Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Dig In - Vinegar

I have the following kinds of vinegar in my kitchen right this very minute: red wine, white wine, balsamic, apple cider, plain old white, sherry, malt and rice.

And I WANT MORE.  This year I am going to make my own raspberry and tarragon vinegars for sure.  The bottles are so nice to look at and I just like the idea of being prepared, vinegar-wise.  Plus, having a complete collection of good quality vinegars is a lot more affordable- and useful -  than having a complete collection of, oh I don't know, sterling silver flatware or vintage cars or depression glassware.   Takes up a lot less space than the cars, for sure.

Vinegar is very important in cooking, because it is acidic.  Many dishes benefit from that spark and extra flavor that acidity provides.  If you have some nice vinegar choices around you can usually get away with using less salt.  Or sugar or even fat.

Store vinegar in a cool, dark place if you are going to have it for awhile.  I buy apple cider vinegar by the gallon - the kind I get comes in a plastic bottle.  I also have found decent white wine and red wine vinegar by the gallon and also in bulk at co-ops in my area.  I do a lot of pickling so it makes sense for me to buy larger amounts.  If you are not going to do any pickling, you don't need more than a pint or quart of any given vinegar at a time.  I decant my cider and white wine vinegar into a corked glass bottle for normal daily use - then refill from the jug that I keep down in the basement.

Sometimes a cloudy looking mass develops in vinegar which has been stored awhile.  It is called "mother".  It is a natural part of the fermentation process and will not hurt you or the vinegar.  I just strain the vinegar through a fine sieve if I spy some "mother".

Shopping list
Here is a shopping list for various types of vinegar along with a few hints.  Have fun getting your kitchen stocked.   A little investment in some good vinegar will pay off big time in the form of many flavorful meals.  I also have included a fun old timey recipe for vinegar pie at the end.

Apple cider -- Read the label carefully before you buy.  (This is a good overall rule for purchasing any food item these days.  Food manufacturers can be quite, uh, clever.)  A lot of "cider" vinegar is really just cider-flavored vinegar.  You don't want that.  You want the real thing.  I love cider vinegar for refrigerator pickles and beet pickles.  Also for things like German potato salad, cole slaw or wilted lettuce salad.  Definitely a kitchen staple.

Sherry -- This is a very flavorful vinegar,  with high acidity (about 8%).  It comes highly recommended as a vinegar for salads and vinaigrettes.  Excellent with walnut or hazelnut oils.  It usually comes from Spain.  The label should say "vinagre de Jerez" if it is the real thing, according to cookbook author and writer Mark Bittman.  I just checked my bottle and didn't find those magic words.  Guess I have to do better next time.  Bittman suggests using sherry vinegar wherever red wine vinegar is called for - unless you have purchased a really good red wine vinegar -- meaning an expensive one.

Red wine -- I hate to disagree with the esteemed Mark Bittman, but I like to use ordinary red wine vinegar for Greek style salads and every day vinaigrettes.  A moderately priced red wine vinegar also is a good base for homemade raspberry or herb vinegars.

White wine - This is a good all purpose vinegar to have around.  I have never purchased Champagne vinegar, but it is on my list to try.  I will make sure to find the real thing.  I am pretty sure I will have to leave Fillmore County to find it.  I'll let you know if I can even find it in Rochester.  The food scene is definitely improving there. (You would think with all those doctors and nurses around that the Rochester food world would be a bit better than it is.  Maybe they are all just too busy to cook much.  The good news is that there is an excellent co-op and the farmers market is thriving.) 

Malt - This is a favorite in England, where people use it with fish and chips.  Whenever we go to the fish fries at the Lanesboro American Legion Club, I tuck my bottle of malt vinegar in my pocket.  The Legion is a tartar sauce kind of place.  No lemon there either.  But the malt vinegar is a perfect foil to the rich fried food.  Try it on french fries too.

