Making And Using Flavored Vinegars

Making and using flavored vinegars can add a delightful element to your gourmet cooking.

The limited varieties of flavored vinegars found on the shelves of our grocery stores, with a few more available in specialty shops, pale in comparison with the infinite homemade flavors possible. Homemade vinegars also have a fresher, deeper flavor and are easy and relatively inexpensive to make.

Flavored vinegars make anything that can be prepared with vinegar taste sharper and better, and there's no added fat, salt or significant calories. Herbal vinegars are the most popular and well known but fruits, spices, flowers and vegetables, separately or together, can also flavor vinegars.

The simple basics:

· Cleanliness is a must. Wash everything; sterilize utensils and containers.

· Use non-reactive materials: glass, plastic, porcelain, pottery, enamel-coated steel.

· Lids must fit tight and be of similar materials; place plastic wrap between container and metal lids (such as canning lids).

Other helpful equipment:

· Wooden spoons

· Funnels (plastic or glass)

· Cloth (muslin or cheesecloth) or paper coffee filters with holder

· Colander and/or strainer

· Measuring cups and spoons

To make excellent flavored vinegar, one must use good vinegar. Suggested are red or white wine vinegars, rice, a good quality cider vinegar, sherry or balsamic. Your homegrown herbs will yield the best results but fresh herbs purchased at the grocery or a local farmers' market will give good results. Dried herbs may also be used.

Flavored vinegars look beautiful with the sun streaming through them but steeping the vinegars in a dark place at room temperature enhances flavors. During the steeping process, vinegars should be shaken or stirred and vinegar must always cover the flavorings (herbs, flowers, etc.).

Once the flavoring is to your liking (that's determined by a taste test), strain the vinegar. The liquid should be clear. If it is not, continue the straining process. Pour the vinegar into a clean container and add a few sprigs of the herb or whatever else was used for flavor.

Some of my favorite combinations, with their uses, are:

White wine vinegar:

· Chives, garlic, peppercorns, cloves: salad dressings for potato salad, cole slaw, pasta

· Red chilies: pinto beans, chili, salsa, Cajun cooking

· Jalapeño peppers: chili, salsa, Mexican cooking

· Opal or green basil, with or without garlic: salad dressings, tomato base sauces, chopped tomatoes and feta

· Cranberries, honey, cloves, cinnamon sticks: chicken, turkey, salad dressings

· Dill: salad dressings for potato salad, cole slaw, greens; fresh peas, beets

· Rosemary, with or without garlic: white beans, soups, salad dressings, pork

· Apples, sage, garlic: sauerkraut, pork, sausage, poultry stuffing

Try your own combinations. Consider the herbs and spices you like with certain foods and steep them in vinegar. The possibilities are endless.

If the result is something you don't want to eat, don't throw it away; use it as a room deodorizer. To do this, pour small amounts in deep saucers or shallow dishes and set them around your kitchen when you prepare any food that's slightly malodorous: deep frying, fish, sauerkraut. The vinegar will lessen the odor and hasten its demise.

Vinegar is reputed to have health benefits. Adding it to your diet in place of salt and fat can be a real plus. I like a spoon of vinegar (make one with mint and lemon) in iced tea. My first thought was, "Yuck," and now tea tastes flat without it.

Experiment and enjoy the versatility of vinegar.

© High Speed Ventures 2011