After my discovery of the one and lonely bottle of Vegetable Oil in my ingredients tab that led to last week’s Infused Oils, I couldn’t help but look further down the list to find… exactly one type of vinegar. Rice Vinegar, what a shame! A huge world of aromas limited to one kind… one with not much of a bouquet at that. I don’t think I could live with that on this side of the screen – while I only use about 3 different oils on a somewhat regular basis, my vinegar collection is a rather large one. I like that special zing here and there, what can I say~
Still in the process of creating and personalizing gift boxes for the upcoming holidays, I decided to pair the bottles of oil I prepared last week with infused vinegars – some complimenting the oils, some fitting the recipient’s cooking style or favorite type of cuisine. Ever missed a certain type of flavor in your balsamic vinegars? Well, if you feel like creating your own infused vinegar, here you go! All you need are a couple of old oaken sherry barrels, a flamethrower, a still… no, hang on! I wouldn’t be me if I hadn’t found a way around those silly tools. Speaking of “silly” – vinegars are so easy to infuse with the aromas of herbs, spices or fruit with the absolute minimum of work! All they need is some time. Just to make this clear though, these are infused vinegars, not <insert fruit name here>-vinegars. Those would be made from their respective fruit- or berry wine, which you can actually pull off in a home kitchen, but that’s a story for another day~
Here’s a few ground rules for adding that special something to a “normal” vinegar~
– As with infused oils, no matter which type of vinegar you pick as a base, you can’t turn <insert profanity here> into gold, so go with a good quality base vinegar.
– Balsamic vinegars work best for these, I honestly don’t know why, but they do seem to be more eager to soak up other aromas.
– Pick your base vinegar to fit the herbs or fruit you’re planning to use – white balsamic for more delicate herbs on the shy side of the aroma department, rosé balsamic for all things fruit, red for strong herbs like bay or rosemary.
– Another good strategy to pick out the base is to have a general idea of which kind of dish you’re going to be using it in – let’s take the lemongrass & ginger oil I made last week. The vinegar to go along with it could be a rice vinegar base, infused with lime zest and coriander stems.
There’s counter-examples for this, though. After considering the dishes I normally use sherry vinegar for, using up some leftovers and a dried chipotle chilli seemed like a really good idea. Urgh… nope. For some reason, the heat of the chilli and the rather acidic sherry vinegar combined into a liquid I think could have melted a hole through the base of my cast-iron pot. So, if your composition brings tears to your eyes as soon as you open the bottle, rethink your choice of vinegar… Stick to mild ones, for starters.
– Chillies generally don’t work all that well in vinegars, I’d recommend infusing your oils with them instead. The same goes for garlic, by the way. While it does kinda-sorta work, it just turns out way better in oils.
Ok, let’s get down to business. As a general rule of thumb, all you need to do is pop your ingredients into a preserving jar, seal it, place it somewhere warm and comfy like a windowsill and let it sit there for 2-4 weeks. Strain out the bits, fill it into a pretty bottle and that’s it! Gifts from the kitchen or that special “secret ingredient” you can add to your dishes and be mysterious about, right there – and it basically made itself~
Similar to the oils, the sky’s the limit for possible combinations as long as you stick to the ground rules above. So, just to give you a general idea, I picked 3 different base vinegars and gave them a little twist.
White Balsamic Vinegar – Passionfruit & Honey
This one’s another one of my Madeira-inspired “recipes”~ Passionfruit in all possible variations grow everywhere on that island, all year round, so, of course, we encountered them in all sorts of dishes, from starters to desserts. A very memorable dish was a simple salad with a stunning passionfruit dressing, which I couldn’t help but to be reminded of while my mind churned around the whole vinegar topic. Since the passionfruit we get over here can be on the sour side of things even when they’re perfectly ripe, I decided to add some honey to the mix to tame the combined acidity levels as well as highlight the passionfruit by tickling out more of its aroma with a touch of sweetness.
250ml White Balsamic Vinegar
2-3 Tbsp Honey – don’t use flowery ones, they would overpower the passionfruit. Simple golden runny honey or something along the lines of a dark forest honey does the trick.
1) Scrape the seedy interior of the passionfruit out into a small bowl.
2) Have a taste of the pulp and decide on the amount of honey you want to add.
3) Stir the honey into the fruity liquid until it’s completely dissolved.
4) Pour the contents of your bowl into a sterilized 300-400ml glass preserve jar.
5) Top it off with the vinegar, seal the lid and give it a good shake.
