Culinary Arts

What’s the Difference Between Cooking Sherry, Dry Sherry, and Regular Sherry? Plus 4 Easy Recipes Using Sherry

Written by MasterClass

Jun 10, 2019 • 6 min read

Cooking with wine can enhance the flavor of a dish. The alcohol evaporates when heated, leaving the flavor to seep into foods like stews and sauces. Sherry has long been a popular cooking ingredient, but it only lasts a few days after a bottle is opened. Sherry cooking wine, on the other hand, is preserved with salt to make it last longer. While its high sodium content discourages many from using it, cooking sherry can add a sweeter taste to a dish.


What Is Cooking Sherry?

Cooking sherry is a grape wine fortified with brandy, just like regular sherry. To extend its shelf life, salt is added, as well as potassium metabisulfite and potassium sorbate. Cooking sherry is used specifically as a culinary ingredient to add a sweet and nutty taste to food.

What Are the Characteristics of Cooking Sherry?

Sherry cooking wine has a sweet aroma and golden color. Its taste is close to a dry drinking sherry with a slightly nutty flavor. The sherry base is fortified with brandy, which is added to the sherry after it has fermented. This brings the alcohol content to 17%. Most regular wine has closer to 12% alcohol content. Cooking sherry is a light addition to a meal with a total fat content of zero and a total carbohydrate count of only 4 grams.

What Is the Difference Between Cooking Sherry and Regular Sherry?

When people think of sherry wine, they picture the drinking varieties: the aperitif enjoyed before a meal, or the sweet, after-dinner dessert drink. Sherry cooking wine is a specific variety of sherry, different than all the rest.

  • Drinking sherry. Once considered the world’s best wine and William Shakespeare’s drink of choice, sherry is an aged, fortified (supplemented with brandy) white wine. It is mostly produced in Jerez de la Frontera, a city in southwestern Spain, a winemaking region for over 2,000 years. It is made from a variety of white grapes. Palomino grapes make dry sherry, like fino, while Pedro Ximenez and Muscat grapes make sweet wines, like cream sherry. Another popular, yet rare, variety is Palo Cortado, an accidental strain of sherry that loses oxidation during fermentation.
  • Cooking sherry. This wine is strictly meant to be added to food. Though it is made with sherry wine, albeit a lower quality one, it has salt and preservatives added to make it last for several months after it is opened. With the extra preservatives and salt, the sodium is 180 mg per serving, making it unsuitable to drink.

4 Ways to Use Cooking Sherry

Cooking sherry is easy to find at most local grocery stores on the shelves with other condiments. The Holland House cooking wine brand is one of the most popular.

  1. Add just a splash or two. When adding cooking sherry to add flavor, just use a bit, unless a recipe calls for more. As it comes to a boil, the alcohol evaporates and the wine reduces to a concentrate, leaving the intense sweet flavors behind.
  2. Skip the salt. Consider leaving salt out of a dish if you’re also using sherry cooking wine. With 180 mg of sodium per a two-tablespoon serving, there’s enough salt in the cooking sherry to flavor your food. Cooking sherry is perfect for recipes that call for a salt-laden liquid, like stir fry.
  3. Savory over sweet. If the list of ingredients calls for sherry in a dessert, like in some apple pie recipes, stick to straight, salt-free, dry sherry. The salt of cooking sherry will overpower the sweetness. For hearty, savory meals, like a slow-cooker beef stew that needs salt, sherry cooking wine will work just fine.
  4. Give sherry enough time in the pan. Cooking with sherry is like cooking with any wine—let it simmer to get the most out of the flavor because it needs a little time to burn off the alcohol and get to the essence of its flavor.

5 Substitutes for Cooking Sherry

There are many substitutes for cooking sherry that will achieve that salty and sweet flavor.

  1. A different cooking wine. Other cooking wines are also easy to find in stores and an easy substitute for cooking sherry, like marsala cooking wine, white cooking wine, and red cooking wine.
  2. Sherry. Drinking sherry will closely replicate the flavor because it has the same fortified base as cooking sherry but without the salt.
  3. Other wines. Other wines are also a popular substitute for sherry cooking wine because they are also fermented and acidic. If you’re cooking a thick, savory stew, substitute with red wine or even Madeira, a Portuguese fortified wine. For fish and chicken, try a dry, crisp white wine, like pinot grigio.
  4. Apple cider vinegar. Apple cider vinegar is a strong liquid and needs to be diluted when used in cooking so it does not overpower the dish. Use half vinegar, half water, and add a little sugar, and you’ll get close to the cooking sherry taste.
  5. Apple or orange juice. For an alternative without the alcohol, apple or orange juice can add a sweet, tangy taste to a dish in place of cooking sherry.

4 Easy Recipes Using Cooking Sherry

Cooking sherry can be used in most recipes that call for sherry, but always be aware of the high salt content, which can overpower an otherwise great dish. Start adding the cooking sherry gradually and taste as you go.

  1. Sherry mushrooms. Mushrooms and sherry are a popular pairing in sherry’s native Spain. Heat olive oil in a pan. Add a chopped red onion or shallots, depending on your preference. When they’re translucent, add the mushrooms. When they’re soft, add cooking sherry, rosemary, and thyme. Deglaze the pan by scraping the brown bits from the bottom which thickens the texture and let it simmer until the cooking sherry has cooked down.
  2. Turkey gravy. Cooking sherry is perfect for thick gravy. Use this for your next Thanksgiving feast. Collect the drippings after you’ve cooked the turkey, straining out any solid bits. Heat it up in a pan, add onion, carrots, celery, and herbs, like rosemary and thyme. Whisk in flour to thicken the gravy. Add turkey stock and cooking sherry and simmer for ten minutes. Take out the solid vegetables and pour over the turkey.
  3. Slow-cooked pork. When it comes out of a slow cooker, a pork roast falls apart into succulent pieces. It pairs well with a sweet and salty sauce, which is why some recipes call for soy sauce and honey. Instead, use cooking sherry. For a sweet and spicy pulled pork, rub the roast with flavorings like chili powder and brown sugar. Put the pork roast in a slow cooker. Add cooking sherry, Worcestershire sauce, and chicken broth. Put on low for six to eight hours.
  4. Chicken and broccoli stir fry. Soy sauce is most often used in stir fry dishes to get that acidic, salty flavor. Cutting the soy sauce down and adding in cooking sherry sweetens it up. Cut chicken breast into bite-size pieces. Make the marinade, mixing cooking sherry, minced garlic, soy sauce, sesame oil, and sugar. Put the chicken pieces in the marinade and let sit for half an hour. Heat vegetable oil in a pan. Stir fry broccoli florets with ginger and garlic. When tender, transfer to a plate. Put a little more oil in the pan and add the chicken, with the marinade, and cook it through. Put the broccoli back in until its all covered in the marinade and ready to serve.

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