Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Kitchen 101- Vinegar Infusions

If you are a salad lover like me you should have some great salad dressing recipes in your repertoire. I love vinaigrettes more than the creamy type dressings. They are fresh, light and very versatile- they make excellent marinades and dressings and so much more. 

A really good vinaigrette starts with just two basic ingredients- good olive oil, and vinegar. With those basic building blocks you can create some masterful dressings. Dijon vinegar is a fantastic flavor enhancer as are fresh and dried herbs, crushed fruits and spices infused in the vinegar. That's what we're going to play with today- infusing vinegar.

These days there is a huge trend in the mixology field- infusions. Vodka and other lighter liquors take on flavors of fruits, herbs and many other foods and flowers, and are crafted into cocktails. There is literally no limit to what a good mixologist can create. With an imaginative mind and a knowledge of cocktails, today's mixology professionals can create an endless menu of amazing drinks.

The same thing applies to vinegar. You can infuse vinegar with all sorts of delicious things. Herbs are great and so easy to do, and so are fruits and vegetables. Raspberries, hot peppers, garlic. So many delicious things. Those flavorful vinegars make the most incredible dressings and marinades and they last for such a long time. What a great way to preserve the fresh flavors of summer to last all year. Infusions are super easy to make so let's make a few. Supplies needed? Vinegar, a flavor to infuse, and a jar with a tight seal.

Chive Blossom Vinegar

This one is super easy. You need a chive plant, or a friend with a chive plant, and it needs to be blooming. Pick enough blossoms to fill a pint jar. Wash them thoroughly. Place in a clean pint jar and fill with vinegar to leave an inch head space. Put the lid on and tighten securely. Shake well. Store in a cool place for 3 weeks, shaking every day, til the vinegar is a deep purple color. Strain into a clean jar. Use as desired.

Herb Vinegar

Just like the chive blossom vinegar you will want enough fresh herbs to fill a pint jar. You don't have to pack it tightly. Use a muddler or the end of a wooden spoon to crush the herbs slightly. Fill jar with vinegar to one inch head space. Cap and shake. Store in a cool place and shake every day for about 2-3 weeks. Thyme, basil, oregano, marjoram, chives all make great infused vinegars. Thyme is my favorite.

Raspberry Vinegar

Raspberry vinegar is a fantastic infusion that makes some of the best dressing you'll ever taste. Choose bright red fresh raspberries and place in a pint jar- I filled the jar halfway. Crush the berries slightly. Fill the jar with vinegar like the other recipes, cap and shake. Store in a cool place for 2-3 weeks to fully infuse the flavor. Strain before using.

Straining infused vinegar is really easy if you use a coffee filter. You get a beautiful clear vinegar. 

What do you do with these? Everything! The bare bones vinaigrette is 6 tablespoons olive oil and 2-3 tablespoons vinegar. From there you customize to your liking. Add hopped fresh herbs, a squeeze of Dijon or grainy mustard, a few shakes of soy sauce or Worcestershire sauce, a few dashes of hot sauce, finely minced onion, garlic or peppers- whatever you like. Use to dress a bowl of mixed salad greens or cooked pasta for a quick salad or as a marinade. So delicious!

These are just three ideas for vinegar infusions- don't stop here! Build yourself a nice collection of flavored vinegars like several herb flavors, a hot pepper or two, something sweet and floral- like raspberries, blueberries or even peaches, and citrus zest infusions. Lemon or lime are great to have on hand. Dried spices work great too- curry, chili powder, paprika, even peppercorns. Use your imagination and stick with flavors that blend well with foods you enjoy. Use your vinegars in cooking, in dressings and as a seasoning "sprinkle" to finish dishes.

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