Vinegar

Vinegar

By
Skye Gyngell
Contains
4 recipes
Published by
Quadrille Publishing
ISBN
9781844006212
Photographer
Jason Lowe

The sharp, clear, top note flavour of vinegar serves to hone and refine flavours in cooking. I use it as an enhancer in conjunction with other flavourings, to give a dish a sense of wholeness. In my cooking, vinegar is often married with the saltiness of anchovies, the warmth rather than heat of dried chillies, the lovely grassiness of olive oil, the fragrance of spices – such as fennel or coriander seeds – and base note herbs like sage and rosemary.

Vinegar, like olive oil or wine, has a host of different possibilities within its umbrella term – from thin and eye-squintingly sharp – to rich, viscous and mellow, and even sweet. More often than not I cook with the sharper vinegars – long, slow, gentle cooking softens the flavour, smoothing its edges. Of course, aged balsamic vinegar with its wonderfully complex, sweet flavour is in a class of its own. Just a few drops sprinkled onto a dish will impart a very special quality.

In my larder I have several different varieties of vinegar, including cider, honey, white wine and spiced vinegars, but the two I use most frequently are very good-quality red wine vinegar and sherry vinegar. I find sherry vinegar pairs beautifully with the first of the season’s nut oils, especially hazelnut and walnut. In the autumn, sherry vinegar comes into its own in my kitchen, as I use it to make vinaigrettes to dress seasonal salads – comprising mushrooms, nuts, perhaps finely shaved fennel, some torn warm pheasant or pigeon, and maybe a few pickled autumn grapes.

Red wine vinegar, on the other hand, I use more often in cooking. A splash invariably goes into slow-cooked pork and lamb dishes. And I like to add a drop or two when roasting tomatoes or borlotti beans, or to flavour still-warm farro. On its own, the flavour can be too sharp, but paired with olive oil, herbs and other flavourings – even Parmesan and butter – really beautiful and profound flavours can be achieved.

Malt vinegar is one variety I don’t use in my cooking – its flavour is achingly sharp and thin, and it lacks the depth of traditionally made wine vinegars. I appreciated the harsh taste more as a child – sprinkled onto potato scallops (deep-fried, battered potato slices) from our local fish shop, which I loved at the time. So the flavour lingers in my memory, happily and evocatively!

Balsamic vinegar is produced in a different way from the wine- or sherry- based vinegars described above. The base for balsamic vinegar is what the Italians call cotto mosto, which is essentially crushed grapes that are cooked in copper pots. No flavourings or additives are added. Aged naturally, the vinegar ferments in a series of wooden casks that range from cherry and juniper to oak and chestnut – in no particular order. Each wooden cask contributes its very own flavour to the final complex, dark amber vinegar. The taste is not sharp at all. It is best described as mellow, round and sweet, with notes of honey, but still tasting very much of the grape from which it originated.

When buying balsamic vinegar, on the label look for the description aceto balsamico tradizionale – only this wording confirms the vinegar’s authenticity. There are many poor imitations on the market that do not resemble the true product at all – sometimes no more than cheap vinegar flavoured with caramel. True aged balsamic vinegar is unquestionably costly, but well worth the expense. You only need to use it sparingly – a drop or two is often enough to give a dish special character.

Good-quality vinegars can be expensive, but it really is worth using the best you can afford. Even when you are pickling fruit, or making warm spicy chutneys or tomato ketchup, please don’t skimp. The final taste of any dish can only be as good as the ingredients that have gone into its creation.

Recipes in this Chapter

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