Cooking with Vinegar—Every Chef’s Secret Ingredient
By Nicole Hopping November 8, 2012 No Comments
Famous chefs and foodies alike know something the average household cook may not — they’re in tune to that spark, that perfect balance of flavors that makes a dish come alive. That spark, or secret if you will, is none other than vinegar.
It’s no wonder then, that vinegar has claimed its place in the kitchen since ancient times; from the table of Cleopatra to Babylonian cured meats. And let’s not forget the love affair Chinese cuisine has with it or the French chef who’d be powerless to create rich sauces without it.
So what exactly is vinegar? It gets its name from the French word vin aigre, meaning sour wine, which is an explanation of the original process. Wine becomes sour and turns to vinegar. So, vinegar is just a sour liquid made from the fermentation of sugar to alcohol and alcohol to vinegar. Nowadays, vinegar is made from a great many other products too, like rice, fruit, and grains.
Aside from the spark it adds to each dish, vinegar has a few other trade secrets up its sleeve:
- A dollop of vinegar and tablespoon of salt added to the pot when hard-boiling eggs makes for easy removal of eggshells
- Vinegar enhances the color of vegetables
- Vinegar is great in marinades, as it breaks down protein which helps tenderize meat
- Vinegar balances saltiness and can reduce bitterness
- Vinegar has many cleaning applications—window washing, odor removal, sanitation — to name only a few
Now that I’ve let you in on the secret, here’s a cooking-with-vinegar chart to get you started in the kitchen.
|Type||Flavor||Specific Uses||Cuisine||Substitute||Made From|
|Apple Cider Vinegar(Cider Vinegar)||Medium, Tangy||Marinades, cooking with vegetables, stews||American||Malt vinegar or wine vinegar||Fermented apples|
|Black Vinegar(Chinese Black Vinegar, Chekiang Vinegar, Brown Rice Vinegar)||Medium||Stir fries, dipping sauces||Chinese||Apple cider vinegar, wine vinegar, or balsamic vinegar||Combination of fermented rice, wheat, millet, sorghum, and spices|
|Balsamic Vinegar||Mild, Sweet||Salad dressings, savory desserts||Italian||Brown rice vinegar, sherry vinegar||Unfermented grape juice|
|Cane Vinegar||Mild||Seasoning, cooking||Philippine||N/A||Sugar cane|
|Champagne Vinegar||Mild, Fresh||Salad dressing, vegetables||American||White wine vinegar, rice vinegar||Champagne|
|Coconut Vinegar||Strong||Cooking||Southeast Asian||3 parts white vinegar plus 1 part water or cane vinegar||Fermented coconut water|
|Flavored Vinegar||Mild—Medium||Salad dressings, sauces||American||N/A||Varies, though usually includes spices and peppercorns|
|Fruit Vinegar||Strong but not pungent||Marinades, sauces, salad dressings||American||Champagne vinegar, or cider vinegar with sugar||Varies, includes fruit|
|Malt Vinegar(Alegar)||Medium, Pungent||Condiments, chutneys, dipping sauce||English||Lemon juice (with fish and chips) or cider vinegar||Barley|
|Rice Wine Vinegar||Mild, Sweet||Stir fries, Asian salad dressings||Chinese, Japanese||Apple cider vinegar or white wine vinegar||Fermented rice|
|Red Rice Vinegar(Chinese Red Vinegar)||Medium, Salty||Sour dishes, seafood, sweet dishes||Chinese||Cider vinegar or red wine vinegar|
|Red Wine Vinegar||Strong||Marinades, stews, sauces, salad dressings||French||White wine vinegar||Fermented red wine|
|Sherry Vinegar(Jerez Vinegar)||Medium, Complex||Salad dressings, cooking||Spanish||Balsamic vinegar or rice wine vinegar||Fermented sherry wine|
|White Vinegar (Distilled Vinegar)||Very Strong||Ingredient in condiments, pickling, also used for cleaning||American||Cider vinegar (for pickling, if the acidity is at least 5%)||Distilled, fermented alcohol|
|White Wine Vinegar||Medium, Tangy||Cooking, soups, stews, sauces||French, American||Champagne vinegar, rice vinegar, or cider vinegar||Fermented white wine|
Vinegar has a sizeable shelf-life which is perfect for the experimental cook. Most varieties will store for about two years in a cool, dark place. Once opened, use within three to six months. So pick up a few different varieties on your next grocery run, and get cooking!