Substitutes for Cooking Sherry: Best Picks

Cooking sherry is an alcohol that has had salt added to it. This extends the shelf life of the alcohol, making it a more practical bottle to have lying around the house. 

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It is a type of wine made from grapes. It is fortified with brandy following the fermentation process, just like regular sherry.

Not only salt is added, so are potassium metabisulfite and potassium sorbate. It is used to give your food a sweet and nutty flavor. 

It is around 17% alcohol, golden in color, and smells slightly sweet. The biggest downside to the sherry is the sodium content (180mg per 30ml), as it contains no fat and relatively few carbohydrates.

It is solely designed to be added to food, rather than drunk straight. 

Recipes rarely call for more than a tablespoon or two of cooking sherry, so the substitute will likely not make much of a difference.

Other flavors in the recipe will often overpower the flavor of the substitute, as sherry is used to provide a richer background note to dishes. 

Cooking sherry tends to be preferred as an opened bottle of regular sherry will go off within 20 days of opening. The sodium and preservatives in cooking sherry prolong this to a few months. 

Origins of Sherry

Sherry wines, like champagne, can only come from one specific region. This is Jerez y Sanlúcar de Barrameda, Andalusia in Spain.

There is what is known as the ‘Sherry Triangle’ in this region, comprised of 3 towns. These are Jerez, El Puerto de Santa Maria, and Sanlúcar de Barrameda. 

All branches of sherry begin with a barrel of white grapes that undergo a dry fermentation and are then fortified. This means that a neutral tasting spirit is added to increase the alcohol content of the sherry to 15 - 18%. 

It is only ever made from 3 grape varieties: Palomino, Moscatel, and Pedro Ximinez, although 90% of all sherry comes from the Palomino grapes. 

It is one of the oldest wines in the world, with records of it being made dating back to the early 8th century. This was during the time of the Moorish occupation of Andalucia when Jerez was known as Sherrish. 

In 1587, the British Sir Francis Drake invaded Cadiz and brought nearly 3,000 butts of sherry back to England with him. From this point forwards, the British love affair with the drink began. 

Sweet sherries have a sweet wine known as Pedro Ximenez added to increase the sugar content of the alcohol. 

Cooking sherries will then have sodium and preservatives added to extend the shelf life. This means that when using a cooking sherry in a dish, you need to be mindful of the seasoning you add. 

Sherries are aged through a process known as the solera y criadera. During this process, many wines that are at different stages of the aging process are mixed together.

For this reason, you do not find vintage-dated bottles of sherry, as they are all a combination of many different vintages. 

What other types of sherry are there?

Dry Sherry

These do not contain much sugar from the grapes, due to how they are produced. The grapes undergo a process of complete fermentation so all the sugars are converted to ethanol and carbon dioxide. 

There are 4 different types of dry sherry which are categorized due to the aging process they underwent. They fall somewhere between biological aging and oxidative aging. 

Biological aging means that the sherry is prevented from oxidizing as the inside of the butt is protected by the veil of flor (a thin yeast layer). It is very pale yellow in color and tends to have an alcohol content of around 15%. 

Oxidative aging produces a darker amber colored alcohol. They have a higher alcohol content as there is more dry extract in the wine as it ages.

Alcohol and glycerine content in the sherry increase over time. They usually result in an alcohol content of 18 - 20%.

Some sherries are formed through a mixture of the 2 aging processes. In these, they ferment initially with the yeast film. This is then removed and the alcohol is allowed to ferment and oxidize. It has an alcohol content of around 17 - 20%.

Naturally Sweet Wines

The fermentation process of these wines is stopped, thereby preventing the sugars from being converted to alcohol.

These wines are made with the sweetest types of grapes such as Moscatel. The sugar is usually concentrated. This is done by evaporating some of the water from the grapes. 

The water is removed until the must reaches 22 degrees Baume, as this liquid density makes it hard for the yeast to ferment. This is known as sunning the grapes. 

After this, wine-based alcohol is added to the must. This gives the wine an incredibly high sugar content - between 220 and 400 grams per liter.

This is done to halt the fermentation process, and these alcohols tend to have an alcohol content of around 15 - 18%. 

Sweet Sherry Wines

These wines are made by mixing dry and naturally sweet wines.

This can be done in any ratio and with any type of wine, meaning that technically the creative potential is boundless. 

Pale cream, medium, and cream sherries fall under this umbrella. 

Why would you use it?

One of the most common uses of sherry in cooking is to deglaze a pan. This means that cool alcohol is added to a hot pan that has cooking remnants stuck to the bottom.

It is much more effective as a deglazing agent than water. This is because usually, the remnants on the pan are proteins, which are often more soluble in alcohol than water.

This allows the cooking flavors in the pan to be infused into the liquid. This gives your dish a much richer and deeper flavor. 

It is also used as a flavor enhancer in dishes that cook slowly. These include stews, soups, sauces, and even some marinades. 

What is it used in?

Cooking sherry is enriched with preservatives and salt and as such, is not suitable for sweet dessert recipes.

