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Thread: Madiera vs. Marsala

  1. #1
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    Madiera vs. Marsala

    What is the difference between cooking with madiera vs. cooking with marsala? I understand Madiera is from Portugal and Marsala from Italy. I just don't know what the taste difference would be.

  2. #2

    Madiera vs. Marsala

    Madeira Wine Information
    Madeira is an island southwest of Portugal, off the city of Casablanca. Back in the 1500s, to allow their wines to last the long ocean journeys, the natives would add brandy to it. This would make the wine more resistant to temperature changes. This made madeira a "fortified wines".

    Madeira was first shipped to Europe in 1515, to the court of King Francis I of France. Shippers found that the mere act of shipping the wine through the equator helped its aging process. So they filled pipes with the wine and purposefully used it as ballast on ships, to let it age! Because of this, madeira became known as vinho da roda, or "wine of the round voyage."

    Madeira was highly in demand in young America, being enjoyed by Benjamin Franklin and by many Colonial Americans. Even now is quite popular, and often is a key ingredient in delicious recipes.

    Madeira is made with four varieties of grapes, and a bottle of madeira should be labelled according to which were used in it. These are:

    sercial, a very dry taste, light color
    verdelho, medium dry, golden color
    bual, medium sweet, velvety, dark gold to brown
    malmsey, the original grape, sweet, chestnut-brown
    Madeira is often made in the "refreshed" manner - a batch is made, and the following year the new wine is added in with the old wine. This allows the flavour to remain consistant.

    The grades of Madeira are:

    Reserve: 5 years or older
    Special Reserve: 10 years or older
    Extra Reserve: 15 years or older.
    One style of Madeira is known as "rainwater" - this is made from the verdelho grape. The name is said to come from the days when barrels left outside for shipment aborbed rain through the wood and became slightly diluted.

    Madeira goes wonderfully with cheese, and works great as a pre-dinner sipper. The heavier madeiras also work well as a post-dinner dessert drink, for sipping by the fire. It should be served relatively cool, around 55-60F, like a port. It can be served in a port-style glass, small and thin.

    Madeira is normally a drink-now wine - it doesn't need aging. But since it is fortified, it can also last a long time after opening. That is, if you can keep yourself from enjoying it after dinner each evening! It also does wonderfully in cooking - it's a key flavor component in many dishes.

    Marsala is the west section of Sicily, and in 1798 they managed to substitute their own wines in place of the standard rum in an English naval shipment. In those seafaring days, something had to be done to wine to allow it to last the long ocean journeys. Brandy was added to allow the wine to last longer, and to be more resistant to temperature changes. These were called "fortified wines".

    Once the British had a taste of Marsala, demand grew quickly. In the United States during Prohibition, things became even more interesting. The typical Marsala bottles made the wine seem like medicine. People found that getting Marsala was less risky than other types of wine. While not as popular now, it is still used quite frequently as a cooking wine in Italian dishes.

    Marsala uses the following grapes:

    white skin/berry grapes: Grillo, Catarratto, Inzolia and Damaschino for golden and amber Marsala
    dark red skin/berry grapes: Pignatello, Calabrese, Nerello Mascalese, Nero d’Avola for ruby red Marsala
    Marsala is made in the "solera" tradition - a melding of years. First, a keg is put down. Subsequent years with similar tastes are placed in kegs above the first. When liquid is drawn out of the bottom (oldest) keg, it is refreshed with liquid from the next keg up, and so on. In this manner, the taste remains the same throughout the cycle, and every bottle you get has (potentially) some liquid from the very first vintage.

    Types of Marsala

    Fine: 17° alcohol, aged >1 yr
    Superiore: 18° alcohol, aged >2 years
    Superiore Riserva: 18° alcohol, aged 4 years
    Vergine Soleras: 18° alcohol, aged 5 years
    Marsala was traditionally served between the first and second courses. It is now also served, chilled, with Parmesan (stravecchio), Gorgonzola, Roquefort and other, spicy cheeses.

    Marsala Substitutions
    I regularly get email from non wine drinkers who come across a recipe for chicken marsala or veal marsala and want to know what they can substitute instead. I *love* both of these dishes. Here's the issue. Imagine you had a recipe for making orange juice and you wanted to substitute lemons instead. They're both citrus! However they taste VERY different. So you're no longer making orange juice, you're making lemon juice now.

    The same thing is true for dishes with marsala. It has a very specific dish. Sure, you could make chicken with chardonnay, or chicken with cabernet, and they might be tasty. But they are no longer chicken marsala. The flavor will be completely different. So at that point you could call it "chicken with wine" and be happy. If you want chicken marsala, then you need to find marsala, so that it tastes like marsala.

    Pretty much any regular wine shop will have marsala bottles on their shelves, along with the port and sherry. Again marsala doesn't taste like port and sherry :) But that's the type of wine it is. So I highly recommend that you take a run to your local wine shop, grab a bottle of marsala and enjoy! It lasts a long time because it's fortified. Chicken and veal marsala are really yummy, so you'll want to make it several times. It's one of those staples of cooking, like having lemon juice in your fridge.

    Sweet vs Dry Marsala
    I get emails from cooks asking which they should use - sweet or dry marsala - in a recipe. It's like saying you have a recipe which says to use cheddar cheese and you have mild cheddar and sharp cheddar and medium cheddar, and which should you use. You can use any of them. They are all cheddar, they will all provide a cheddar flavor. If you like mild cheddar better, you might go with that. But if you're not a cheese fanatic you might not even really notice the subtle differences between for example mild and medium cheddar flavors when they are in a dish.

    So it definitely is to taste :) Do you like sweetish chicken dishes? Do you like non-sweetish chicken dishes? Are you even going to notice the difference which is that kind of subtle variation? Who knows, you might not even be able to taste any difference since both are going to taste "like marsala". Undoubtedly you're not going to make chicken or veal marsala only once in your life if you like it, you'll make it every few weeks. So make it one time with the sweet and one time with the dry, and see if you can even notice any difference. Or, I suppose, have someone else add in the marsala and not tell you which they used and see if you can guess :) It might be you can't even tell which is being used, in which case it's not worth worrying about. Use whichever one you have more of.

    Storing Marsala
    Marsala is a fortified wine - this means they add hard alcohol to it. This also means that, just like you can keep opened (sealed) bottles of vodka and rum on your shelves, you can also keep an opened bottle of marsala around. Yes, the flavor will gently deteriorate over time, but it won't go from wonderful tasting to awful tasting in 3 days. You probably won't even notice the flavor difference after a month or two. Still, I'd suggest drinking it all within 3-4 months (or cooking dishes with it). When you cook with a flavor, you get a really concentrated version of that flavor. So you want really tasty, yummy marsala flavors - not sort of stale, stagnant marsala flavors. I am very much a fan of eating food that you really enjoy, and savoring the flavors!
    A journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step.

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