8

I am trying to make this lasagne recipe.

I have apera¹ in my pantry, which I bought to make stroganoff. Can I use this in place of red wine in the recipe? It may be sacrilegious, but I do not want to buy another bottle of liqueur, especially when I don't drink as I hate the taste of alcohol in general.

The recipe does say to replace the red wine with water, but I was wondering if I could just use the apera.


¹ For those that aren't aware of what "apera" is - it is the Australian equivalent of sherry after some EU shenanigans made Australia unable to use the term 'sherry.'

13
  • 2
    Alcohol doesn't go in lasagna. Then again neither does cottage cheese, so I'll see myself out.... "I don't drink as I hate the taste of alcohol" - then don't cook with it, as that's the only point. And as someone in recovery, I don't want to even smell it either.
    – Mazura
    Aug 11, 2023 at 0:41
  • 8
    I would argue that the issue that lead to the use of ‘Apera’ was not EU ‘shenanigans’, but everyone else’s ‘shenanigans’. It’s no different from how real Champagne wine is from Champagne (that’s where the name comes from), we just mangled the name Jerez more in English than we did Champagne. Using the name of a place to sell something not from that place is not OK, it just took far longer for this general consensus to catch up with international usage of the term ‘Sherry’. Aug 11, 2023 at 1:15
  • 1
    Strong opinions here. haha My reason for word choice is to add some humour to my post. Not to be taken seriously. Thanks again for your thoughts. :)
    – Cyber
    Aug 11, 2023 at 4:34
  • 1
    @AustinHemmelgarn living near Cheddar (where they still age their namesake cheese in natural caves), but seeing "cheddar" cheese made all over the hemisphere, I have a handy example of how names do escape their origins.
    – Chris H
    Aug 11, 2023 at 6:02
  • 2
    @ChrisH I hear cheddar is gorge-ous(!)
    – MD-Tech
    Aug 11, 2023 at 8:42

5 Answers 5

19

Because the other answers feel awfully prescriptivist to me, and I hate prescriptivist cooking, let me give a definitive

Yes.

You can absolutely substitute a sherry (fortified wine) for red wine in your sauce. The point of adding the red wine into the saucy is not to make it boozy, but to help develop the flavors of ingredients which contain alcohol-soluble flavor compounds, and to add some of the flavors from the wine (though in that recipe, I am going to guess that the wine is pretty much overwhelmed by everything else in the recipe).

Moreover, that recipe isn't particularly traditional (as Tetsujin points out, Worcestershire is really out of place in there; the carrots and celery also feel a bit more French than Italian (to me), and the sugar feels like a kind of weird thing to add). Since you are already making something which isn't super-traditional, I wouldn't worry about crossing some prescriptivist line by further tweaking the recipe.

Experiment, and see what tastes good (and feel free to taste the ragu as you make it).

That being said, it might help to understand a bit what a "fortified wine" (like sherry) is. When a typical red (or white) wine is made, grape juice is fermented over time. In the process of fermentation, yeasts consume the sugar in the grade juice, and... excrete... alcohol, CO2, and other biological waste products. Typically, the process of fermentation stops when either (a) all of the sugars have been consumed, or (b) the alcohol content of the environment becomes inimical to the yeast—this is usually around 15% alcohol by volume (ABV) (or both).

To make a fortified wine, the fermentation process is halted by adding a higher ABV liquor (a distilled liquor, such as brandy) to the wine. Adding the extra alcohol makes the environment hostile to the yeast, and prevents them from further fermenting the beverage. The result is that not all of the sugars are consumed by the yeasts, so the end result is boozier (higher ABV) and sweeter.

In this ragu recipe, the booziness is not really an issue (the red wine is probably around 12-15% ABV, the sherry is maybe 18-22%—a noticeable difference if you are drinking it, but likely a small difference in this recipe), but the sweetness could be. My recommendation would be to remove the sugar from the recipe and substitute the fortified wine for the red wine, one-to-one.

Alternatively, you could just leave the wine out entirely. After a long, covered simmer, the recipe calls for reducing the ragu until it thickens—if you start with less liquid in the recipe, this will go faster. You will almost certainly lose some of the complexity of the flavors—you could rejigger this by, for example, adding some beef stock or vinegar (like, just a little vinegar), but you might not find that necessary.

And, again, taste often. As you are making the sauce, taste it. See if you like it. Adjust as you go.

