Mulling it over.

From T., 29 December 2009, Is it safe to mull wine in metal?

Q: I am thinking that mulled wine would be a nice treat having enjoyed some at someone else’s house recently. my dad tells me that possibly i can’t heat wine in some kinds of metal pots because of some sort of chemical reaction. is this true? i borrowed a second pot from a neighbor but both his and mine are of the inexpensive shiny metal variety (stainless?).

also – will look for mulling spices at the whole foods, i guess, but if i can’t find – do you have recommendations of how to prepare?

A: Hey, thanks for your question. Your dad is correct (thanks, Dad!). You shouldn’t mull wine in aluminum or copper (interior, not exterior) vessels, because the wine will react with the metal and produce off-flavors. Cast iron is a poor choice for the same reason. What can you use?

* Anodized aluminum (like Calphalon brand pans)
* Aluminum with a fully intact nonstick coating
* Stainless steel surface
* Enameled cast iron
* Glass
* Stove-safe ceramic

You mentioned that your pots are inexpensive and shiny. Expense is irrelevant, but shiny usually indicates stainless steel, which is safe. If your pots are quite lightweight, though, and more dull looking, they may be aluminum. Turn the pots over and look for a marking on the base that says “18/10,” or “stainless steel” – that will be your best indication.

Onto the making. I will confess I am not a fan of mulled wine – it’s far too sweet for me, but I like my drinks dry. Even sugar lovers, however, will want you to keep a lid on the sweetness. So three tips:

* Don’t add too much sugar, especially at first. Add to taste, and keep an extra bottle of wine on hand for corrections.

* Don’t ever let your mixture boil. Once you bring it to a simmer, turn the heat down under a simmer for steeping, and then turn it off.

* If it’s hot enough to steam, it’s losing water, and will become sweeter – and stronger – over time. Keep a lid on it to retain moisture and keep the wine warm.

Recipes for mulled wine vary – some contain more or less sugar, some include a spirit like brandy or Cointreau, and the spices may differ. Almost all include a citrus peel, though, and cinnamon. Try this combination, which takes advantage of the complexity of star anise.

Mulled wine

2 750-ml bottles medium bodied red wine (like Syrah)
3 tbsp sugar, plus more to taste
3 star anise
1 3-4 inch length of cinnamon stick
about 6-8 whole cloves
4 2-inch strips of orange peel, colored part only (no bitter white pith), made by peeling zest from orange with a paring knife. If you can’t get strips that long, get the equivalent in smaller bits
1/4 c brandy, Cointreau, or Grand Marnier (the latter two will accentuate the orange taste)

If you have cheesecloth or a large tea ball, bundle up the spices and orange peel before adding to the wine. Otherwise, don’t worry about it. Combine the wine with 3 tbsp of the sugar in one of the nonreactive pots described above and stir well to combine. Place the pot on low heat, add the spices, and bring not quite to a simmer. Turn the heat down and allow to steep for about 15 minutes. Add the spirits, stir well, and taste for sugar; add more if necessary. If the mixture becomes too sweet, add more wine, not spirits.

If not serving immediately (for example, if you want guests to help themselves), keep the lid on the pot and turn the heat off. If the wine cools down too much, bring it back up to heat again without letting it boil, and then turn the heat off.

Have a great party!

2 thoughts on “Mulling it over.

  1. Pingback: Mulling it over. « The Upstart Kitchen

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