I come from a family with deep Portuguese roots. My parents are both Portuguese, and I grew up in the largest Portuguese community in the U.S.—the area surrounding Providence, Rhode Island. I had five older sisters, and my mother was a great cook, so there was always something simmering on the stove. But when I was in junior high, my mother got sick. That’s when, under her guidance, I started to learn to cook.
Later in life, I spent time in great restaurants, learning about food from some great chefs, including Hélène Darroze, Kenneth Orringer and Scott Herbert, but now that I’m the head of my own kitchen at the Red Clover Inn, I keep coming back to what I learned at my mother’s stove, under her watchful eye. The Portuguese love wine, and it’s traditional to drink red wine with every meal. However, we almost always choose to cook with white wine. This goes against a classic culinary concept called “bridging.” The idea is to bridge the flavors of both the wine you drink and the food you eat by cooking it with either the same wine or a wine similar in character to the wine you plan to serve. The concept of cooking with and serving the same type of wine is traditional and closely adhered to by most chefs.
In my experience, I’ve found that cooking with red wine tends to muddle your aromatics. When cooked, it has a very strong flavor that often overpowers more subtle flavors in the dish. Ninety-five percent of the time I will use white wine instead, just like my mother taught me. It allows the flavors in your dish to pop, they meld together nicely, and you can experience the full range of tastes in the dish.
For example, when I grill a steak at the Red Clover Inn, I marinate it with olive oil and garlic, and make a sauce of garlic, canola oil, veal stock, piri piri peppers and white wine. I serve it with duck fat fries and with a fried egg on top. It’s a heavy dish, accompanied with a red wine. But if I used red wine to cook it, the strong earthy flavors would muddle the sauce and make it hard to distinguish the flavors of the garlic and peppers. I’d be unnecessarily sacrificing the flavors in the sauce in an attempt to bridge the wine and the meal.
Not only is it possible to create a dish cooked with white wine and served with red, but it can be the smarter choice. You can throw traditional wisdom out the window sometimes—I do, and my meals are all the better for it.
It’s important to remember, though, that you have to walk before you can run. I attended culinary school and spent years learning from master chefs. You work with the big chefs, and you do it their way; you learn your basic techniques before you go outside the box. That way, when it’s your turn, you can go back to the drawing board, you can look at everything and make it your own. That’s how you end up with great food.
Chef Dennis Vieira has worked at restaurants in locations all around the globe, including Italy, Paris and Boston. He’s currently the head chef at the Red Clover Inn in Mendon, Vermont. Visit him online at redcloverinn.com and on twitter @redcloverinn.
Try this delicious Chef Vieira recipe!
Azorian Braised Octopus
5½ pounds octopus, cleaned
¼ cup olive oil
1 cup celery, diced
5 cups onions, diced
½ cup garlic, chopped
2 cups carrots, diced
3 cups tomato, diced
1 cup medium-bodied white wine, such as unoaked Chardonnay or an Arinto
1 bouquet garni (1 sprig thyme, 1 spring tarragon, 1 fresh bay leaf tied with butcher twine)
Coarse salt, to taste
Cracked black pepper, to taste
4 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon
Cut the octopus’ head in half, clean out the inside and dice the flesh. Cut the remainder of the octopus into sections, remove the tentacles and cut them into 4-inch sections.
Using a heavy-bottom stainless steel pot, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the celery, onions, garlic and carrots, and sauté until the carrots begin to soften. Then add the tomatoes and sauté for an additional 3 minutes.
Add the diced octopus and white wine, covering the octopus by 1½ inches with the wine.
Bring the pot to a boil, add the bouquet garni and then reduce the heat to a simmer.
Cut a circular piece of parchment paper that’s large enough to fit over the pot. Cut a 1-inch hole in the center of the paper and place over the pot like a lid. Simmer for 2 ½ hours until the octopus is tender when poked with a meat fork.
Remove the pot from the heat, remove the lid, and season with the chopped thyme, tarragon, salt and cracked black pepper.
Place the pot in an ice bath and allow the liquid to chill overnight. Once chilled, remove the pot from the ice bath and skim the fat off the surface. Strain the contents using a mesh strainer, making sure to reserve both the liquid and the solids.
Over a medium-high flame, place the strained liquid in a large sauce pan and reduce the liquid by half. In a large sauté pan set over medium heat, re-warm the octopus and vegetables.
To serve: Spoon the reduced liquid and octopus mixture over a bed of Arborio rice.
Wine Recommendation: Pair with 2004 Quinta do Côa, a Portuguese red based on Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca and Tinta Roriz.