Friday, July 12, 2013

Infused Balsamic Vinegar

I love infused balsamic vinegar.  I have bought some in Chicago that you could drink from the bottle, they were that good.  Little Maquoketa does not allow me that pleasure so here are a couple of ways you can make your own berry or fruit infused balsamic vinegar.   I use a Pompeian Balsamic Vinegar that I can pick up here in Maquoketa as my base.  The other two pictured are Chicago finds that I use only on special occasions.  One is fig and the other is black cherry. Sadly, I'll soon be out.

What is balsamic vinegar?

Traditional balsamic vinegar is produced from the juice of just-harvested white grapes (typically, Trebbiano grapes from Italy) boiled down to approximately 30% of the original volume to create a concentrate which is then fermented with a slow aging process which concentrates the flavors. The flavor intensifies over the years, with the vinegar being stored in wooden casks becoming sweet and very concentrated.  To be call balsamic vinegar, it may not be withdrawn until the end of the minimum of 12 years (18 or 25 years).  Like a fine aged wine, this is why balsamic vinegar is so expensive. 

I’m sharing two fruit infused balsamic vinegars that will extend and flavor your balsamic vinegar and some ideas on how to use them.

Easy Strawberry Balsamic Vinegar

1 cup strawberries, trimmed and cut into ½ inch pieces
1 tbs. brown sugar
¼ cup balsamic vinegar (Pompeian or your favorite brand)
¼ cup rice vinegar

Put the strawberries, vinegars and sugar into a blender or food processor and blend until completely smooth.

Allow the mixture to sit in the blender for 1 hour (this will help the strawberries infuse the vinegar).  The longer you let it rest, the more flavor will be infused.

Put the mixture through a sieve to strain.  Put in a mason jar and save in refrigerator.  Use in a strawberry vinaigrette on a strawberry salad.  The sweet balsamic vinegar is also good just drizzled on some fresh strawberries.

Variation - You can do this with your favorite berries or fruit.  Make a blueberry balsamic or a raspberry.  I have bought a white peach balsamic vinegar in Chicago that was to die for.  Just pick your favorite fruit and go crazy. 


Rich Strawberry and Balsamic Vinegar Reduction

This recipe takes much longer, but is worth the work and time.

1 cup chopped strawberries or your favorite fruit
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup honey

Combine strawberries, brown sugar, and vinegar in a small sauce pan.

Bring mixture to a boil, reduce heat to less than a simmer. 

Note:  Place the pan in an iron skillet to diffuse the heat.  A reduction can burn easily
if not constantly watched and stirred regularly.

You want to reduce the mixture by half.  When reduced by half, add in the honey, and reduce by half again.

The whole reduction process will take some patience and several hours.  I set my timer and go and stir often.  The timer reminds me not to forget.  I reset each time. This is a good time to work in the kitchen for a couple of hours so you are close at hand.

Pour in a mason jar and store in the refrigerator.

Here is a great recipe using this dark brown gold you just made.

Scallops with Strawberry Balsamic Vinegar

Olive Oil
White wine
Salt and pepper
White and/or black sesame seeds and/or red chili flakes (Optional)
Strawberry balsamic vinegar

Make sure the scallops are as dry as possible before cooking them.  Dry with a paper towels.  Dry scallops will yield a nice, crisp, caramelized crust when seared.

Buying frozen scallops may be more economical than the fresh-caught scallops, but the frozen variety tend to be more water-logged and naturally release more liquid as they defrost.  Keep this in mind, as you may have to change the paper towel out several times.

When buying fresh scallops, look for scallops that smell slightly sweet and briny, not fishy.  If they smell fishy, do not buy them.  Fresh scallops must be used within 2 days. 

Don’t overcrowd the pan.  Adding more scallops to the pan will only bring down the heat and you’ll have to cook the scallops longer, at the risk of ending up with rubbery scallops. 

Heat your skillet over medium heat and add in a tablespoon each of butter and oil.
The butter is for flavor.  The oil is to raise the smoking point so the butter does not burn.

Season your scallops with salt and pepper and any seasoning you wish to add and put the seasoned scallop in your buttered oil.

Sear on each side until golden brown and add a little white wine to the pan to deglaze.  Swirl in some butter to enrich the sauce. 

The scallops are done when they can be easily pulled apart and appear white or opaque in color on the inside.  The cooking time varies according to the size of the scallop.  Be careful not to under cook or over cook the scallop.  You do not want them raw or tough.

Take off the heat and drizzle with a little balsamic strawberry reduction and serve.  You pick the easy or the rich slow cooked vinegar.

You can use these vinegars also for chicken, pork or seafood.  They are also perfect for any vinaigrette. 

Have a great day, be happy and may God bless you and yours.   

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