The Best Vinegar to Use in Cooking?

I‘m publishing a little earlier than normal this week because I’m off to Melbourne for a few days. Super excited to be visiting one of my dearest friends, Missy Helgs and her adorable 4 week old daughter Fleur.

Really looking forward to both of them giving me a crash course in how to look after a newborn. An area where I have A LOT to learn! And of course it’s a great chance to try a few new Melbourne hot spots before I enter the new parent fog.

Anyway back to the normal Stonesoup programming….

One of my goals for Stonesoup this year is to spend more time talking about topics that you are interested in.

So I’ve set up a survey to capture your questions and I’ve also started keeping a notebook in my Evernote account to keep track of questions that come in via email.

One of the most common questions I get asked came most recently from John…

“Where do you get the sherry vinegar? I heard Jamie give it a plug about a year ago but haven’t been able to find it. Now you mention it.”

Now I LOVE vinegar and could happily talk about it all day, so I now have the perfect excuse to dedicate a whole blog post to my favourite vinegars. Thanks John!

My favourite vinegars

Normally I don’t like to play favourites with my ingredients but for some strange reason when it comes to vinegar I have a clearly defined hierarchy…

1. Sherry Vinegar
This is my desert island vinegar. If I could only have one vinegar, like I did when I was living in New York for a month, sherry vinegar would be it.

Why do I love it so much?

I find sherry vinegar has the perfect balance of acidic flavours without being too harsh or chemically. While I’m happy to eat sherry vinegar by the spoon, I find red or white wine vinegar overpowering and too much.

So basically it adds the right type of acidity and freshness to food without turning it into a vinegar fest.

2. Rice Vinegar (aka Rice Wine Vinegar)
Rice vinegar comes in a close second because it’s really similar to sherry vinegar in terms of adding freshness without the overpowering chemically acidity found in white and red wine vinegar.

And if you’re wondering, as far as I know Rice Vinegar and Rice Wine Vinegar are the same thing. Adding the ‘wine’ to the name is just a marketing ploy to make it sound more ‘fancy’.

3. Balsamic Vinegar
It’s sweet, it’s intense. What’s not to love about balsamic. I currently have 3 balsamics in my pantry (not very minimalist of me!). One cost more than a bottle of perfume and I use it sparingly to drizzle on things for special occasions.

The next cost about $25 and it’s my go-to vinegar when I want to make a dressing with a bit of sweetness. I usually mix up 1 tablespoon of this balsamic with 2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, depending on how intense I want my dressing to be. I also use this one for drizzling on less special occasions.

And then I have a cheap supermarket balsamic I use when I want to cook with it. This tends to be things like a hearty beef or lamb slow cooked dish. But I sometimes use it to deglaze a pan to make an instant sauce.

4. Cheap White Vinegar
Essential for keeping my morning poached eggs in good shape. And anytime you want a huge acid hit from an inexpensive source.

Other Vinegars
I also have a caramelised red wine vinegar which is basically a ‘poor girls balsamic’. Much sweeter and less interesting than balsamic. But fun for a change. I tend to use some soy sauce when making a dressing with this to add complexity and depth and to balance the sugar.

Chinese black vinegar or Chinkiang vinegar is something I picked up when my Irishman was going through his kung pow chicken phase. I do love the salty intensity but it’s not something I think to reach for very often which probably explains why the bottle is still quite full.

I pick up a bottle of apple cider vinegar every now and then. It has similar intensity to sherry or rice vinegar but for some reason, I can’t put my finger on, I don’t like it as much.

I can’t remember the last time I had a bottle of red, white or even champagne vinegar in the house. If they work for you, great! But I find they’re never as nice as my sherry vinegar.

How I use vinegar

If you’re only using vinegar to make salad dressings you’re in for a treat… There’s so much more you can do with vinegar.

After salt, vinegar is my second favourite ingredient to add when I’m ‘seasoning’ my food.

One of the things I learned when I was a winemaker was the importance of acidity in how things taste. Winemakers spend hours (I’m not kidding) messing around with different pH levels and different types of acid which inspired me to start using acid and vinegar more thoughtfully in the kitchen.

When I’m tasting a dish to season it, I ask myself whether it needs more salt OR does it need a little vinegar?

Salt is great for enhancing flavours but vinegar has the ability to really freshen things up and bring everything to life. If you’d like to learn more about this, we cover it in depth in my online cooking classes at the Stonesoup Virtual Cookery School.

So I’m often reaching for the vinegar bottle when I’m seasoning a stew or soup or a dish like the sausages and lentils below.

Where I buy my vinegar

My sherry vinegar and balsamic come from my favourite deli. And the super expensive balsamic comes from Fratelli Fresh in Sydney. With sherry vinegar I’ve found you get what you pay for, so choose the most expensive one you can afford.

