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Tell me about sherry...

Tried out a new chicken dish last night that directed me to deglaze the pan with either dry sherry or white wine. That got me thinking about various wines I use in cooking, and I realized that I always use the alternative when one is offered for sherry.

In fact I've never used sherry in my cooking and I've never even tasted sherry on its own. I do buy and use marsala, port, calvados, other brandies, liquers, and red and white wines. But I have never purchased sherry.

So tell me...am I missing out on great flavor? Does sherry impart a very different flavor than white wine? What does sherry taste like? In a nutshell, why should I use sherry? Thanks in advance!

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  1. I would say that it is really distinctive, somewhat nutty & sweet would be my description, others will pile on, I'm sure...I use dry sherry mostly for stir-fry sauces, combining it will soy sauce, fresh ginger & garlic and pepper flakes. If you have any wine shops around where you live, you might ask if any will have sherry tastings....OR just buy a bottle (NOT the cheap Fairbanks stuff which I used to do--Osborne is quite good and widely available--there are good quality Spanish sherries under or around $10 and sherry seems to keep pretty well, too, after opening) and then use it for one of your recipes that call for it. When we visited the U.K., sherry was served before a few meals. While I respect it, I don't really love to sip it because for me, it's too sweet, even the dry sherry. To me, you can substitute dry vermouth for dry white wine pretty easily in recipes--but there really is no sub for sherry, that's just me talking.

    1. Not all Sherry is sweet. Some are dry. Simply select the Sherry that best suits the recipe (e.g sweet if it's a dessert, dry if it's savory) and take it from there. I use it a lot in preparing various Chinese recipes, and I find it to be a very good choice with a wide range of chicken dishes. I use Cream Sherry in cakes and cookies, the list runs on from there.

      1. I have a bottle of Dry Sack sherry in my bar, which I like to sip as an apertiif every now and then. I think sherry add a certain warm smoky nuttiness to many dishes. My chicken/artichoke/mushroom dish which I like to serve with risotto would not be as tasty with white wine, sherry really makes the difference. Go to a good bar and taste a few different sherries. Remember, just as with wine, you don't want to cook with a sherry you wouldn't drink.

        3 Replies
        1. re: Diane in Bexley

          "Go to a good bar and taste a few different Sherries" - now there's a great idea. Diane also believes in the "if you wouldn't drink it, don't cook with it" philosophy. Don't recall see you at the meetings, Diane, but we are clearly members of the same club.

          1. re: Diane in Bexley

            Diane, will you share your recipe for the chicken dish? Please? (Sounds like Chicken Jerusalem.)

            1. re: Sharuf

              Sure, sorry but have been out of touch for a while in March:

              1 plump fryer, 3 - 3.5 lbs., cut in 8 pieces
              S&P to taste
              1 large onion, minced
              1 fat shallot, minced
              3 cloves of garlic, minced
              3-4 T good quality EVOO
              8 oz assorted mushrooms (or just button), sliced
              14 oz can artichoke hearts, quartered
              3/4 cup good quality low sodium chicken stock (homemade is best)
              1/2 cup good quality Sherry, I use Dry Sack
              1/4 cup chopped parsley for garnish

              In very large (12 in) skillet, brown onions & shallots in 1-2 T EVOO. Throw in garlic, brown that a little watching carefully as garlic burns easily. Reserve onions/shallots in small bowl. Wipe out pan, add another 1T EVOO, brown mushrooms. When brown, add to onion/shallot mixture. Brown chicken pieces skin side down in another 1-2 T EVOO, add salt & pepper. Add back mushrooms, artichoke hearts. Add sherry & chicken stock. Cover tightly, simmer gently for 30 min. Uncover pan, simmer another 15-20 minutes till chicken reaches 160-170F. If you want to thicken sauce, remove chicken & veggies, keep warm. Add 1-2 T butter and 2-3 T flour to pan, stirring well to make smooth sauce. Arrange attractively on large, warmed serving platter, spread parsley on top. I like to serve this with risotto flavored with sherry, beef stock, Parmesan cheese and a dash of cream.

          2. Sherry is in the same category as marsala and port - wines that have been fortified with brandy to bring the alcohol level to about 18%. They range from dry to very sweet. This may be simplistic, but port is the Portuguese version, sherry is the Spanish (from Jerez) - if not from those regions, then in the style produced there.

