Thursday, April 5, 2012

Flavored Vinegars

I'm making samples of flavored vinegars, infused with fruit, spices, and herbs, for Maine Garden Day, and thought you'd like to see the process! It's pretty straight forward, and the flavor combinations and uses for the finished vinegar are close to endless. 

I won't start with asking if you're sick of the 'same ole boring vinegar,' since really, what does that even mean- but I know I am enticed by the rows of flavored vinegars down at Leroux Kitchens. The price can be a little steep or at least seem like a non-essential item, great for gifts but not one you're buying for yourself. Infusing vinger is so easy that it's a quick, creative kitchen project with great rewards. 

Here's a lemon, dill, peppercorn vinegar, with 4 sprigs of fresh dill, the peel of one lemon, and a teaspoon of whole, black peppercorns. This vinegar will go well on poached seafood or salad dressings (they're all good for salad dressings!). I'm also thinking in a potato salad, coleslaw, beets salad, or three bean salad. 

Generally speaking, use 3 to 4 (4 inch) sprigs of fresh herbs per pint of vinegar. If you are growing your own herbs, pick them in the morning and before they have had a chance to flower, as flowered herbs can be bitter. Wash and dry your herbs well and dip them in a bleach solution of 1 teaspoon bleach to 6 cups of water. Dry thoroughly and place into sterilized glass jars.

Fresh raspberries (left) will make a vinegar that of course will make a great raspberry vinaigrette, but also in slaws and fruit salads, and splashed on fish and chicken. Fresh tarragon (right) is great whether you think you like a liquorish flavor or not. Again, salad dressings, seafood, chicken, or over blanched, sliced vegetables. This flavor lends itself to hollandaise and bearnaise sauces too. 

Use one cup of fresh fruit per pint of vinegar, and slightly bruise the fruit before adding to a sterilized jar. I rolled them roughly in the paper towel I was using to dry them off. I also roughed up the herbs before adding them to the jars; I just folded the paper towel over them and smashed them. 

I used white vinegar, since it is the cheapest and has the most neutral flavor. You can use cider or wine vinegar, but it will add its own flavor.

Bring the vinegar to an almost boil and ladle over your herbs, fruit, spices, etc. Cap the jars (any non-reactive lid can be used), and store at room temperature in a cool, dark place for two to three weeks. 

Taste the vinegar and see if it needs a little more time to infuse. If not, strain the vinegar through a cheese cloth lined strainer. If it's too strong, dilute the flavored vinegar with some plain vinegar. 

Your vinegar will last the longest in the refrigerator, up to 8 months. On the shelf, it will last about 3 before it starts to discolor or spoil. While you often see flavored vinegars displayed in a sunny window, this is a bad spot to store your vinegars, as the heat will break down the flavors. 

Safety note: This process applied to flavored vinegar only. If you are looking to infuse oil, please read up on the subject, due to the danger of botulism. Infused oil must be stored in the refrigerator (just stick to vinegar, it's easier and safer!). 

Flavored Vinegar

3 to 4 sprigs of fresh herbs
1 teaspoon whole, dried spices
1 cup fresh fruit
2 cups white vinegar

Sterilize jars by boiling for 10 minutes. Wash and scald lids in boiling water. Bring vinegar to a near boil (190*F). 

Wash herbs, dip in a bleach dip, and dry. Fill jars with desired herbs, spices, and fruits. Ladle hot vinegar into jars and apply lids. 

Store in a cool, dark place for 3 weeks. Taste vinegar and strain. Store in the refrigerator for up to 8 months. 

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