Cooking with Vinegar

Choosing different types of vinegar for cooking

Matching vinegar with other ingredients is simple. Just keep in mind that most vinegars are made from wine. Use red wine vinegar and other intensely flavored vinegars with hearty, rich-flavored foods such as beef stew. White wine vinegar and other lighter-flavored vinegars go well with more-delicate foods such as chicken and salad greens.

Balsamic Vinegar: This very distinctive Italian vinegar is aged in wooden barrels for at least 10 years. Some have been aged 50, even 100 years, but these are generally family heir-looms handed down in wills. True balsamic is made from concentrated Trebbiano white grape juice and is aged by transferring from barrel to barrel, each made from a different kind of wood that imparts flavor and color. When you see the words aceto balsamico tradizionale on a bottle of balsamic vinegar, you know that you have the real thing. To enjoy it at its best, don't heat balsamic vinegar. You might not even want to combine it with other ingredients. Savor it, instead, in its purest form, drizzled over grilled steaks or tossed with ripe red berries. For intense flavor and a light color, try white balsamic vinegar. Commercial balsamic vinegars are made from red wine vinegar that has been fortified with concentrated grape juice and, sometimes, caramelized sugar. While they lack the complexity of true balsamico, these vinegars can have a sweet, pungent quality that works quite well when used to make a deglazing sauce or when used in salad dressings or to season slow-cooked meats and stews.

Cider Vinegar: Look for cider vinegar that is unfiltered and unpasteurized. It will have the fruitiest apple flavor. Use cider vinegar to make a deglazing sauce for a pork roast or in a vinaigrette for a salad garnished with bacon and bits of hard cheese. Its mild flavor also makes it a good vinegar to use for pickles.

Distilled Vinegar: Made from commercially processed grain alcohol, distilled vinegar has a harsh, pungent flavor. Though it is widely used in processed foods and preserves, in the home kitchen, it's best reserved for washing down counters and cutting boards.

Flavored Vinegars: These are made from wine vinegars (usually white wine) infused with fruits and/or fresh herbs. Use them to add a subtle herbal or fruit flavor to your salads, chicken, or fish. Raspberry vinegar is one of the most flavorful fruit vinegars and has a particular affinity for beets. In Mexico, many home cooks make pineapple vinegar. If you're looking for an herb vinegar, tarragon vinegar is one of the best. It lends fabulous flavor to salad greens, potato salad, and fish.

Malt Vinegar: A classic condiment for fish and chips, malt vinegar is traditionally made from beer. It has a mild flavor that makes it a good choice for pickles and salad dressings.

Red Wine Vinegar: The best wine vinegars are produced in the world's great wine-making regions, such as France, Italy, and California. Deglaze a roasting pan with red wine vinegar to make a sauce for beef or Iamb, or combine it with mustard and shallots for a boldly flavored vinaigrette.

Rice Vinegar: There are three main types of rice vinegar: white, red, and black. White rice vinegar has a pale, golden color and delicate flavor and is by far the most versatile. Use white rice vinegar in Asian-inspired sauces for chicken, fish, and vegetables. When buying white rice vinegar, keep in mind that Japanese brands tend to be milder and sweeter than the sharper, more acidic Chinese versions. Red rice vinegar is used mainly as a dipping sauce. The more esoteric black rice vinegar is used most often as an ingredient in Chinese pickled pigs' feet.

Sherry Vinegar: Sweeter and more complex than ordinary wine vinegar, sherry vinegar is aged for a minimum of 6 years in a network of barrels known as a solera. The best sherry vinegars come from southern Spain and bear the words Xeres or Jerez on the label, Spanish terms for sherry. Sherry vinegar makes an extraordinary vinaigrette and can also be used to deglaze a roasting pan or sautes pan when making a pan sauce for pork, chicken, or beef.

White Wine and Champagne Vinegar: Use these subtle-flavored vinegars with more delicate foods. They're great with seafood salads or in a sauce for chicken or fish. They can also be used for pickles.

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