“OMFG: Science Says a Glass of Red Wine May Be Equivalent to an Hour at the Gym,” read a post on the American Wine Consumers Coalition (AWCC) Facebook page. It was referring to an article by Ashley Fern that appeared on the site elitedaily.com.
AWCC’s comment in response: “If true, wouldn’t we all be in the best shape ever?”
They’re right to be skeptical. Elite Daily links to a story on latintimes.com by Natalie Roterman, called “Is Drinking Wine Better Than Going To The Gym? According To Scientists, Yes!” Both articles cite research at the University of Alberta, published in the Journal of Physiology. In the study, researchers fed a group of rats small amounts of resveratrol, the compound found in wine that is thought to be principally responsible for all the good things we hear wine can do for us (health-wise, anyway).
Amazingly, though, the study doesn’t support either headline. Reading the study makes it clear that there’s an exercise component that isn’t discussed in either Elite Daily or Latin Times. Two groups of rats were used in the study. One group was made to exercise relatively vigorously, and the other wasn’t. Feeding resveratrol or not to the non-exercisers made no difference. But the exercising rats fed resveratrol showed physical and health gains that were larger than the gains of the exercising rats that didn’t get resveratrol. So wine doesn’t replace exercise, it just makes exercise more effective.
As a certain Texas politician once said, “Oops.”
It’s too bad that the two articles hyped the wrong conclusion, because the study actually contains good news. There is a giant industry built around getting more out of exercise, from protein powder to creatine, chromium piccolinate to CoQ10, etc. This study shows that small amounts of resveratrol per day — like the amount in a glass of wine — could show some of the same benefits as those supplements when combined with exercise. There are the usual caveats with studies like these: it’s rats, not people, and the study was conducted over a relatively short period of time.
Naturally, there’s a lot we don’t know. When during the day is the best time to drink the wine? Would these extra resveratrol benefits continue to accrue indefinitely if you kept drinking and exercising? Or are the extra gains temporary and would they reverse themselves without daily resveratrol? Could resveratrol alone stave off the small decline in fitness that happens when you stop exercising for short periods? This last one would definitely be a bonanza for people like me who find ourselves exercising less than we’d like to.
But even without it, it’s great to think that a glass of wine per day can help you see greater fitness gains if you’re exercising. Part of the reason people stop their exercise programs is that they don’t see results quickly enough. As much as I dislike seeing the gym packed in January with the exercise resolution crowd, the wine merchant in me would like nothing more than to be able to peddle better health in a bottle. Firstvine.com, everyone!
With the cold weather of the past couple of weeks, I’ve spent more time at the stove keeping warm. Cy and I made tea-smoked duck for a dinner party, and discovered that it’s possible to make lightly-smoked foods inside without the whole house smelling of smoke. I used a recipe I found online and borrowed a neighbor’s wok and bamboo steamer to make it. Neither Cy nor I anticipated that the steamer would be permanently infused with smoke when we were done, though, and the recipe didn’t mention it. So we’re buying our neighbor a new steamer. But the good thing is, we get to keep the old one and use it to do more indoor smoking — or even steaming (assuming we don’t mind a little smoke flavor in anything we use the steamer for).
Smoking chicken thighs may be even better than smoking duck. They have enough fat so they won’t dry out, and their flavor isn’t as strong as duck’s, so you can taste the tea smoke more. Plus, since they have to be fully cooked before you smoke them, there are more options than you have with duck. Duck is so fatty you have to make sure your cooking method gets rid of most of the fat before you smoke it. This can take a lot of time, but it’s much easier with the chicken thighs.
I think the easiest way to pre-cook the chicken is to poach it in chicken broth. The bonus of this method is that the chicken will make the boxed chicken broth you start with much more flavorful, and you can then use it to make some kick-ass soup. Or to cook rice in to accompany the chicken. You can poach the chicken thighs way ahead of time and refrigerate them, just let them come back to room temperature before you smoke them.
The smoking method is much easier than I thought it would be. Line the wok with aluminum foil, then put in a mixture of tea, rice, and sugar. Heat the wok until the tea mixture starts smoking. Put the steamer in the wok with the chicken thighs inside it and turn the heat to low. Stuff two damp kitchen towels between the outside of the steamer and the edge of the wok. Steam for 20 minutes, then turn off the heat and let the chicken sit for another 10 minutes. After that, you can put the chicken thighs skin-side down in a hot non-stick skillet to brown the skin.
While you can usually serve a light red wine with chicken, I’d serve the smoked chicken thighs with Cave la Romaine Viognier ($16). The floral notes of the Viognier taste great with the light smokiness of the chicken. If you’d like a red for the extra resveratrol, try Cave la Romaine’s Côtes du Ventoux Rouge Tradition ($10). They both pair well with a good workout.
8 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
1 teaspoon salt
1 quart boxed chicken stock or broth (I like Kitchen Basics)
1 cup black tea
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup raw rice
Freshly-ground black pepper
Equipment: A wok (14 inches in diameter) with a two-level bamboo steamer (10 inches in diameter) that has a lid, aluminum foil, two damp kitchen towels.
Sprinkle the meat side of the chicken thighs with the salt and let them sit for 10 minutes. Then put them in a pot and pour the stock or broth over them. Add a little water to cover the thighs, if necessary. Bring to the boil over medium heat, skimming off any scum that rises to the top. Then turn the heat down and simmer gently for 30 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the thighs sit in the liquid for another 10 minutes.
Line the wok with aluminum foil. Stir together the tea, rice, and sugar, and put the mixture in the wok. Spread the mixture out into a circle that’s just a bit smaller than the steamer diameter. Turn the heat under the wok to medium.
Meanwhile, remove the thighs from the broth (save the broth for another use). Pat them dry with paper towels and place four of them on each of the steamer racks. Put the racks together and put the lid on. When the tea mixture in the wok begins to smoke all over, put the steamer on the wok over the tea mixture. Turn the heat to low and surround the steamer with the damp towels to prevent steam from escaping. Smoke on low heat for 20 minutes, then turn the heat off and let the apparatus sit for another 10 minutes.
Just before the chicken’s time in the steamer is up, heat a large non-stick skillet that you’ve sprayed with cooking spray. Put some pepper on the thighs then put them in the hot skillet, skin-side down, and cook them for 5 minutes or so, to brown up and crisp the skin. Serve hot.