If you own a stove, you should know how to make a few sauces. Sauces can make a dish fancier or cover up any mistakes. Best of all, some of the best sauces aren’t all that hard to make, no matter how fancy they sound. Take, for example, a red wine reduction sauce.
A red wine reduction sauce is made with wine, butter, onion, garlic, celery, carrots, and herbs. All it takes is a quick sauté of everything but the wine, then half a cup of the good stuff poured on top and heated. Heat it down to as thick as you desire, then serve it over whatever dish you want to make delicious. Easy, right? Plus you have the rest of a wine bottle to enjoy.
But how does reduction actually work, and how do these delicious flavors come around?
At its simplest, a reduction is defined as “the act of making something smaller in size, amount, number, etc.” Water leaves the mixture, making it thicker and more concentrated. Yet at the molecular level, it’s a lot more complicated than that.
Alcohol has a lower boiling point (172 degrees) than water (212 degrees), and there’s both a water component and an alcohol component in wine. The oxygen and hydrogen atoms in ethyl alcohol are attracted to the oxygen and hydrogen atoms in water. Hydrogen bonds are formed between the two, the Cooking Science Guy explains, which makes what’s called an azeotrope mixture, or “a mixture of two liquids that has a constant boiling point and composition throughout distillation.”
Thanks to those hydrogen bonds, some water molecules leave the pot with the ethyl alcohol. The reverse is true as well for what stays in the pot. A few alcohol molecules will stay thanks to the hydrogen bonds with the water — about five percent of the alcohol when it’s reduced completely. Not enough alcohol to catch a buzz, but enough molecules to leave some flavor.
The science of cooking is fascinating, but all that really matters in the end is that it’s delicious.
Red Wine Reduction Sauce
- 1/2 red onion, diced
- 2 stalks celery, diced
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 sprig rosemary
- 1/4 cup butter
- 1 tablespoon flour
- 3/4 cup red wine (Old World wine for a more earthy taste, New World for a fruitier and boozier taste.)
Sauté the onion, celery, garlic, and rosemary in the butter over low-medium heat. Add salt and pepper to taste. Pour in red wine and bring to a simmer until about half the liquid evaporates. Serve over your meat of choice.