If you’re someone who doesn’t drink white wine for whatever reason, finding it on the ingredients list for chicken piccata or French onion soup might be inconvenient. Of course, you could buy a bottle specifically to make the recipe. But wine is expensive and no one wants to use a few tablespoons or even a couple of cups only to end up pouring the rest down the drain. (Unless, of course, you think ahead and freeze leftover wine for next time.)
Luckily, it’s usually totally possible to swap something you already have on hand for the wine and the dish will turn out just as good. The tricky part is, when it comes to white wine, there is no one-to-one substitution. It’s a matter of looking at how much wine is called for and what it’s contributing to the recipe.
A Little Acid Is Key
Most of the time, the wine brings notes of acidity. If you omit it, the recipe might taste a little flat. The best fix is usually water or stock combined with something acidic, like vinegar or lemon juice.
If the Recipe Calls for 1/4 Cup or Less
Many recipes, like this swordfish with smoked paprika and this creamy chicken florentine, call for basically a splash of white wine. In this case, feel free to simply omit the wine. When you taste the finished product, try a squeeze of fresh lemon juice if you feel like it’s missing something. In amounts this small, you don’t even need to worry about the volume of liquid the wine is contributing.
If the Recipe Calls for More Than 1/4 Cup
- Water: When you get into larger quantities of wine, you need to make up for the volume of liquid. You can often do this with water, especially if strong flavors are involved. For example, this fish stew calls for 1 cup of bottled clam juice or shellfish stock plus 1/2 cup of white wine. In this case, you’d get good results using water instead of wine and then adding a squeeze or two of lemon to taste if needed.
- Stock + acid: If wine plays a more prominent role in the flavor profile, such as chicken piccata, you’ll definitely need to make up for the bright, acidic qualities of white wine. The best thing to reach for is a dash of quality white wine vinegar mixed with chicken or vegetable stock. The rule of thumb is 1 tablespoon of vinegar per 1 cup of stock. For this chicken piccata, that would be 1/2 cup stock mixed with 1 1/2 teaspoons white wine vinegar.
Other Subs to Consider
Verjus is a wine-like grape juice made from unripened unfermented wine grapes. That gives verjus the tart, astringent edge of white wine, though it is sweeter than most white wines you’d reach for when cooking. It would be an ideal substitute in this French onion soup recipe.
Fortified wines: Another option to consider is a bottle of fortified wine, such as dry (white) vermouth or dry sherry. Unlike white wine, which will go bad within days after opening, these last indefinitely on a shelf. The flavor isn’t exactly the same, but it’s a reliable substitute if you’re comfortable keeping alcohol on hand.