P.S. Ignore Tetsujin vis-à-vis the Worcestershire. My Jewish mother insists that it is part of a traditional recipe, and it's delicious. :P

20
  • I'd add that sherry/apera is made from white grapes rather than red, so the flavours are a bit different for a sherry vs a red wine. Port wine might be more similar to red than sherry, but it tends to be quite sweet (as does sherry), though you can get both in dry versions which are less sweet due to more complete fermentation of the sugars.
    – bob1
    Aug 11, 2023 at 1:59
  • 2
    @bob1 Indeed. But in the linked recipe, there are so many strong flavors, that I doubt that the substitution of sherry for red wine would make all that much difference. If t'were me, I'd probably just deglaze the pan with half a cup of vodka, and be done with. But, again, taste, taste, taste. Does it taste good? Great! Does it need something else? Throw it in. Aug 11, 2023 at 2:04
  • I agree, it's all down to personal taste. Personally I use a soffritto, the Italian version of mirepoix, in mine; it does consist of onion, carrot and celery gently fried off, but wouldn't consider using Worcestershire; my non-Jewish Grandmother would have killed me for doing anything other than Meat and 3 veg :0
    – bob1
    Aug 11, 2023 at 2:19
  • @bob1 Totally off-topic, but your link to New Zealand-y things brings this to mind: I currently live in a part of the world where traditional foodways are built around sheep (the Diné people started herding sheep about 400 years ago, when the Spanish showed up, and it was the absolute heart of the Diné economy until the US government shut it down in the 1930s). Sheep are still incredibly important, though. I can sometimes get local mutton, but most of the mutton and lamb available at the grocery here comes from New Zealand. It makes no sense, and is infuriating. :/ Aug 11, 2023 at 2:23
  • 3
    Can I, as an Italian, give a final answer on that Worcestershire is NOT traditional? :D
    – bracco23
    Aug 11, 2023 at 10:40
6

It depends how sweet your locally made fortified wine is.

Many sherries are too sweet to substitute 1:1 where wine is needed, but not all. Even a sweet one might be usable, in smaller quantities with water to make up the volume, and/or reducing another sweet ingredient.

In robust tomato-based dishes, I've been known to use sherry, water, and a tiny bit of red wine vinegar. The proportions, from memory, would be something like 50% sherry, 45-48% water, and 2-5% vinegar. So quite possibly under a teaspoon, and not enough that you'd be able to taste it if you didn't know it was there.

I wouldn't replace it with just water otherwise. I'd increase the amount of any stock, or use vegetable bouillon, made up weak.

2
  • Hey Chris. This is similar to the apera I have: coles.com.au/product/st-andrews-dry-apera-750ml-1-each-2165715 take a look and please let me know. Thank you for your input!
    – Cyber
    Aug 11, 2023 at 4:36
  • Even a dry sherry is sweeter than red wine, though not by as much as a sweet sherry. Others have suggested omitting the sugar, which I knew some recipes (mainly American) use, and that's a good idea; I'd omit it even if using wine. When the recipe says to taste and add sugar, I'd taste and add a few drops of red wine vinegar.
    – Chris H
    Aug 11, 2023 at 6:12
3

Sorry, gonna throw a whole lot of unsubstantiated opinion in here

Of course there is no absolute ragu/bolognese recipe, every family has their own, but…

Put the apera in, it won't hurt, but for all that is holy [or random chance, depending on $DEITY]… don't put Worcestershire sauce in it!!!

I wouldn't put red wine in a ragu/bolognese anyway, but I wouldn't rail against it if you wanted to.

If I was being faithful to anything, I wouldn't put tomato puree in either. It's too punchy. It drowns your herbs & if you up the herbs, it all gets a bit 'in your mouth'. Reduce it naturally rather than force it with puree.

Eek, the further down this recipe I read, the worse it gets.
No sugar. [That's probably to try counterbalance the puree which doesn't need to be in it either.]

More oregano, less thyme. You do want to taste the oregano, but the thyme should just be the tiniest hint. You could hint a tiny bit of rosemary too, but really don't go mad with it.

Some variants use chicken liver [or even smooth Brussels] pate to soften texture & flavour - again, depends on source recipe.

[tbh, I'd find another recipe]

There are two main 'schools' of ragu.
One is onion, garlic, beef, canned tomatoes, oregano.
The other adds 'extras', carrot, celery, pate, even bacon/pancetta, sometimes [& a favourite of mine] a tiny dash of chilli, peperoncino oil or even a touch of cayenne.
Neither of these schools is right or wrong, but some of the 'extra extras' really don't belong.

7
  • 1
    But I love Worcestershire. :( I think I'll ignore your advice. :P Aug 10, 2023 at 17:50
  • Fine on baked beans or a British stew. Not in in ragu. Sorry, but that's just a heinous crime ;)) If you really want the slight vinegar hit, tweak it towards a puttanesca, olives, capers & bacon. That should satisfy the vinegar/umami craving.
    – Tetsujin
    Aug 10, 2023 at 17:51
  • 1
    Lock me up! Imma do it! It is exactly how my Jewish mother taught me to make a lasagne. (And we all know that eastern European Jewish mothers make the most authentic Italian food.) Aug 10, 2023 at 17:53
  • 3
    Huh, never heard of Worcestershire sauce in ragu/bolognoese, though I guess it makes a little sense if you want an additional source of acid and umami aside from the tomatoes and/or meat. I’d probably use soy sauce instead though if I wanted that (though I guess that too would be an abomination unto Nuggan). Aug 11, 2023 at 0:50
  • 1
    @AustinHemmelgarn My mother makes a mushroom lasagne (no meat---meat and cheese ain't kosher; she is not very precious about keeping kosher, but some recipes are learned young, and never forgotten). Mushrooms + Worcestershire are almost necessary for that umami kick. Aug 11, 2023 at 2:07
3

The goal is that there are flavors that are alcohol soluble, so other alcohols will work, they will just give other flavors to the sauce. In smaller amounts, it shouldn’t be too significant.