            1. Oh yes sherry has it's own taste and I don't see how you could switch marsala, white wine or any other such cooking wine/liqour for it. It's distinctive in its taste and is one of those necessary ingredients in Chinese cooking ( as i know it).
              The difference in flavor than say a dry white wine is the sweet, almost smoky flavor. It is perfect with mushrooms, shrimp, or crab, and poultry. It's like pernod to me. A liquor not used all the time like you can with white wine, but for special dishes where you want the diner to taste the sherry back notes. And yes you should use sherry, just ike cognac, very sparingly and I promise you won't be sorry. And Val is correct, there is no sub for sherry.
              Don't buy the cheapest bottle, at least spend mid shelf price if you'll be cooking with it only.

              1 Reply
              1. re: chef chicklet

                I wrote something here about sherry and the Chinese original, completely forgetting that I'd said the same thing farther along. These old threads can be really hard to keep track of!

              2. As already mentioned, sherry is a fortified wine so it's use is going to bring a bigger, more rounded alcohol hit to the dish - as the port and marsala you already use. But dry sherry is a very different flavour from either of these (and from white wine).

                I wouldnt substitute. If you are buying, make sure that you are buying a dry sherry as some are very heavy and sweet. You're going to want a fino or manzanilla. Both are served as aperitifs and will work as a drink alongside many soups (like seafood - but not cream ones)

                In the days when I drank alcohol, I would occasionally drink a sweet oloroso sherry with cheese. I know it sounds odd but it's another of those salty cheese/sweet accompaniement things.

                1. Sherry to mean, in cream sauce is amazing. I buy a simple medium dry sherry from the regular grocery store or cooking, use with cream sauces and many other seafood dishes. It is not expensive and I have used very good sherries and found no difference neither have my guests. It is a background flavor and to me it is just as good. I don't buy the cheapest, but not expensive and lasts me months. Chinese is also a good use and some plain chicken dishes without cream. Honestly I have Fairbanks, the cheapest right now, and it is fine for every day. For a party I would upgrade, but every day, it doesn't bother me, but I am very easy to please. I love quality, but love comfort food, so I can just appreciate the food and not criticize the flavor. Not top top but pretty damn good.

                  I also use marsala a lot all the time, different uses and white wine too. White wine and marsala to me are not interchangeable. Sherry and white wine could be. Depending on the dish.

                  10 Replies
                  1. re: kchurchill5

                    KC I respect your cooking abilities enormeously, so please don't be offended.
                    i must disagree, I've found that know way are the two, white wine and sherry interchangeable. Especially in traditional Chinese dishes and bisques. Sherry just has the oompf, that just totally can knock your dish out of the park. Vermouth and white wine, now those two I feel are in fact interchangeable, and I prefer Vermouth.

                    1. re: chef chicklet

                      Is the use of sherry in Chinese dishes really traditional, or is it a substitute for a more traditional ingredient (most likely a rice wine)?

                      1. re: paulj

                        yes yes I'm sure you're correct, I think I slipped calling it traditional. I am not an expert so forgive if I came across that way. But as I said before, "Chinese cooking (as I know it)". I was taught Chinese cooking by a Chinese woman while living in SF Bay Area and it was she who taught the class to use dry sherry. Looking back, I would say she was a second generation Chinese transplant; so I don't know where the sherry substitute came into play for the Chinese cooks in America.
                        I suspect it was probably when they couldn't get their usual Shaoxing here in America.
                        But this I know, the Chinese food that I know how to cook is definitely missing a whole lot of flavor and doesn't taste anywhere what it should if I don't use the sherry.

                        1. re: chef chicklet

                          The white wine used mostly in Chinese cooking, that Shaoxing, has an oxidized flavor very reminiscent of sherry. I was given a jug for Christmas a couple of years back, and I was struck by how sherry-like it really was. I would therefore have no hesitation in subbing in a decent dry sherry, especially since it gives me another excuse to keep some around the house. It also gives me an excuse to make chicken or turkey Tetrazzini, one of my favorite (if rather fattening!) pasta dishes, which must properly be made with sherry.

                          1. re: Will Owen

                            well perhaps you explained why the woman that taught me to cook Chinese used Sherry. Actually a California dry inexpensive sherry. Because they are so close, wish I knew and have tasted a Shaoxing, I guess I never thought it necessary.. but I hear you.
                            Gosh I love Turkey Tetrazzini so much like you do, one of my comfort foods for sure. I posted my recipe on the thread, dd you? I'd like to check your recipe out please? Yum. What other pasta dishes do you use it in? It's a wonderful & irreplaceable ingredient in my kitchen.

                            1. re: chef chicklet

                              Tetrazzini from Mikey, a signal contribution to last November's Mom Food Extravaganza at our place (and thanks again, Mikey!)

