Cooking with or without adding water | Chef Dez

By Chef Dez | Apr 23, 2014

How many recipes have you seen that list water as an ingredient?

A pasta sauce recipe, for example, may say to add a cup of water. How much flavor does water have? None.

I am always preaching to be innovative while cooking and add ingredients other than water such as wine, broth, beer, juice, etc. because they have more flavor.

Although most can, some recipes cannot adapt to this type of modification. It will usually depend on the amount of seasonings/flavor already in the dish.

The first thing to examine is the amount of water the recipe suggests. If the amount is of minuscule proportion, then typically replacing the water shouldn't be a concern.

The choice of distinctive liquid would accent the existing flavors without risk of overpowering the dish.

If the recipe states a large quantity of water, then one must examine what the other ingredients are and how much flavor they will impart on their own.

This is not as complicated as it may sound. The most effective way to determine if a recipe can accept any variation is to make it the way it is written first and then listen to your taste buds.

Could it use more flavor? If so, what would compliment it and how pungent/mellow can the liquid be?

Maybe just replacing a portion of the water would be the solution or leaving the recipe in its original state is just fine. Make notes in your cookbooks for future reference.

Rice cooked in chicken stock, for example, has more flavor than if it was cooked in only water. I know that may seem quite obvious, so let me give you some ideas with the following liquids:

Red wine or dark beer are great additions to red meat and tomato dishes, such as pasta sauce, gravies, chili, stir-fries, soups, stews, etc. A general 'rule of thumb' is the stronger the flavors in a certain dish, then the more robust wine/beer it can handle as an ingredient.

White wine is better suited to cream sauces, poultry gravies, lighter soups and seafood.

Broth, stock, or vegetable juices can be paired up with certain dishes, based on the flavors you want to impart, albeit chicken, beef or vegetable. Broth/stock is an option for almost any savory dish.

Fruit juices can also be used in savory dishes (savory is the opposite of sweet). A delicious example would be an orange ginger stir-fry made from orange juice.

These are only suggestions as there are countless options and combinations to try. Keep tasting and taking notes.

Your cookbooks may turn our looking like high-school textbooks, but for the sake of better eating – it is worth it.

Dear Chef Dez,

If I don't have white wine and a recipe calls for it as an ingredient, what can I use instead?

-Tim M.

Nanaimo, BC

Dear Tim,

If you want to keep the recipe tasting as close to the way it was written, then I would suggest white grape juice or apple juice, as long as the quantity is minimal.

The main consideration with fruit juices is their higher sugar content could drastically affect the outcome of the recipe. Therefore it is better to use them in smaller quantities, unless your goal is a sweet finish.

Darker berry and grape juices can also be used in small amounts in place of red wine.

Chef Dez is a food columnist, culinary instructor and cookbook author. Visit him at Write to him at or P.O. Box 2674, Abbotsford, BC V2T 6R4.

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