Balsamic - Lynn Rossetto Kasper, famous radio food personality, is the go-to person when it comes to balsamic vinegar wisdom.  She wrote The Splendid Table, a cookbook about the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy,  in which she devotes six full pages to the mysteries of balsamic vinegar.  I highly recommend this read to anyone who wants to dig in on this subject.  You can spend well over $100 for a small bottle of this vinegar made in the province of Modena or Reggio using traditional artisan methods.  This expensive kind of vinegar is served very sparingly - just a few drops or a drizzle as a finish to a dish after cooking or a spoonful or two as a liqueur.  Then there are commercial vinegars from the same regions.  Kasper says "at their best they are less complex renditions of artisan-made vinegar, with finely balanced sweetness and acidity melded together as a unified whole."  She recommends the following commercial brands: Fini,  Giuseppe Giusti, Elena Monari Federzoni,  Cavalli and Cattani.   She notes that Fini was purchased by a large American company in 1990 and worried whether the quality would suffer.  I don't know if her fears were realized.  Do you?  (Williams Sonoma sells a 17.6 oz. bottle of Fini for $24. online.)
On page 469-470 of her cookbook she lists fourteen different ways to use commercial balsamic vinegar.  Kasper cautions against using balsamic vinegars produced outside the regions of Modena or Reggio.  I suppose it depends on your budget, your tastebuds and the dishes you wish to prepare.

Rice -- Rice vinegar is showing up in mainstream grocery stores more and more.  I still like to stock up on it when I am in an Asian market.  I buy a few quart bottles at a time.  I like to use this vinegar a lot for salads - it is light (4.3% acidity) and really makes a difference in Asian style vinaigrettes or dishes.

Tarragon vinegar, homemade - Wash and thoroughly dry unwilted tarragon sprigs.  Place a handful in a scalded pint jar.  Fill with white wine or rice vinegar that has been brought just to boiling.  Cool uncovered.  Then cover and store.   (I get plastic screw caps for regular and wide mouth canning jars at Fleet Farm  They are great. ) The vinegar will be ready to use in about two weeks.  You can use other herbs such as chives or dill or basil in the same way - but strain the vinegar and rebottle into a scalded jar after two weeks.

Hot pepper vinegar - This stuff is on every cafe table in Louisiana and Mississippi.  It is great with cooked greens of all kinds - turnip, collards, mustard, etc.   We like Texas Pete pepper sauce in our house.

1 1/2 cups boiling water
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
Dash of salt
1 t. lemon juice
1 cup plus 3 T. sugar
1/4 cup flour
1 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. cloves
3 egg yolks, lightly beaten
One baked pie shell
3 egg whites
Combine boiling water, vinegar, salt and lemon juice in a heavy saucepan.  Mix 1 cup sugar and flour well.  Stir slowly into the vinegar mixture.  Stir constantly over medium heat until thickened.  Stir a small amount of thickened mixture into egg yolks, then return yolk mixture to the pan.  Bring just to a boil while stirring.  Pour filling into pie shell.  Beat egg whites until foamy.  Keep beating until stiff, gradually adding 3 T. sugar.  Spread over pie filling.  Bake 10 minutes at 450 degrees.  Reduce to 300 degrees and bake another 15 minutes.


  1. I found I really like Hy-Vee's brand. Fancy? no, but tasty, and cheap enough to use lots :)

    My favorite easy dressing:
    (I don't measure, but here's a guess)
    1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
    1/3 cup oil (EVOO or canola)
    salt and pepper
    1 clove garlic, minced or pressed
    1/2 T brown sugar

  2. I have used this brand and I agree, It is quite acceptable. Brown sugar is a nice touch. A little honey would be good too. Also a little spoonful of Dijon mustard - which tastes good and also tends to help the oil and vinegar hang together.

  3. When you come to Rochester, be sure to visit ZZest market... they have a very nice assortment of vinegars and I bought some champagne vinegar there just yesterday :-)

  4. Thanks Betty. I am going to Rochester tomorrow and will check this out.

  5. I found a champagne vinegar at the Barlow Plaza Hy-vee today, Napa Valley Naturals "artisan crafted, white oak barrel aged". Can't recall what I paid but I thought it was reasonable at the time. Haven't tasted it yet...