When cooking, quality ciders can bring the same level of brightness, fruit, and acidity to food dishes as white or red wine. But with the wide-ranging flavors in cider—from sweet and apple-forward to dry, acidic, and funky—its utility in the kitchen is more versatile than that bottle of merlot or pinot grigio slowly losing vitality as it stands idly by in the door of your refrigerator.
Since cider is itself technically a wine (fruit juice fermented with yeast), you can largely use the same rules of thumb that govern cooking with traditional vino.
Rule 1: Use a cider that you would drink on its own.
Rule 2: Reserve your best ciders for finishing dishes and not for long, extended cooking methods like braising.
Rule 3: Quick-and-dirty substitution tips:
Red Wine → Dry Tannic English Cyder
Dry White Wine → French Cidre Brut
Wine or Apple Cider Vinegars → Spanish Sidra
Fortified Wine → Sweet Cider or Ice Cider
Rule 4: Let the cider cook off or reduce long enough before incorporating stocks or cream sauces.
Rule 5: Rules are meant to be broken. Let your tongue guide you to new flavor combinations.
Here are some ideas to get you started with experimenting in the kitchen.
With its dry, tangy, funky character, you can use Spanish sidra in place of apple cider vinegar in a number of recipes. Use a splash or two at the end of sauteeing mushrooms in butter to complement the earthy nature of the mushrooms and add a zip of acidity to the dish. Or do as the Spanish do and use sidra to glaze chorizo.
Chorizo a la sidra: Heat a tablespoon of olive oil on medium in a large frying pan and add 1–1½ pounds of Spanish chorizo, sliced into half-inch-thick rounds. When the chorizo begins to get color, add 1½ cups of sidra and two bay leaves. Reduce the liquid until it’s a syrupy glaze consistency. Serve chorizo and sauce in a bowl and garnish with fresh parsley.
French Cidre Brut
Brut cidre is typically bone dry, effervescent, and aromatic, making it ideal for dishes where a dry white wine is traditionally used. Try using it in your favorite risotto or with seafood dishes.
Scallops in cidre cream sauce: Combine ½ cup of French cidre brut and two thinly sliced shallots in a pan; reduce until the liquid is about 1 to 2 tablespoons. Stir in ½ cup of heavy cream, season with salt and pepper to taste. Prepare scallops a la your favorite method and ladle the sauce over the top to serve.
English cyder (from orchard-based cideries as opposed to the mass-marketed ciders in the U.K.) is some of the most stout, robust cider in the world. Typically dry and tannic, they aptly take the place of red wine in braising recipes like beef bourguignon, braised short ribs, or pulled pork.
French Cidre Doux or Demi-Sec
Thanks to the keeving process, French cidre doux (sweet) and demi-sec (semi-dry) retain natural sugars and have a rounder, fruitier flavor than cidre brut varieties. This makes them prime candidates for glazes on roasted root vegetables, roasted pork tenderloin, turkey, or ham. Reduce the cider in a pan with your preferred seasonings until it achieves a syrupy consistency. Glaze the food as you would typically.
Modern American Fruit Ciders
There are plenty of local cider options that incorporate other fruits such as cherry, rhubarb, and berries. You could use a modern American fruit cider to poach pears, create a sweet glaze for a dessert, or reduce in a pan with figs.