                              3 TB butter
                              8 oz fresh mushrooms, sliced
                              1 TB flour
                              1 c. chicken stock
                              salt, to taste
                              1/4 c. cream
                              1/4 c. dry sherry
                              8 oz spaghetti pasta, broken in half and cooked
                              2 c. turkey or chicken meat, cooked and diced
                              1/2 c. parmesan cheese, shredded

                              Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat and sweat the mushrooms until soft.
                              Sprinkle the flour in and cook for a few minutes to remove the raw taste.
                              Add the chicken stock and cream slowly, stirring constantly until the sauce starts to thicken; add salt to taste.
                              Remove from the heat, add the sherry, pasta, poultry, half the cheese and stir until mixed.
                              Turn into a greased baking dish, top with the remaining cheese and bake in a 375 degree F oven for 30 minutes or until browned.

                              1. re: Will Owen

                                I made this tetrazzini for my book club yesterday and it was great. I used baby portobello mushrooms and put a bread crumb/parmesan topping on it. It was very nice. The sherry really added to it. Thanks for a great recipe Will.

                                1. re: Will Owen

                                  well I have my own recipe, but pretty close, and yes, tetrazzini is a great dish. I love it and is always a leftover after turkey day. Also I usually make a few turkey breasts during the year and this is a great way to use the turkey.

                                  I love tetrazzini, but I do use my own recipe, sorry. And sherry is the key!!

                        2. re: chef chicklet

                          You are correct ... I sub the two however. at times. But right in Chinese dishes I don't sub, In bisques I do and yes not the same taste but it will work. Vermouth and white absolutely. I should of mentioned that. I don't cook a lot of Chinese and should of said that. You are true. I do sub my sherry and white, but probably in dishes I cook more often that are more foregiving.

                          You are very true.

                          1. re: kchurchill5

                            Kc do you have a great crab bisque recipe any chance??? I am soooo craving a nice sherry touched crab bisquie. Crab leg are on sale $8 and the legs are so big I'd only need one. Thanks!

                      2. Here's an easy and inexpensive dish for you to try that will give you a good idea of how Sherry can lift an otherwise common dish. Pound out a couple of boned/skinned chicken breasts, Spread them with a mixture of whipped butter combined with herbs (oregano, marjoram, parsley, basil, rosemary - how ever you like to combine your herbs with chicken) and roll them around a slice of jack cheese. Skewer them together, dust lightly over all with flour, dip in egg, then roll in bread crumbs and put them on a cookie sheet. Bake uncovered for about 20 - 25 minutes. While that's baking, melt about a quarter cup of butter in a saucepan, add about 3/4 cup of dry/medium dry Sherry. At the 20 - 25 minute mark on the baking chicken, spoon the wine/butter over the chicken and continue cooking until nicely browned and done; basting the chicken every few minutes with the resulting sauce. Serve with sauce drizzled over chicken breasts.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: todao

                          Excellent recipe!

                          I make chicken or creamed chicken or turkey, yes a classic and simple but I take simple cut up pre cooked chicken or turkey leftovers are great for this. Saute in a little butter until warm. Add some flour to thicken and then add some sherry wine, then add some salt, pepper, thyme and I like a dash of red pepper to give it a kick. Slowly add cream to thicken and make a cream sauce. I like to serve this over savory herbed biscuits, or even good toasted Italian bread or even just store bought with some added herbed butter on top. Anything for a quick easy dinner. Normally I make my own, but hey, sometimes 15 minutes and dinner has to be done, so now and then store bought does come into play. I love a good bisquick herbed biscuit, not rolled, but dropped, my favorite since a kid. But any words, Puff pastries works, southern biscuits. Anything you like. I cook the chicken to a nice gravy and then top with some parsley and serve. Great, simple quick and amazing with very little work.

                          1. re: kchurchill5

                            I'm gonna try your idea on some toasted Ciabatta bread - if you're in the neighborhood stop by and I'd be happy to share it with ya.

                          2. re: todao

                            Sounds tasty - I definitely will try this later in the week once I get that sherry!

                          3. In short, yes, you are missing out on a great flavor. There are several distinct types of sherry, not all of which are sweet. The nutty flavor others have mentioned does run through most of them. Karen MacNeil's "The Wine Bible" has an excellent chapter on this fascinating wine. It's great reading and will introduce you the the history, flavors and types of sherry.
                            In cooking, some dishes, like shrimp scampi, are just so much better when finished with dry sherry. I think that if you buy a decent bottle of fino type sherry, cook a few simple dishes with it, and of course drink a glass along side, you might become a convert. You can get a good bottle for well under $20, so give it a try.

