The percentage of alcohol by volume varies considerably in cooking sherry, and the amount of alcohol that remains in a given dishes depends on the cooking method and time. Cooking sherry is intended only for cooking, unlike other sherries that are intended for drinking. Some of the alcohol content from the sherry remains in the food, even after cooking or baking.
Cooking sherry contains salt and is intended only for culinary use. It's used in soups, stews, casseroles, side dishes and sauces. It adds flavor to mild ingredients such as mushrooms and mild fish such as tilapia. It complements beef, pork and poultry and works well in vegetarian dishes with tofu, potatoes, yams, nuts and other bland or savory ingredients.
Sherry generally runs 15 to 20 percent alcohol by volume, making it half as potent as most other spirits. Wine is lower in alcohol content than cooking sherry, generally 7 to 14 percent alcohol by volume, although that percentage varies. Check the label to compare alcohol content of different cooking sherries when making your selection at the store. This percentage is often in small print and is sometimes on the edge of the label, situated so that you have to turn the bottle sideways to read it. Yet by law it's there.
Effect of Cooking
The alcohol content of food after you cook it with sherry varies depending on the food and method of preparation. Longer cooking times tend to reduce the alcohol content the most. Yet contrary to common belief, some alcohol from the cooking sherry always remains in the dish after cooking. It's important to be mindful of this point when serving people who need to refrain from consuming alcohol for recovery from alcoholism, on a doctor's orders or for religious reasons.
Alternatives to Cooking Sherry
Wine offers an alternative to cooking sherry that lacks added salt and other additives. Red wines such as cabernet give a rich flavor to meat dishes and sauces. Nonalcoholic wines can also be used to flavor food and beverages instead of using cooking sherry. Alternatively, use an equal amount of nonalcoholic apple cider, with or without vanilla flavoring. Check the label on the vanilla if you want to cook without alcohol. Vanilla extract often contains alcohol, although some extracts and flavorings are alcohol free.