Sherry is a popular fortified wine to cook with. Both sweet and savory dishes incorporate sherry to offer a unique depth of flavor with acidic and sweet notes.
If you don’t have any on hand, require a non-alcoholic alternative, or don’t want to purchase an entire bottle just for the few tablespoons required in your recipe, there are a range of substitutes you can choose from to impart similar flavors.
In this guide, we’ll help you choose the best sherry substitute according to the dish you’re making, whether mushroom sauce, poached pears, or beef stew.
What Is Sherry?
Sherry is of Spanish origin and comes in both dry and sweet varieties depending on the grapes used and the way the wine is produced. After fermentation, when the sugar has been converted to alcohol, the base is fortified with grape spirit to increase the alcohol content. Since spirit fortification occurs after fermentation (when the sugar has turned into alcohol) most sherries are initially dry.
Wine that is fortified (generally with brandy or grape spirit) halfway through the fermentation process will be sweeter as this kills the remaining yeast, stops the sugar from turning into alcohol, and therefore leaves more sugar in the liquid.
Sweet sherries are also made by blending sweet wine or high-glucose grape must into the fermented product or by fermenting dried sweet grape varieties such as Moscato or Pedro Ximénez.
Drinking vs Cooking Sherry Difference
While drinking sherry is suitable as a substitute for cooking sherry, cooking sherry is not suitable for drinking. Unlike drinking sherry which is sold with other wines and liquors, the cooking type will be sold with vinegar and cooking ingredients in the grocery store.
What makes cooking sherry different, and unsuitable for drinking, is that it contains a significant amount of salt, and is a lower quality wine. It also contains preservatives to prolong its shelf life. Since it has a high level of salt, cooking sherry is best used in savory dishes while sweet drinking sherry is best used in desserts.
What Are The Best Substitutes for Dry Sherry?
With sherry being a fortified wine, other fortified wines are the closest match you can use as a substitute to bring all the same qualities to your dish. The best dry sherry substitute in savory dishes would be another dry wine such as white vermouth (also called dry vermouth or French vermouth), dry Madeira, and dry marsala.
Dry White Wine
Fortified wine is often infused with botanicals and spices giving it a pronounced flavor while dry white wines have a lower alcohol content without any added flavorings. With a slightly more subtle taste, dry white wine can be a great substitute in savory cooking. Sauvignon blanc, sémillon, pinot grigio, and pinot blanc are all good choices to grab from your wine rack. If you have some dry sparkling wine around that you don’t mind parting with, it can also be used in small amounts as a replacement.
Related: White wine alternative
Port and Sweet Vermouth
Port and sweet vermouth are both sweet fortified wines with rich flavor profiles. They are ideal for substitutes in desserts or recipes that call for sweet sherry. If you have sweet Madeira or marsala wine these all make great options to add the desired flavor notes. If your dessert is light in color, consider whether the red color of some sweet wines will influence the appearance of your dish.
Cabernet sauvignon, shiraz, merlot, and zinfandel will work well for savory dishes, while sweet reds such as muscat or sauternes are suitable for desserts. Since red wines generally have a distinct flavor they are best used as a replacement when your recipe requires only a small amount.
Best Non-Alcoholic Substitute for Sherry
Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar has a fruity and acidic taste with slight hints of sweetness. If your recipe calls for just one or two tablespoons of dry sherry, you can use apple cider vinegar as a straight swap. However, with its intense acidity, it needs to be diluted when used in larger amounts.
As a replacement for dry sherry, dilute the vinegar in a 1:1 ratio with water. If you are replacing sweet sherry, add a tablespoon of sugar to your diluted solution. Apple cider vinegar will be too acidic to add to dessert recipes as an alternative but it is the best non-alcoholic option for sauces, marinades, stews, and soups.
Red Wine Vinegar
Both red wine vinegar and champagne wine vinegar can be used in a similar way to apple cider vinegar as a substitute. These two kinds of vinegar also have some fruity notes which make them ideal in small amounts as a straight swap.
If you require more than two tablespoons in your recipe, dilute the vinegar to avoid overpowering the dish. Other types of vinegar won’t be suitable as they are intensely acidic with no sweet or fruity notes.
We probably don’t need to mention that chicken stock or broth is only suitable as a replacement in savory dishes such as stews, beef stroganoff, and sauces.
Add a touch of apple cider vinegar or red wine vinegar mixed in one cup of chicken broth to replace one cup of cooking sherry. This will give you the saltiness from the stock, as well as a touch of acidity and sweetness from the vinegar.
Fruit juices, on the other hand, are suitable mostly as a replacement in desserts, especially those that are baked with fruit. Equal quantities of apricot, orange, pineapple, or peach juices will work for small quantities. If the recipe requires half a cup or more and the juice is thick, dilute it with water to temper the sweetness and even out the consistency.
Another alternative for dessert recipes is vanilla extract. Keep in mind that the flavor is somewhat different, but it will add extra depth and sweet aromatics. Use only one teaspoon for every tablespoon of sherry required. To compensate for the extra liquid you are missing, add water.
For example, if your recipe requires 2 tablespoons of sherry, use 2 teaspoons vanilla extract and 4 teaspoons water instead. Keep in mind that the more vanilla you use, the more the intended taste of your dish will change. Although not detectable in cooked dishes, note that most artificial extracts do contain a small amount of alcohol.
Related: What can you use in place of vanilla extract?
Summary: Sherry Replacement Quantities
Fortified and Regular Wine: Replace in equal quantities for sweet and savory applications.
Apple Cider Vinegar: Replace in equal quantities for measurements up to two tablespoons for savory applications. For larger amounts, dilute the vinegar in a 1:1 ratio with water.
Example: Replace 1 cup sherry with ½ cup vinegar and ½ cup water.
Chicken Broth: Replace one cup of sherry with a cup of chicken broth plus 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar for savory applications.
Fruit Juice: Replace in equal quantities or dilute with a little water for sweet dishes.
Vanilla Extract: Use one teaspoon of vanilla for every tablespoon of sherry for sweet recipes. Add water to compensate for the missing liquid.
Yes, it has similar flavor notes with amped-up acidity. Replace a quarter cup sherry with 1 tablespoon vinegar diluted in water to make up ¼ cup liquid.
Your best option here is another liqueur, brandy, or rum.
If your recipe calls for just one or two tablespoons of dry sherry you can use mirin in a straight swap. Just keep in mind that mirin is sweeter so red wine vinegar may be a better option.
The best replacement you choose will depend largely on whether you are making a sweet or savory dish and also whether you require a non-alcoholic alternative.
Savory dishes require dry sherry which can be successfully replaced by other dry wines, vinegar, and chicken broth. Sweet desserts generally use sweet sherry which is best replaced with sweet wine, fruit juice, or vanilla extract.
Match your flavor profiles as closely as possible to avoid changing the taste of your dish too much. Lastly, make sure to taste during cooking so you can amend any missing touches of salt, sugar, or acidity.
See more: What to use instead of mirin?
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