Not having used sherry before, what is the type used when a recipe just calls for "sherry"? I see cream sherry, dry sherry, and very dry sherry at my local grocery store. Does brand matter much?
Cream sherry is very sweet - likely too sweet for most recipes that don't explicitly mention it.
If a recipe simply calls for "sherry", it usually means dry sherry, as that's the most common kind of available. In fact, I don't think I've ever even seen "very dry" around here. So I would definitely stick with the dry.
As for brand, if you see several different bottles all labeled sherry, I don't think it matters too much which one you pick - at least if you're using it for cooking and not drinking.
P.S. If you're using this as a substitute for rice wine, the commonly-accepted substitute is indeed dry sherry.
If you are able to buy actual styles of sherry, then fino is the driest, and is the one to go for in most savoury dishes. If you are using it in seafood or fish dishes, then I'd try to get manzanilla which is a kind of fino that is grown on the coast and has a salty tang to it.
For sweet dishes try the really raisiny Pedro Ximinéz (PX) or oloroso, which is usually dry but there are sweet versions.
I would gravitate to the dry sherries eg fino/manzanilla
But! I have used dry madeira, dry white port, and amontillado sherry with Chinese recipes that called for rice wine, all with great results.
The real rice wine Sake (if you have any) always works well with cooking though I find it a nice, buzzy drink and it always disappears quite fast from the fridge!
Dry sherry is what you want! Cream sherry is a sweeter sherry and more commonly used for sipping. If the recipe calls for sherry, but doesn't designate it as a sweet sherry, then go for dry sherry. You can find it in most grocery stores. I have used Christian Brothers sherry for several years. Although it is not labeled as a dry sherry, I have found it to be a good go-to sherry for cooking (and sipping as I cook!).
Sherry is the english name for the wine made near Jerez de la Frontera (Cadiz, Spain). It's legal (protected in EU) denomination is "Jerez-Xérès-Sherry". Also there are American sherrys, but they have a completely different elaboration than real sherry.
Sherry is made exclusively with white grapes, but certain varieties of sherry are made also with dried grapes.
The grapes used for sherry wine are of the varieties Palomino (dry sherry), Pedro-Ximenez (sweet cherry, grapes are dried) or Moscatel (sweet cherry, grapes are dried).
Grapes are collected at the beginning of September. They are cleaned of any leaves and stalk, and discarded any bad bunch of grapes. The grapes are then squeezed and pressed gently once. The remains may get a second pressing for other uses but not for wine making.
The juice is set for fermentation until December, and a 11/12º vol dry white wine is obtained. The wine tasters classify the wines for different types.
Then the wine is fortified with brandy to give the a higher alcohol content. Finally, the fortified wine is put on oak barrels for ageing.
Of course, this is just a short description of the sherry making processes, the fortification are ageing of sherry is quite complex, for more information: Sherry wine production
Types of sherry:
According to the procedure followed in its preparation, the different types of sherry wine can be grouped as follows:
- Vinos Generosos (Generous Wines), with a reducing sugar content of not more than 5 grams per liter, among which are the types Fino, Amontillado, Oloroso And Palo Cortado;
- Vinos Dulces Naturales (Natural Sweet Wines), with a content of reducing sugars of more than 160 grams per liter, among which are the types Dulce, Moscatel and Pedro Ximénez;
- Vinos Generosos de Licor (Generous Liquor Wines), with a total alcoholic strength of not less than 17,5% by volume and a reducing sugar content of more than 5 grams per liter, such as Dry, Medium, Pale Cream, and Cream.
Each type of sherry may be paired with different groups of food:
- Fino and Manzanilla pair with appetizers (tapas, olives, soft cheeses, seafood, ...), with soups and white fish.
- Amontillado pair with cured cheese, soups, consommés, blue fish and white meat.
- Oloroso pairs with red meats and game meat.
- Pedro Ximénez pairs with sweets and blue cheese.
- Pale Cream pairs with foie and fresh fruit.
- Medium pairs with paté patés and quiches.
- Cream pairs with all kinds of desserts.
For cooking mostly the dry ones are used, but it's usual to find Pedro Ximenez reductions in many preparations, but if other than dry is needed the recipe will state what kind to use.