Almost everyone knows how to liven up salads with a touch of acidity in a beautiful vinaigrette with balsamic vinegar. But this deep hue vinegar has so many other uses in the kitchen when it comes to refining our favorite recipes.
In the fall, when roasts and stews are making their long-awaited comeback on chilly nights, and seasonal vegetables have layers of earthy, warm natural flavors, it’s a good idea to add a type or two of balsamic vinegar in addition to olive oil, salt, and pepper.
In order to better understand the nuances in which balsamic vinegar is best suited for cooking and which is better only drizzled after preparing dinner (or desserts), TODAY Food spoke to star chef Jonathan Benno. So let’s say “buon giorno” with the balsamic vinegar!
Choosing the right vinegar
Balsamic vinegar can be divided into three categories: Premium-Aged Balsamic, DOP-Balsamic, and Commodified or Manufactured Balsamic.
An easy way to find out if you’re buying the real deal is to look for balsamic vinegars with the “DOP” stamp (“Denominazione di Origine Protetta” or “Denomination of Origin” in English). Similar to Parmigiano Reggiano from Parmesan cheese, this label distinguishes that the product was made in Italy and monitored by the European Union to ensure authenticity and locality.
For those who might want to spend a little less on balsamic vinegar cooking, Benno recommends checking the ingredients. If the bottle doesn’t have a DOP stamp, avoid those with corn syrup or sugar. The balsamic vinegar already has a natural sugar content, and often “raw material manufacturers” add sweet artificial fillers to dilute the product and make it more affordable. When cooking, these added sugars can burn faster than real balsamic vinegar and lead to different recipe results than real balsamic vinegar.
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Save premium balsamic vinegar for the drizzle
Like good wine, DOP vinegars that are supposed to highlight beautiful dishes with a raw drizzle cost more. For example, Modena, Italy’s Carandini, one of the oldest balsamic vinegar producers (active since 1641), makes traditional vinegars and high quality ripened vinegars from fermented, acetified and ripened local grapes. The rewards can go as high as $ 75, but a little goes a long way.
âA high-quality, high-density balsamic vinegar with a stronger, more intense taste like Emilio Silver would be ideal for adding the finishing touches to dishes. It only takes a few drops to highlight both savory and sweet dishes such as cheese, strawberries and ice cream, “said Stefano Bellei, CEO of Carandini, TODAY.
“You can use it to make a drop or two with Parmigiano Reggiano, Salumi, Gorgonzola. It should be an accent or a highlight,” said Benno TODAY. “Acidity, complexity and sweetness withstand the fat and abundance of foie gras or other fatter meats and cheeses.”
Other foods that shine nicely with a touch of aged balsamic vinegar are creamy desserts such as fior di latte, hazelnut or pistachio ice cream, strawberries or ice cream.
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Now that we’ve mastered how to make fatter meats and decadent desserts unique with just a few drops of balsamic vinegar, it’s time to cook what Benno calls “jug balsamic” (the more affordable, less-aged, always still authentic DOP or vinegars of other origins without sugar or additives.
In the fall, most of the seasonal vegetables, from earthy mushrooms to sweet pumpkins, work wonderfully when cooked with balsamic vinegar. One of the best things about it is how easy it is to add vinegar to different products.
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“Sugar helps caramelize and color vegetables,” said Benno TODAY. “Pumpkins split, seeds scooped out, drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar on a sheet pan (lined) with aluminum foil, olive oil – not extra virgin – and a jug of balsamic vinegar drizzled on and roasted in the oven.”
The same preparation can be used everywhere for halved or whole Brussels sprouts, carrots, turnips, celery, turnips or carrots.
Soups, stews and stews
For many soups like lentils, barley or even creamy pumpkin, Benno recommends pouring a dash of balsamic vinegar over them.
“Do it, puree it, drizzle it with balsamic vinegar and olive oil,” he said TODAY.
When Benno is cooking at home rather than his restaurant, he often uses a pressure cooker like Instant Pot to make hearty stews. Any type of beef or pork stew that normally calls for red wine can shine with a part of balsamic vinegar in the mix, while one would use red wine.
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In the case of pot roasts, such as braised short ribs, Benno warns against deglazing the pan with balsamic vinegar, as one would use wine, since the natural sugar in the balsamic vinegar can become too sticky and sugary.
“One recipe for braised ribs says deglaze with wine and reduce. Do not reduce the balsamic vinegar. Instead of wine, maybe add 1/2 cup of balsamic vinegar after Deglaze the pan with water or broth.
Do a balsamic reduction
Cooking balsamic vinegar to a reduction that highlights its sweetness. used can be used as a finishing touch in many dishes. It works wonderfully on salads, drizzled on meat, cheese, ice cream, and even hearty fish. For those who may not have access to high quality aged balsamic vinegar to drizzle off, reducing a jug balsamic vinegar can be a great alternative to that pretty and flavorful final touch to serve on starters, dinners, or desserts.
This requires attention, but hardly any time.
“Reduce it slowly and keep an eye on it. In a wide pan, literally keep one hand on the pan (handle). If you start with 1 cup, it only takes a minute or two to reduce to a frosting,” Benno said TODAY. “It goes from syrup to burnt caramel very quickly. Keep swirling. Scrape the sides so it doesn’t burn. When it’s done, it should be hot and sticky between your fingers if you dip it carefully.”
The reductions can be used immediately over your favorite vegetables, meat, salad or soup, or kept in a jar and kept in the pantry.
Benno loves to reserve his reduction and use it instead of cream cheese (drizzled, not spread) on a smoked salmon bagel with capers and olive oil.
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Balsamic vinegar makes a nice marinade for pork tenderloin or pork chops, chicken, and most cuts of beef. Benno recommends using balsamic vinegar in marinades when grilling or roasting meat, as cooking in a pan can cause the sugar to burn the outside of the protein and become sticky.
“The sugar in balsamic vinegar works to the advantage of a cook. The sugar in balsamic vinegar helps with caramelization, sweetness and acids”, Benno, who often uses olive oil (for cooking use normal, non-virgin extra), balsamic vinegar, garlic, sage and rosemary combined to marinate meat.
When grilling, turn the protein carefully so that the balsamic vinegar does not burn. In the oven, line trays with aluminum foil or a roasting pan and be sure to turn the meat.
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Balsamic marinades with olive oil, fresh garlic, and some fresh herbs like sage or rosemary also shine on heartier fish and shellfish, Benno adds, including salmon, tuna, octopus, sardines, mackerel, fried scallops, and grilled lobster. However, instead of letting the seafood soak in the marinade, it is best to brush the marinade over it just before and during cooking.
And voila, there are plenty of spicy autumn dishes with the perfect balance of earthiness, sweetness and acidity.