How To Choose And Use Vinegars In 2016
Vinegar is another summer favorite, though most of us don’t realize it. It’s the tenderizing agent in marinades, and gives dressings their zing. Balsamic, on its own, is a tasty sauce for fresh fruit. Like oil, vinegar is ancient. There are records of it in Egypt before 3000 B.C., but unlike oils which are extracted by pressing, vinegar is the result of natural fermentation, with one exception.
The exception is White Vinegar which is a dilution of distilled grain alcohol, usually about 5%, in water. The commercial brands have a very mild taste and can be used in cooking, but it’s often recommended for cleaning and deodorizing purposes too. Rice vinegar and malt vinegar are also made from grains but through fermentation not distillation.
Fruit is the most universal basis for vinegar dependent on regional produce. Apples and grapes, also pears, peaches, and apricots lead in western cuisines whereas plums are favored in Japan. Eastern European countries use beets to make vinegar and Asian cuisines favor rice vinegar, often seasoned. A newcomer to the commercial scene is coconut vinegar, from the tropics, prized for its nutritional value.
The fruit based vinegars are easy to make and a perfect project for this season to perk up your winter meals. If you’re working with fruit, or have some over ripe-caution, not spoiled–to use, make sure it’s well washed, then put the cores, peelings or large pieces into a wide-mouth jar or non-metal bowl, cover with water and store, well covered, in a warm place. You can add more peelings later too. A scum or ’Mother’ will form. This is the agent that will produce the vinegar. When sufficiently strong in taste, strain the fluid, first through a colander then through a gauze lined fine strainer. Pour into a glass bottle with a tight lid. Stored in a cool, dark place, vinegar will keep almost indefinitely.
A simpler way to make vinegar is an annual occurrence for me. Every winter, I serve ’mulled’ cider. I put ½ gal. cider, a clove studded apple and about 4 sticks cinnamon in a pot, bring to a boil and pour into a punch bowl. The leftovers I funnel, minus the apple, back into the jar and relegate it to the garage. By summer I have cinnamon-flavored cider vinegar to use; even sooner if the bottle is left open or loosely capped. The same thing will happen with leftover wine or beer; leave it in the opened bottle and wait about 4 weeks.
Flavoring vinegar is easy and decorative too, as was popular a few years ago. White wine vinegars are best for this, to allow infusion of taste. Simply put the flavoring agent, peppers, herbs, spices etc. in the vinegar and wait for the desired result. So long as the agents are clean and dry, the acidity prevents mold or impurities from developing as they can when flavoring oil. See post on oils 6/30/16
Tips on working with vinegar in the kitchen:
- Be sure to stick to stated amounts in a recipe, or if ‘winging it’ add in small increments. Too much acidity ruins the taste of a dish.
- Wipe-up spills with a towel and then wipe area with another dampened with clear water
- Don’t try to flavor with any substance that can disintegrate. It is difficult to remove by straining and will cloud the finished item.
- Adding small amounts to soups, stews, sauces and gravies can boost taste and give depth to the flavor.
- A bit of vinegar added to water cooked in metal containers will prevent discoloration.
- A few drops of vinegar added to beaten egg whites gives them stability.
- Use as a replacement for citrus juice in dressings, sauces and some recipes.
- Commercial imitations are made from red wine vinegar, fortified with concentrated grape juice and caramelized for color. They’re fine to deglaze sauces, flavor dressings or season slow-cooked meats. Any vinegar can be used for pickling but the most widely used are cider in the west and rice in Asian cuisines. It’s a case of using native products in each region.
A note about Balsamic vinegar; Balsamic is the Gold Standard of vinegars. Made in Modena, Italy, from Trebbiano white grape juice, it is aged in a succession of barrels, each of a different wood to impart its special taste, for at least 10, but often 50 or even 100 years. It is not to be heated and is rarely combined with other ingredients. Pure balsamic is labeled ’balsamico tradizionael’ and meant to be savored drizzled over steaks or fresh fruits, especially berries. Usually seen in a deep brown, there is also a White Balsamic which has an equally intense flavor. Commercial imitations are made from red wine vinegar, fortified with concentrated grape juice and caramelized for color. They’re fine to deglaze sauces, flavor dressings or season slow-cooked meats.
Sherry vinegar goes through a similar process, being aged for 6 years in a network of barrels called solera. The best come from southern Spain and say Jarez or Xeres on the label.
A General Guide to Vinegars and Their Uses:
Balsamic (see note) Distinctive, intense, full bodied A garnishing drizzle over steak;
semi-sweet taste. Comes in light and sauce for fresh fruit; alone
dark varieties drizzled over a salad
Cider and Fruit Unpasturized will have the best Deglazing, vinaigrettes. Cider is
flavor. Mild, taste multipurpose good for pickling
Distilled White Vinegar Higher percentages of grain alcohol Commercially used in processed
give a harsh pungent flavor, 5% is mild foods and preserves. Home use
mostly cleaning and deodorizing
Flavored Vinegars Best based on white wine vinegars Excellent for vinaigrettes or to add
Infused with fruits, herbs, spices. Subtle flavor to chicken, fish or
Malt Vinegar Mild flavor depending on type of beer Pickles, dressings for vegetable
Often considered a condiment salads, fish & chips
Red Wine Vinegar Best from a wine region, Italy, France or Deglazing sauces; flavor boost;
California. Good all-purpose kitchen choice combine with other ingredients
for robust vinaigrettes
Rice Vinegar Favored in Asian cuisines. Made in 3 vanities
White-delicate flavor, pale golden color Sauces for chicken, fish,
Chinese is harsher than Japanese vegetables
Red Dipping sauces
Black – Very esoteric Pickling
Sherry Vinegar Sweeter and more complex than other Excellent vinaigrettes. Deglazing
Wine vinegars for pan sauces for chicken, pork or
White Wine or Subtle flavor and delicate Vinaigrettes especially for seafood
Champagne Vinegar chicken salads. Sauces for chicken
and fish. Delicate pickling