Posts Tagged ‘Balsamic’

Flavor Enhancers – The Magic of Vinegar

Vinegar is as old as time itself, a likely byproduct of the Big Bang. Technically the result of decomposing foods and the beverage once known as wine, vinegar is the substance that made the world’s first batteries possible. Aside from being the go-to solution for dissolving lime deposits in teapots and thousands of other household uses, vinegar has an alter ego in the culinary world.  Still used to preserve foods today, vinegar, or more specifically a liquid form of acid, can literally transform a dish from just good – to WOW!

Most condiments have some sort of acid, if not vinegar as an ingredient: mustard, mayonnaise, chutneys, salad dressings, barbecue sauces, peanut dipping sauce, and hot chili sauces to name a few. Try to make a tasty catsup without vinegar: use all the other ingredients including tomato paste, water, sugar, salt, and a pinch of onion powder. I guarantee you’ll not be squirting it on your French fries.

What acids do is balance the sweet and saltiness in foods with their tremendous power to brighten flavor. It isn’t always necessary (or even desirable) to taste added vinegar and most of the time just a little will do. Chances are you are enjoying unperceptable vinegar in these foods: cream soups, dessert sauces, jams and jellies, bouillon, gravy mixes, and ‘spices’, the catch-all term to protect secret seasonings used by food manufacturers. What do all these foods have in common? Salt, sugar, or both. It is the magic of vinegar that bridges the gap between two opposite ends of the flavor spectrum.

How do I use Acids?

Acids can alter the texture of foods by breaking down their fibers and changing chemical bonds.  Little Miss Muffet used vinegar to transform her milk in to curds and whey. Similarly, lemon and lime juice is used in ceviche, a raw seafood dish that is ‘cooked’ by the acid in citrus and made more appealing to eat. Besides vinegar and citrus juices, other ingredients that impart acid to a dish include mustard, pickled products, sour foods like cherries and tamarind, wine, cultured dairy such as yogurt and sour cream, and goat cheese. Any of these foods can be used in just a small amount to vastly improve the flavor of your dish.

As for vinegars, apple cider, champagne vinegar, rice vinegar, and white wine vinegar are perfect with milder foods including white fish, chicken (white meat), shellfish, and vegetables. Lemon and lime juice can also be used successfully with mild foods.  Red wine vinegar compliments heartier dishes nicely where beef, pork, chicken (dark meat), and fatty fish like salmon are used.

And the king of vinegars – balsamic – is in a class all by itself, known for its very bold flavor and smooth aged sweetness.  The longer it ages the sweeter and thicker it becomes. Use balsamic vinegar with grilled foods or where you want to feature its wonderful taste as in drizzled over summer’s ripe strawberries. Buy the best quality you can. The more you feature vinegar prominently in a dish the more obvious cheap vinegar will be.

Flavored Vinegars

This innovation takes vinegars of all kinds and imparts another flavor through steeping and aging. Fruit flavored vinegars that are based on balsamic vinegar offer the better of two worlds – a marriage of savory aged wine and sweet ripe fruits. These delicious vinegar inspires endless uses. I enjoy them as a dressing for a garden salad or added to sauteed vegetables.  Just a splash can transform fruit juices such as apple cider or orange juice to an amazing, refreshing drink.  Coming in part 2, fabulous vinaigrettes.

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