6) Place it on your windowsill for the next 2-4 weeks – the longer, the better, but the final decision is all yours~
7) Flip the jar over to stand on the lid – and back again – every couple of days.
8) Strain the vinegar through a very fine sieve twice before filling it into a sterilized bottle once jar-time is over and done with.
Other white balsamic combinations I love to prepare and use are:
– Quince-infused white balsamic, spiced with star anise and ginger. The difference with this one is that, prior to jar-time, the quinces are heated up with the spices, to soften them up a bit, and release the flavor of the spices.
– Lemon-, lime- or orange-infused white balsamic! Pick a citrus fruit, add its syrup and zest to the mix and take it from there – syrup-blends only need 3-4 days to develop their aroma!
– All of these work wonderfully with a fruity apple- or apple-cider vinegar as well.
Rosé Balsamic Vinegar – Raspberries
250ml Rosé Balsamic Vinegar
250g fresh Raspberries, very, very thoroughly cleaned and dried
Opt: 2-3 Tbsp organic Raspberry Syrup – have a taste of your berries and add the syrup when they’re either too sour or too weak <shakes fist at offseason raspberries>. Make sure to use organic syrup without additional preservatives – they can react with the vinegar, turning the vinegar blurry or bitter.
1) This one’s even easier – simply place the berries in your jar.
2) Top the berries off with the – if necessary syrup’ed – vinegar and seal the lid – don’t shake it this time~ the vinegar will permeate the berries at its own pace.
3) Stash the jar away somewhere warm and safe – a windowsill that doesn’t get a full day of sunlight will do fine.
4) Leave it to sit there for 2-4 weeks, just turn the jar over every couple of days.
5) Filter the vinegar through a fine sieve twice or – if a large amount of berries dissolved into a blurry fog inside the jar – strain it through a sieve lined with muslin.
6) Fill the infused vinegar into a sterilized glass bottle.
This is my base recipe for all berry-infused vinegars, by the way, so berry away to your heart’s content~ Rosé balsamic vinegar is smooth and subtle enough to go with any berry, but you could replace it with a mild apple vinegar as well, if you’d like.
Another variation of the same type of “clean” 1-ingredient vinegar would be the classic pomegranate vinegar. I never actually measured how many seeds I use for that one, I simply fiddle my way through 1 pomegranate and pop all the seeds that survive the whole procedure – knocking them out of the fruit, scattering a bunch across my kitchen, surpressing or giving in to a fit of temper at the mess and, of course, snacking on a couple of them – into the jar. If you feel the need to add some sweetness to this one, use pomegranate syrup instead of honey.
Red Balsamic Vinegar – Cranberries, Pepper and Rosemary
This one was inspired by the absolutely yumtastic leftover juices clinging to my pot after cooking up a cranberry-black pepper chutney a few years back. The vinegar’y, very berry and pepper’y liquid running back into the pot after I had scooped the chutney into jars was just way too good to let go, so I took the general idea of the chutney – sans the onions – into the world of infused vinegars~
250ml Red Balsamic Vinegar
200g fresh Cranberries
1 Tbsp Honey
Opt: 1-2 Tbsp more of the Honey – in case the Cranberries are on the sour side of things
Opt: A couple of dried Cranberries for an even berrier oomph
1 Tsp Black Peppercorns
1 Sprig of Rosemary, very thoroughly rinsed and dried
1) Prick the skins of the cranberries with a needle or the tip of a very sparp knife and pop them into your jar.
2) Lightly toast the peppercorns in a small pan and drizzle them with the honey.
3) Take the pan off the heat, add a few tbsp of the vinegar and stir until the honey has completely dissolved into the vinegar.
4) Add the rosemary, then set the pan aside until its contents have cooled down to room temperature.
5) Pour them onto the cranberries sitting in the jar, then top the mix off with the rest of the vinegar.
6) Give the jar a good shake before giving it the windowsill-treatment for 3-4 weeks, turning it over every couple of days. This one takes a bit longer due to the peppercorns and rosemary – both of them need a bit longer to release their aromas into the vinegar.
7) Filter out the berries and other swimmers with a fine sieve before filling the vinegar into a glass bottle.
Red balsamic vinegar also works as the perfect base for the “stronger” mediterranean herb blends, the classic herbs de la provence or the italian classics, rosemary, bay, oregano and all that jazz.
If you want to go for the whole caprese/basil idea, only use the stems of the herb – and lots of them – since the smaller and or thinner leaves can disintegrate in places and create a really funky texture alongside a blurry visual.
There you go, another bunch of ideas, simple examples of where you could start your own merry experiment-binge for your own or someone elses pleasure~