Cooking sherry is primarily used in bisques, soups, stews, glazes, sauces, and marinades. It is commonly used in small quantities to deglaze a cooking pan.

What can be used as a substitute for cooking sherry?

There are many options that can be used as a substitute for sherry in cooking. You can opt for another alcohol as a substitute, or you could make a non-alcoholic solution to replace it. 

When alcohol is used in a dish the actual alcohol component tends to get boiled off during the process. It is used as a flavor enhancer, not as a way to get your dinner guests drunk.

Alcoholic

These substitutes tend to work best in poultry dishes, stews, creamy soups, and creamy sauces. 

Dry White Wine

This can be used in a 1:1 ratio as a substitute for cooking sherry.

Good wines to use include Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Grigio. 

Brandy

Brandy is distilled from wine and has a sweet flavor with fruity hints depending on the fruit used. Due to the high alcohol content, it is perfect for flaming. 

If you are opting to use brandy as a substitute, we suggest that you use an unflavored brandy. This will reduce the risk of unwanted flavors mingling with your dish and is likely to produce a better result. 

Brandy has a higher alcohol content than sherry and as such, the dish must be cooked for longer. This will give the alcohol in the brandy time to cook off and evaporate. You should use this in a lesser quantity than sherry for the same reason. 

Dry Vermouth

This is another fortified wine, similar to sherry. It is a combination of slight bitterness and sweetness, mixed with botanical flavors. 

You must use a dry vermouth as opposed to a sweet one to prevent your dish from becoming overly sweet. It can be used in a 1:1 ratio as a dry sherry substitute. 

This is the most common substitute for cooking sherry as it produces the best results. 

Madeira, Red Wine, Port, Marsala Wine

These can also be substituted in equal amounts for dry sherry. 

Marsala wine is an Italian fermented wine. It has notes of dried fruits combined with a nutty and brown sugar element. It is commonly substituted for cooking sherry in lobster bisque.

Other common uses include tiramisu, panettone, and trifles.  

Hard Apple Cider

This fermented apple alcohol can be used as a great substitute for cooking sherry. This can be substituted in an equal ratio for cooking sherry.

It will not give the same depth of flavor but will add acidic and fruity elements to your dish. 

Shaoxing Cooking Wine

This is a Chinese fermented rice wine. It is sometimes described as vinegary and mildly spicy, with hints of caramel. This too contains added preservatives and salt.

This is an easy substitute for cooking sherry as the seasonings are likely to be more balanced. It has a very strong alcoholic taste and so should not be used in large quantities. 

Drinking Sherry

This can be substituted in equal parts for cooking sherry. It will actually enhance the flavors in your dish and create a better result. The main reason that cooking sherry is usually preferred is the cost and shelf life. 

Using regular sherry will reduce the sodium content of your dish massively.

Non-alcoholic

Apple Cider Vinegar

This should be diluted in a 50:50 ratio with water before you add it to your dish. If your recipe requires 2 cups of cooking sherry, you will need 1 cup apple cider vinegar and 1 cup water.

You should also add 1 tablespoon of sugar per cup of apple cider vinegar and water mixture. 

This blend will mimic the flavor profile of cooking sherry. It is only suitable to be used in savory dishes such as sauces, marinades, stews, and soups. 

If your recipe only calls for a small amount of sherry (such as 1-2 tablespoons), you can substitute this for an equal amount of apple cider vinegar.

Vanilla Extract

This is primarily used in desserts. One tablespoon of cooking sherry should be substituted for 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract. It is up to you whether you choose to use alcoholic or non-alcoholic vanilla extract. 

If you need to make up extra liquid in your recipe, top up the vanilla extract with water to the same volume as the recipe requires.

For example, 2 tablespoons of sherry should be substituted for 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract and 4 teaspoons of water.

Fruit Juice

Again, this is best suited to sweet recipes, particularly those which call for sweet sherry. They work perfectly in baked desserts that incorporate fruit. 

Pineapple, orange, apricot, and peach juices are the best sherry substitutes. If your juice is particularly thick, you can thin it out with some water before adding it to your dish.

Where possible, try to use freshly squeezed juice instead of prepackaged juices, as these will provide a better result.

Rice Wine Vinegar or Champagne Wine Vinegar

This can either be diluted or used as a direct substitute for small quantities of cooking sherry. 

Chicken Broth and Vinegar

If your recipe calls for a cup of sherry, we advise mixing 1 cup of chicken stock with 1 cup of white vinegar. 

White Vinegar and Water

To replace 1 cup of cooking sherry, you will need to combine half a cup of white vinegar with half a cup of water.

You will need to add 2 tablespoons of sugar per cup of sherry substitute. This substitution works well in marinades.

Balsamic Vinegar 

This is a heavier option than sherry but gives a nice balance of sweetness and acidity.

If you are looking for a slightly mellower taste, you can mix the balsamic with a little water to dilute.

Coffee or Coffee Syrup

This is a great non-alcoholic substitute for cooking sherry in desserts.

It is ideally suited for desserts containing chocolate, as the coffee complements the flavor profile deliciously. 

