Make notes in your cookbooks for future reference.

Rice cooked in chicken stock, for example, has more flavour than if it is cooked in water only. I know that may seem quite obvious, so let me give you some ideas with the following liquids.

Red wines or dark beers are great for red meat and tomato dishes such as pasta sauce, gravies, chili, stir-fries, soups, stews, etc.

A general rule is that, the stronger the flavours in a certain dish, then the more robust a wine or beer it can handle as an ingredient.

White wine is better suited to cream sauces, poultry gravies, lighter soups, and seafood.

Broth, stock, or vegetable juices can be paired up with certain dishes, based on the flavours you want to impart, whether chicken, beef, or vegetable. Broth or stock is an option for almost any savoury dish.

Fruit juices can also be used in savoury dishes (savoury is the opposite of sweet). A delicious example would be an orange ginger stir-fry made from orange juice. 

These are only suggestions, as there are countless options and combinations to try. Keep tasting and taking notes.

Your cookbooks may turn out looking like high-school textbooks, but for the sake of better eating, it is worth it.

Dear Chef Dez:

If I don’t have white wine and a recipe calls for it, what can I use instead?

Tim M., Nanaimo

Dear Tim,

If you want to keep the recipe tasting close to the way it was written, then I suggest white grape juice or apple juice, as long as the quantity is minimal. The main consideration with fruit juices is that their higher sugar content could drastically affect the outcome of the recipe. It is better to use them in smaller quantities, unless your goal is a sweet finish.

Darker berry and grape juices can also be used in small amounts in place of red wine.

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