As you mention that you’re not a fan of alcohol, you may also want to see: What is a substitute for red or white wine in a recipe?

Update: you likely want to use less sherry than the amount of wine that the recipe calls for, as sherry is more alcoholic. I would personally deglaze with maybe 1/4 to 1/2 that amount of sherry, let it reduce for a minute or two (to cook off some of the alcohol), then add some other liquid to make up the difference.

1
  • 2
    And I should have mentioned: sherry tends to be higher alcohol than wine, so you likely wouldn’t want to use a 1:1 replacement
    – Joe
    Aug 10, 2023 at 17:29
0

What you link seems to be a somewhat interesting English/Australian blend of Neapolitan ragù and Bolognese ragù. Traditional recipes would either skip the celery and carrots (and give a more Neapolitan-style ragù) or use white wine instead of red (and give a more Bolognese-style ragù). Neither of them would traditionally have Worcestershire sauce (I’ve never heard of using this in a ragù before, my guess is it’s probably to add a bit of extra acid, salt, and umami to the flavor, which if done well should not be needed), and they would generally not traditionally use tomato paste (adding tomato paste is usually done with stuff like this to compensate for mediocre tomatoes being used in the sauce).

Apera or sherry is likely to be far too sweet for this. When a recipe calls for wine, it usually means a dry or semi-dry wine unless it specifies something else, and most aperas and sherries are significantly sweeter than that (even ‘dry’ ones in many cases). Apera or sherry will also add more alcohol than the wine would (their %ABV is anywhere from 15-22% usually, most wines are in the 10-14% range), which may impact the final flavor in unexpected ways. I would not recommend skipping the alcohol though, the amount used will not impart any significant alcohol flavor, but the presence of the alcohol will alter how everything else blends together. If you don’t want to get a bottle of red wine, I would instead suggest a bottle of white wine, which comes up far more frequently in sauce recipes in my experience than red does (that, and I just prefer white in ragù even when I do a Neapolitan-style ragù).


On an unrelated note, I strongly recommend (real) Parmesan cheese for the besciamella. It blends much better with the tomato flavor of the ragù than things like Colby, cheddar, or Monterey Jack. I’ve also done Emmental once before in place of Parmesan (I did not realize I had no Parmesan, and the only hard white I knew would blend well into the besciamella was Emmental), and that turned out surprisingly good, but every other cheese I’ve tried for this just doesn’t work quite as well in terms of the flavor profile.

5
  • Note that the recipe also includes sugar (WHY?!). Take that out, and a sherry or port might fit in nicely. As to identifying regionality, this looks like a very Americanized recipe. As you note, it starts with a bit of an identity crisis (celery, carrots, red wine), adds a bunch of sugar, Wocestershire, and gives options for cheeses which are likely to be easy to find in a Wal-Mart Superstore. It is such a weird recipe. I mean, it's probably tasty, but it doesn't feel like it comes from anywhere. :D Aug 11, 2023 at 2:12
  • 1
    Of course, if you really want to Americanize it, use cheddar. It becomes a cheeseburger lasagne. ;) Aug 11, 2023 at 2:13
  • Thanks for your reply, I think the celery is common around Australian lasagne. haha I have heard many Italians that moved here that celery is paramount for their lasagne recipe lmao.
    – Cyber
    Aug 11, 2023 at 4:33
  • @XanderHenderson Sugar is usually used on tomato-based sauces when the tomato are more acidic than sweet, as a way to tame the acidic note. It's a common "trick", usually just a pinch. Also, not to be pedantic, but a Bechamel sauce doesn't have cheese. If you add cheese you get a Mornay :P
    – bracco23
    Aug 11, 2023 at 10:36
  • @XanderHenderson Sugar isn’t too unusual if you can’t get good tomatoes that are appropriately sweet to make the sauce, and some people even add a bit to offset the ‘punch’ of the tomato paste (often not realizing that they can just skip the tomato paste and get a better result if they have good tomatoes). I think the amount of sugar involved here though is small enough that dropping it and subbing sherry for the wine may still be too sweet (depends on the sherry though, Oloroso or fino would be fine, dry might be fine, dulce or Moscatel would be way too sweet). Aug 11, 2023 at 11:22

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.