What is a substitute for cream sherry?

Cream sherry tends to be used in sweet dishes. Dolce marsala and Madeira wine are the best substitutes, but in a pinch, you can use sweet vermouth. 

Should sherry be refrigerated after opening?

Yes, you should refrigerate sherry once the bottle has been opened. This is because it does not have a long shelf life and will perish very quickly.

You should use it within a few days, if it is dry, or a few weeks for sweeter and cream sherries. 

It should also be sealed with a vacuum stopper to prevent any air from entering the bottle. 

Can I make my own sherry vinegar?

Yes, you can. It is a great addition to any chef’s food cupboard and is perfect for use in marinades, glazes, and vinaigrette dressings. 

To make it, you will need sherry, vinegar starter, and spring water. The vinegar starter can be found in one of 3 ways: the ‘mother’ of the vinegar, earlier batch remnants of unpasteurized vinegar, or something known as mycoderma aceti - a commercially available liquid.

You will also need a clean and sterilized container to create your sherry vinegar in. 

Your first step is to swirl the vinegar starter around the inside of the container, ensuring all areas of the bottle’s interior are coated. 

Mix 2 cups of the sherry with 4 cups of spring water. Pour this into your vinegar starter coated water. 

Cover the opening of the container with a paper towel or preferably cheesecloth, held in place with a rubber band. You should store it in a warm dark place. 

You should leave it, without disturbances, for a minimum of 3 weeks. It can take up to 6 months to ferment properly. You should be able to know when it is done by smelling it. 

Once it is fully fermented, the vinegar should have an intensely acidic and vinegary taste. You can taste test it too. To do this, place a straw inside the bottle below the line of the liquid. Put your finger over the top of the straw and pull it out of the container. 

Try to avoid touching or knocking the mother. This is the slimy substance that has formed on the top surface of the vinegar. 

Once you are satisfied with the fermentation that has been done, you should strain the sherry vinegar. You should use coffee filters or cheesecloth to do this. Decant into sterilized airtight containers and store in the refrigerator until you are ready to use it. 

Reserve the mother, as this can be used to start making a new batch of vinegar. 

What can you substitute for sherry vinegar?

The substitutes for sherry vinegar are mainly other types of vinegar. These include red wine vinegar, white wine vinegar, rice wine vinegar, and champagne vinegar.

You can also use citrus juice, such as lemon or lime, in a pinch. These contain citric acid as opposed to the acetic acid found in vinegar.

This means that they will have an entirely different flavor profile, which is something you should be aware of before you add it. 

What foods should be matched with drinking sherry?

If you are eating something that swims, such as fish, your best bet is to serve either a Fino or Manzanilla sherry. 

If you are eating a bird, we recommend an Amontillado sherry. If you are eating something that runs, such as cows, Oloroso is the way to go.

Can I use red wine vinegar instead of sherry?

Yes, you can use red wine vinegar instead of sherry. However it’s important to remember to dilute the vinegar before you use it as it will be more potent than cooking sherry. You will either need to dilute the red wine vinegar or make sure to only use it in small amounts instead. 

You can also mix red wine vinegar with chicken broth as a substitute for cooking sherry. Mix two tablespoons of red wine vinegar with a cup of chicken broth to get the perfect balance for your dish.

It’s important to remember that using red wine vinegar as a substitute for sherry can also alter the flavor of your dish. Savory dishes tend to require dry sherry, whereas desserts require sweet sherry. If you’re trying to substitute red wine vinegar for sherry in a savory dish, the flavors should still gel fairly well.

Can I use rice wine vinegar instead of sherry?

You can indeed use rice wine vinegar instead of cooking sherry. Interestingly, rice wine vinegar is the closest in flavor profile and acidity to sherry vinegar. This is typically available from most Asian grocers. 

Rice wine vinegar can make a good substitute for sherry vinegar in salad dressings, sauces, or even marinades. Alternatively you can use rice wine vinegar to pickle vegetables if you don’t have any cooking sherry in your store cupboard.

A handy feature of rice wine vinegar is that because it has a similar profile to sherry vinegar, you can use it in the same quantities that you would sherry vinegar. 

You can also use champagne wine vinegar if you have this in your store cupboard. It’s worth remembering that champagne wine vinegar is often much sweeter than other types of wine vinegar. This does lend itself well to being a substitute for sherry vinegar, and could even be used for some dessert recipes.

Summary

There are many different substitutes that you can use for cooking sherry. Depending on what you need the cooking sherry for, the best substitution will vary.

The easiest and most common substitutes are other alcohols such as dry white wine, unflavored brandy, and Marsala wine. If you prefer to avoid alcohol, there are many non-alcoholic substitutes that would work perfectly. 

Take care when using cooking sherry, or substituting it. This is because the added sodium can interfere with the seasoning of the dish and it is very easy to over-salt your dish.

Vice versa, when you substitute cooking sherry for a different liquid, you may need to add salt.  If you're looking for the real thing check out https://thekitchencommunity.org/best-cooking-sherry/

Cassie Marshall
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