                            1. The CI french onion soup recipe that I flog continuously calls for dry sherry. I've made it with other wine, but it's not the same. I'm not a wine drinker, but using sherry in cooking really picks up an otherwise ordinary dish.

                              5 Replies
                              1. re: JonParker

                                OMG, how could I have forgotten this! I float sherry on the top before serving the French Onion soup and serve a tiny pitcher of sherry with the soup to add if you wish. I just love it.

                                1. re: chef chicklet

                                  I add it during the caramelization of the onions and boil it off. Floating a but on top sounds fabulous though. I'll try that next time.

                                  1. re: JonParker

                                    I gotta tell you I love sherry and french onion soup. There is nothing to compare to a steamy hot (yes burn your mouth & lips) French Onion Soup with a little sherry that's freshly poured, mixed with the cheese. Oh my goodness...

                                    1. re: chef chicklet

                                      Ever had She Crab Soup finished with a touch of Sherry ? I'd take that over French Onion any day of the week.

                              2. Brown portabellos or criminis in a little butter until brown and soft, deglaze with some sherry and let simmer a few minutes until reduced. A great side dish for chicken pork or steak. Also, add some thin onions and red pepper strips which are also great. I made this one night for company and did the onions mushrooms and red peppers with the sherry, added some fresh thyme and rosemary and then added some chicken stock and a teaspoon of brandy and then served a small rice bowl with a small amount of stock and a nice toasted baguette that was toasted and then topped with gruyere cheese and set in the bowl with a few of the mushrooms, peppers and onions. Make a great simple side dish and is really different. It was a great hit

                                1. Read this, and try the first Manzanilla the author recommends. Fantastic (love to sip it ice-cold while cooking)


                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: razkolnikov

                                    Interesting article, thanks for posting this link. It will definitely help me choose my first bottle of sherry.

                                  2. Thanks for all the good advice on giving sherry a chance. It's clear from your comments that I have been missing an important flavor profile in my cooking, and that sherry will add a depth that may have been missing. I am anxious to try it, hopefully before the week is out, and will report back on the experience. Thanks again for the great information.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: janniecooks

                                      Sherry does indeed add a different dimension to cooking (and to drinking), as I'm sure you will discover. I've been a sherry drinker & "sherry-cooker" for quite a while. Not all sherries are created equal, and they can vary widely in price ...... many people enjoy a drink of sherry after a meal, and even more cook with it. A sherry like Harvey's Bristol Ctream is a drinking sherry, and on the sweeter side. I would never cook with it. I would buy a cheaper and drier sherry for that purpose. But remember that palates differ so greatly. Why not try a few bottles (at different times) of sherry in different price ranges, and see which one YOU enjoy the most! .... It's YOUR palate that is the final judge.

                                    2. now i understand the meaning of "dry sack" as a brand name of sherry:
                                      (from wiki)
                                      "In earlier times, sherry was known as sack (from the Spanish saca, meaning "a removal from the solera")."

                                      i typically use amontillado sherry for my cooking. emilio lustau or sandemann.

                                      here's another thread that may be helpful: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/347252

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: alkapal

                                        Alkapal, thanks for that link. I'm still not sure which sherry to try first. My local publix and local liquor store have a few, but they only had two brands - the mass market sweeter types. I'll have to go out of my way to a wine shop which I intend to do soon for hopefully more varieties from which to choose.

                                        1. re: alkapal

                                          Since I like to cook with and drink sherry, but not constantly, I get one bottle for both applications. If I can find it, I get a Fino, which is bone-dry, because that's what I most like to drink.

                                        2. sorry to steal the thread but which is more versatile to have on hand - sherry or white wine? (even though they're very different)

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: midtownDiner123

                                            A decent dry white wine is much more versatile, simply because sherry's distinctive flavor can get old in a hurry if you splash it into too many things, whereas a bit of white wine added to almost any braising vegetable (or animal!) is always welcome. The upside of sherry is that it keeps very well - if you have fridge space, you can just keep your dry sherry in there for damn near ever. I would not treat an expensive one that way, but then I don't buy those.

                                          2. Also, a great dish, similar to tetrazzini I guess. But saute shallots and then add diced or leftover chicken or turkey, then mix with a light bechemel sauce with fresh thyme of course with the sherry. Pour over wild rice and fresh asparagus and then top with the turkey or chicken cream sauce. Then top with fresh parm some butter bread crumbs and bake. It is rich creamy and the sherry is the key in the sauce which goes all the way through the rice. It is a great sauce and casserole. I like to make individual dishes but one large casserole is great!

                                            1. Here's a link to a good Chow article about sherry, one that changed my view of it a couple years back.. I'm partial to La Gitana myself; it really isn't expensive at all.