Posts Tagged ‘Vinegar’

Flavor Enhancers – The Magic of Vinegar, Part 2

For something that is almost effortless to make, vinaigrette is a versatile and potent sauce. Ingredients typically on hand in the home kitchen can be combined in myriad ways using oil, acid, seasonings, and ‘accents’.  For the simplest vinaigrette, start with oil and acid in a ratio of 3 to 1; in other words 3 parts oil to 1 part acid. Lighter tasting oils seem to work better in higher ratios than the heavier oils, but let your tastes be the guide.

Below are some examples of basic ingredients to give you a taste of how broad the possibilities can be. As a guide I’ve indicated typical measurements in each group for safe experimenting.  Learning how to use this basic sauce “will ratchet up your entire cooking repertoire” says Michael Ruhlman, one who is on the short list of my favorite chefs.  How can a simple salad dressing be such a big deal? The use of vinaigrettes may be more wide spread than you realize. Consider that you can cook vinaigrette and drizzle the mixture over grilled meats or vegetables. Another form is a marinade to impart favors to food before cooking.  While you may not think of oil and vinegar when added separately in a dish as a vinaigrette, in effect you’ve just made one.

Preparing smaller quantities of vinaigrette allows you to make it fresh and change up the flavors more often. Plus, it will be infinitely better than any store-bought brand, not to mention much healthier.  Feel free to mix ingredients within the same category. For example, use both vinegar and lemon juice instead of just vinegar, or part extra virgin olive oil and part walnut oil. There are no rules. If you choose fruit as an accent, blueberry and cherry tend to do well with lemon juice, strawberry with balsamic vinegar, and raspberry with lime juice. A couple of my favorite recipes are below.

Vinaigrette’s Basic Ingredients:

Oil (use in ¼ cup increments): Olive, extra virgin olive, grape seed, avocado, sesame, macadamia, flax seed, hemp seed, hazelnut, tea, soy bean, walnut, almond, peanut, safflower, sunflower, canola, corn, cottonseed.

Acids (use in 1 tablespoon increments):  Citrus juice (lemon, lime, orange, grapefruit), vinegar (white, white wine, red wine, balsamic, rice, apple cider, malt, coconut, cane, and flavored vinegars).

Seasonings (dried, use in ¼ teaspoon increments):  Cumin, coriander, allspice, cloves, cinnamon, smoked paprika, garlic powder. Use in ½ tsp increments for granulated sweeteners: brown sugar, maple sugar, white sugar. Use 1 tsp increments for liquid sweetener:  maple syrup, honey, agave nectar. To taste:  flavored salts, pepper, cayenne.

Accents (use with abandon):  Fresh herbs, minced (mint, basil, rosemary, cilantro, chives, oregano, etc), fresh vegetables, minced (shallot, ginger, garlic, bell pepper, onions, avocado, tomato), fresh fruit, minced (watermelon, papaya, pear, blueberry, raspberry, strawberry), roasted vegetables, minced (peppers, shallots, onions, chilies), sauces and pastes (mustard, peanut butter, toasted sesame oil, Worcestershire, soy sauce, fish sauce, hot pepper sauce, fruit jelly, mayonnaise, hoisin, coconut milk), and salty elements (Parmesan cheese, anchovies, minced chorizo).

Once you have assembled the ingredients consider the texture. Blend or ‘emulsify’ the mixture for a creamy texture using an immersion blender (if so, you can chop the accents instead of mincing before hand), or simply shake your vinaigrette in a covered jar for a looser mixture. Taste it. If the acid is too pronounced, add a little more oil. Too much oil?  Add more acid. If the flavor isn’t *bright* enough, a pinch of salt may do the trick. Remember that acid can be balanced by sugar and bitterness can be balanced by salt. Usually just a little will do.

Joy’s Favorites: 

Spinach Salad  Dressing (emulsified using a immersion blender): ¾ cup extra virgin olive oil, 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar or champagne pear vinegar, 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, 1 teaspoon sugar, 4 teaspoons honey, 2 tablespoons crumbled cooked bacon, and to taste: salt, pepper, garlic powder.  To the spinach salad I add sliced purple onion, toasted almonds, hardboiled egg, sliced mushrooms, and dried cranberries. Pour dressing over.

Steak Salad Dressing (emulsified using a immersion blender):  ¾ cup extra virgin olive oil, 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar, 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce, 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard, 2 teaspoons grated Parmesan cheese, and to taste: salt, pepper.  On a bed of torn romaine lettuce I add sliced cooked steak, diced tomatoes, sliced purple onions, and croutons. Pour dressing over.

Another great combo? Peanut oil, chunky peanut butter, ginger, hot chili, rice vinegar, and a pinch of sugar. What a great salad dressing!

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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.