Thursday, August 20, 2009

Viva Vermouth

When I met Ian, I thought he must be very sophisticated because in his cabinets, alongside the requisite college-kid mac 'n' cheese and instant rice, he had two bottles of vermouth: one sweet, one dry.

Little did I know, he knew absolutely nothing about them.

Back then--not too long ago, really--my palate wasn't particularly developed. I opened the bottles, sniffed their contents, and was overwhelmed by the smell of alcohol. Later, I would attempt a martini. That ended up going down the drain. Still, Ian wouldn't throw them out. He was determined that they would be useful for something. He spent good money on them, and dang it, they were not going down the drain. Five years and three apartments later, he still has those bottles of vermouth. But now I know of something to do with them.


You see, most modern recipes don't call for vermouth. It just isn't something the average American keeps on hand. Vermouth might be invaluable behind the bar, but although cocktail hour and homemade Manhattans might be popular in some circles, they just aren't popular enough to keep vermouth in the limelight.

Then again, was vermouth ever in the limelight?

I've been doing some reading, and I think it must have been. Did you know that martinis used to be made 2:1, gin to vermouth? Now you most commonly hear folks asking for their martinis dry, extra dry, bone dry--meaning little to no vermouth at all. Did you know that many classic French recipes call for vermouth? I've been poking around on the internet a lot lately, and one of the gems I found is the old Julie/Julia Project (the impetus for the film Julie & Julia--written by a woman who cooked her way through Mastering the Art of French Cooking in a year) and it's vermouth this, vermouth that, vermouth, vermouth, vermouth! Marinades! Sauces! So much vermouth.

So yesterday, I dug out Ian's old bottles. Yes, I know they've known him longer than I have. Yes, I know they've probably been open since the day he bought them, made a Manhattan, and decided he didn't like them. Still, I opened them up--and do you know what I found? They smelled good. How did I not realize this before? The dry vermouth was floral and fruity--like white wine but better; the sweet vermouth had a gorgeous musk to it that evoked the flavors of a good pork roast. I poured myself a drop of the dry vermouth and gave it a taste. Definitely alcoholic, but very pleasant. I had planned to make chicken, but now I would use vermouth in the sauce.

I sauteed the chicken. Sauteed some onions and garlic (I didn't let the onions go long enough, though--I was too excited to try the vermouth). In went the vermouth to deglaze the pan. Now, usually when I deglaze a pan, there's this excited sizzle and a burst of aromatic steam from whatever liquid I'm using to deglaze. That's the way it's supposed to be. Maybe it's something about vermouth or maybe my pan wasn't hot enough, but in this respect, the vermouth failed me. Still, I had my hopes up. This was going to be the most wonderful sauce ever. I stirred in some thyme, let the vermouth reduce a little, stirred in the last couple tablespoons of cream I had leftover from Saturday's truffles, let the sauce reduce a little more. It smelled good, anyway. Like wine and thyme. Once the sauce was thick enough, I dumped it over the chicken and some plain old white rice and Ian and I had our dinner.

Oh, the disappointment.

I'm curious about this. Was my vermouth too old? Did I just choose the wrong elements to my sauce? Because while it smelled amazing and tasted great in the glass, in the sauce it tasted like almost nothing. That is, until after we were finished, when Ian and I both agreed that there was a distinctive vermouth-y aftertaste. I've read up on it and I'm not the only one who has thought to substitute vermouth for white wine, and many cooks have seemed to enjoy the results. It's a great way not to have to open a bottle of wine if you're not drinking. Next time, I'll try an established recipe and not just make things up as I go along.

1 comment:

  1. hmmm
    I've never tried cooking with Vermouth. My only real exposure to Vermouth is behind the bar. My old bartender Tim used to tell me to simply rinse the glass with the tiniest bit of Vermouth for a Martini. Swish the drop and dump it out - then add your vodka or gin.
    Perhaps another reader has some suggestions?