“For those that don’t have an extensive vinegar collection, I urge you to go and change that. Vinegar is the biggest thing and it will change the whole way you cook.”Rupert Cooper, Owner and Head Chef/Tutor at Philleigh Way
Why Use Vinegar?
A well-stocked store cupboard makes it so much easier to create great midweek meals at the drop of a hat, and a small selection of vinegars should be central to it. It may be that you’ve collected a few bottles of different vinegars for specific recipes in the past, but now they’re at the back of the cupboard gathering dust. Don’t let that happen! Acidity is every chef’s secret, and that’s why so many recipes call for a dash of vinegar or a squeeze of lemon; acidity lifts a dish, cuts through the fat in rich recipes, and means that every mouthful of food sets off more of your taste buds. It’s not about making your food taste like vinegar (leave that to the malt vinegar that the fish and chip shop put on your chips…), and if used correctly and complimentary, it won’t. Our recent set of recipes for oyster mignonette sauces demonstrates the importance of an element of balanced acidity in making a delicious mouthful of food.
What is Vinegar?
Vinegar has been made and used all over the world for hundreds of years – in some cases dating back more than two thousand years. If people were fermenting natural sugars to make alcohol then in most cases they were also making vinegar, because vinegar is the result of the final product gone awry from being exposed to air. The word “vinegar” is derived from the French for “sour wine”, and that’s why most vinegars that you can buy correspond to an alcoholic drink.
If you’re sorting out your kitchen cupboards whilst staying safe at home, or can add a bottle of vinegar to each of your weekly shops over the next few weeks, then these are the five vinegars that I suggest you move to the front of the shelf, and why:
Red Wine Vinegar
A good red wine vinegar will fast become the go-to bottle in your store cupboard – it’s a great all-purpose vinegar. Use it in vinaigrettes, marinades and sauces, or add a slug to soups and stews, especially in French or Italian dishes, as I did in the recent Italian beans and steak recipe video that we shared (click here to watch it).
Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar, ideally an unpasteurized one which will appear cloudy and may have sediment, has become popular in recent years as claims that taking 1-2 tablespoons each day delivers a range of benefits to your health (plenty of them yet to be fully scientifically proven, I ought to add). It’s amazing for cooking with too, and is interchangeable with red wine vinegar in many applications. Use it in vinaigrettes or slaws in the summer when its lightly tart apple flavour adds a whole new dimension. This corner of the UK is well known for its ciders, so keep an eye out in farm shops next time you’re visiting and take a bottle of small batch cider vinegar back home with you.
Sweeter and lighter than other vinegars, rice vinegar (derived from rice wine, or saki) is a must in so many Asian recipes. Sushi actually means “vinegared rice” in Japanese, such is its importance as a core ingredient. So many dishes from almost all Asian cuisines will call for a rice vinegar of some sort (different countries or regions often have their own variants) but a good Chinese rice vinegar, although slightly stronger than Japanese rice vinegars, should be a good all-round option.
Balsamic vinegar isn’t technically a vinegar, because it’s not made from fermented alcohol but is instead produced by fermenting grape juice in oak barrels. The longer that it’s aged in oak barrels, the sweeter, thicker and more expensive it becomes. Balsamic vinegar is used in small quantities as a condiment, drizzled over a dish or a salad, perhaps even a dessert (have you ever tried it drizzled over strawberries?), reduced and drizzled over pizza, or paired with a great olive oil for dipping.
White Wine Vinegar or Sherry Vinegar
White wine vinegars are lighter and don’t pack quite the same flavour as red wine vinegars. You’ll most likely reach for it when creating more delicate dressings or when you’re cooking with fish or shellfish.