Madeira wine is named after the Madeira islands in the Atlantic ocean off the coast of Portugal, where the grapes for it are grown. Madeira has a sweet, caramelly flavor, but it isn't overpoweringly sweet. There's a smoky, nutty undertone to it as well.
The original demi-glace was made with Madeira wine. (If you think demi-glace is complicated to make now, you should've seen the original recipes for it.)
These days what we think of as Madeira sauce is simply a basic demi-glace that's been enriched with Madeira wine. Which means the biggest part of the job is making the demi-glace. See this basic demi-glace recipe for an idea of how to make it the old-fashioned way.
It's simple, but not exactly quick—it involves roasting bones, simmering, straining, and so on. Instead, you could try this demi-glace shortcut recipe that you can make in about half the time it takes to make a regular one.
The shortcut recipe uses store-bought broth or stock, and the rest of the steps are the same. If you go this route, then making this Madeira sauce is easy enough—it's simply a matter of stirring some Madeira wine and butter into a demi-glace. A perfect choice for red meats, roasts, and steaks, it's also bold enough to accompany venison.
- 2 cups demi-glace
- 1/4 cup Madeira wine
- 1 tbsp. butter
- In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat the demi-glace to a simmer and reduce for about 5 minutes.
- Stir in the Madeira wine and swirl in the butter. Serve right away.
Stock and Demi-Glace Shortcuts
Truthfully, it's making the stock that's the most time-consuming part of making demi-glace. Using store-bought means your stock won't have the same body (for one thing, the stock won't jell when it's chilled), but it's certainly a decent trade-off.
Or (and no one could fault you a bit) you could use one of the various sauce bases, appropriately referred to as "convenience products." And why not? It's exactly what a great many restaurants, even nice ones, use for making their demi-glace.
Simply add water to these sauce bases and you have instant demi-glace. It's actually a reasonable compromise for people that don't want to experience life in a medieval kitchen—they just want to make a nice meal.
Madiera Wine History
Once upon a time, 500 to 600 years ago when Portuguese ships ruled the seas, the sailors discovered that their wine kept going bad on their long voyages.
Someone quite sensibly suggested adding more alcohol, in the form of brandy, to the wine, and lo and behold, not only did the wine not spoil, but it tasted great, and so-called "fortified wines" were born.
Fortified wines such as port, sherry, Marsala, and Madeira are the surviving legacy of this ingenious innovation.