It’s not just for martinis. 

By Matthew Kassel
November 01, 2019
Portland Press Herald/Getty Images

Vermouth is one of the ingredients that goes into a gin martini. And that is, usually, the only reason anyone seems to know anything about it. It isn’t a bad reason, of course. A good crisp martini, up, with a few green olives, is one of  life’s great pleasures—and vermouth, a subtle and slightly botanical drink, helps bring the cocktail together.

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But vermouth is much more than just one element of a martini. I like to keep a bottle on hand in my kitchen so I can cook with it—and I recommend you do this as well. Vermouth is useful, for instance, when you want to deglaze a pan. Perhaps you don’t have a bottle of white wine on hand, or you simply don’t want to use your wine in tonight’s meal. Pour a little vermouth (from the bottle you savvily keep stashed in your fridge)  into the pan after you’ve seared some chicken thighs, say, and let its do its work as you scrape the pan with a wooden spoon. 

Vermouth works just as well as a white wine for this purpose, but it will imbue the food with a mild, lightly herbaceous flavor that, depending on your mood, will hit all the right pleasure nodes. 

WATCH: How to Make a Classic Gin Martini

I am referring here, of course, to dry vermouth. It is basically white wine, fortified, often, with brandy and assorted herbs, flowers and spices—which give the drink a kind of aromatic taste. (Sweet vermouth, which is red, is used in some dishes but isn’t as widely applicable.) I use a couple of brands, which are relatively affordable—and both of which I purchase at my local wine shop: Dolin and Routin, which are made in Chambéry, France, where white vermouth was conceived. 

Vermouth works well if you want to braise meat or vegetables, poach fish or simply add it to a simmering stew. It’s a versatile ingredient. 

But it’s more than just an ingredient. It also stands up on its own. I first became aware of the fact that you can drink vermouth straight up years ago while reading Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms—in which the main character, Frederic Henry, often drinks vermouth

Try it the next time you pick up a bottle. It’s only slightly stronger than wine, so if you’re in the mood for something with a relatively low alcohol content it might appeal to you. It’s a very pleasant drink to have on the rocks before or after dinner—or any time, for that matter.

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