Favorite Ingredient: Very Good Madeira

You’ve heard of Chicken Marsala.  Think of Madeira as Marsala’s lesser known but much more flavorful cousin.

Blandy's Madeira, on the left, is my absolute favorite. The Madeira on the right has the right markings, but not the great flavor.

Like Vermouth (which I also use a lot of in both red and white (sweet and dry) variants, and Marsala, Madeira is a fortified wine.  There’s a lot to that but basically this is a wine that keeps for a reasonable period of time without changing flavors once it’s opened.  Most Madeiras actually come from Madeira, a small island once used as a waypoint by mariners.  Modern Madeira was actually more or less discovered or invented by Portuguese Sailors who added Rainwater to their wines on longer voyages to make the wines last longer.  For this reason the best Madeiras are called “Rainwater” Madeiras.  (BTW – Some aged Madeiras are actually comparable in price to fine Cognacs).

Don’t buy cheap madeira.  A bottle of decent madeira will set you back about $40.  You use between 1/4 and 1/2 cup most times you use it so it will last you a long time.  The better madeiras have sugars that have had more time to develop in the fermenting process and these sugars will give the wine the “carmel” flavor that can really transform a dish.

Real rainwater Madeiras have a wonderfully rich flavor.

Here’s an easy recipe for Madeira that really shows off what it’s good for.

Sauteed Asparagus with Madeira

  • 1/2 Brown Onion.  julienned.  (Don’t panic.  This just means sliced in thin long strips)
  • 1 tsp minced garlic (from a jar is fine)
  • One bunch of Asparagus.  Cut into 1 inch sections. Florets left intact (not cut) Organic or not is up to you but this is a vegetable that benefits from organic agriculture.
  • 1 tsp lemon zest.  (I have a lemon tree.  You might not.  If you don’t don’t worry about this ingredient.)
  • 1/4 cup Rainwater Madeira
  • 1 tbs butter (IMPORTANT – When I say butter I man butter.  Not some butter substitute.  This dish will feed four people as a side.  You’re eating 1/4 tbs butter. Get over it.)
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • Olive Oil (not Extra Virgin) for sauteing.

Heat a large saute (“frying”) pan over medium high heat to reasonably hot.  Add two to three tablespoons of the olive oil and let it come up to temperature (it will do so quickly.  Add the onions and stir or toss to coat with the olive oil.  Reduce the heat to medium and let them sweat until they are soft and slightly browned.  (Brown is flavor…) Add garlic and saute until fragrant.  (Don’t burn the garlic).  Increase heat to medium hot and add the asparagus, reserving the florets (tops) for the first three minutes of cooking.  Stir or toss constantly. Add the florets and stir or toss to coat with the other ingredients and wait one more minute. Add madeira.  It should not flame.  (but it might so be careful – you burn yourself it’s your own darn fault).  When Madiera has reduced by 1/2 add lemon zest.  Let cook for another 30″ and add butter stirring to melt into the sauce.  Reduce heat to very low (the lowest setting on your stove), put the lid on and let steam for no longer than 3 more minutes.  Asparagus should be slightly crisp but tender.  Enjoy.. and thank a Portuguese sailor when you see one.


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