With balsamic it’s not so simple. I’d recommend going with a mid-priced balsamic first and then branching out to more expensive if you’re up for it. Supermarket balsamic can be OK but I find it’s worthwhile getting some from a deli, especially to use for salad dressings.

My local supermarket stocks an excellent rice wine vinegar in the Asian section. But depending on where you shop, you may need to go to an Asian grocery store. The great thing is it’s very inexpensive compared to the quality.

And of course my cheap white vinegar is another supermarket buy.

What about you?

Are you willing to take my vinegar challenge and branch out and try something new?

Pickup a bottle of a new vinegar for you and share your results in the comments below. I’d love to hear what you think…

sausages with lentils-2

Quick Sausages & Lentils

In our house we LOVE a good sausage. And over the years I’ve learned that there is a massive difference in quality between a sausage made with excellent ingredients and love and your super cheap supermarket sausage.

So if you think you aren’t a sausage fan, I challenge you to take the time to find a butcher who makes their own and takes pride in their bangers. Trust me, it will be like discovering a whole new ingredient. And the best thing, even super fancy bangers are reasonably priced compared to most meats.

Enough for 2
3-4 good quality pork sausages
250g (9oz) cooked lentils or 1 can, drained
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 bunch flat leaf parsley, chopped

1. Heat a little oil in your frying pan. Remove sausage from their casings and crumble the meat into the pan.

2. Cook on a highish heat, stirring every now and then for a few minutes or until sausages are well browned.

3. Add lentils, vinegar and soy. Stir and keep cooking until everything is hot and the sausages are cooked through.

4. Remove from heat. Taste and season with extra soy or vinegar if needed. Sprinkle over parsley.

VARIATIONS
not a sausage fan? – replace sausages with ground (minced) meat. Pork, veal, beef or lamb would all be fine.

different lentils – I’ve used home cooked French-style or Puy lentils, but you could use canned lentils. Red or brown lentils will also work, just be careful you don’t overcook them as they like to turn into a mush. The best way to cook lentils is to add to a big pot of cold water then simmer until they’re tender, about 15 minutes for red or green lentils, longer for brown).

soy-free – skip the soy sauce and season with salt instead.

vegetarian / vegan
– Skip the sausages and double everything else. Warm the lentils and season with the soy and vinegar. Serve with a generous handful of roasted nuts for extra protein and crunch.


Video version of the recipe.

5-Ingredients 10-Minutes BONUSES!

5 ingredients 10 minutes cover image

It’s been a white since I mentioned my new print book which is NOW AVAILABLE in good bookshops in the UK and Australia.

A HUGE thank you to you if you’ve purchased one (or more!) copies. I really appreciate your support.

If you haven’t picked up a copy yet, what are you waiting for? Order online from amazon.co.uk and bookdepository.co.uk (my favourite book supplier because they have FREE shipping anywhere in the world!).

To make sure you don’t miss out go to:
www.5ingredients10minutes.com/

With love,
Jules x

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{ 24 comments }

Mirel April 8, 2013 at 5:29 pm

I’m curious as to your take on citrus vinegar. Where I’m located, that is the most common type of vinegar, available everywhere.

Thanks!

katie April 8, 2013 at 8:56 pm

I’m off to get me some sherry vinegar tomo… can’t wait to try it! Thanks for the interesting post :) (actually, thanks for all your fabulous posts, I don’t usually comment but I happily stalk you!)

Maureen April 8, 2013 at 9:33 pm

I started buying different vinegars last year and the difference in my food has been wonderful. Sometimes it’s just a hint of vinegar that does the trick. Great post and have a lovely time in Melbourne.

tVM April 8, 2013 at 9:49 pm

Over the winter months, we eat Brussels Sprouts once a week. Although we have a handful of great recipes, I’ve become fond of simply boiling the Brussels Sprouts for a few minutes and serving them with only balsamic vinegar. Quick, easy, delicious and healthy.

Andrew April 8, 2013 at 11:17 pm

A really great trick and money saver if to buy a cheap balsamic vinegar. and simmer it down to about half the original volume. Then use as before. I defy anyone to pick the difference from an expensive balsamic vinegar.

Lorna April 8, 2013 at 11:25 pm

I too love vinegar for its versatility and ability to perk up just about anything. I have more bottles of vinegar in my cupboard than just about anything else.

My favourite use for cider vinegar is to steep damsons, rosehips or elderberries in it and leave for six months or so at the back of the cupboard. They transform into mellow, fruity, almost balsamic vinegars. Not sure if you get those fruits in Australia, but I’m sure it is flexible with other fruits.

Also good with wild plants and herbs: nettles, cleavers, basil, coriander. All good. I just use them wherever I would use normal vinegar. Ie everywhere but my chips. Although I may be the only person here in the UK who doesn’t like vinegar on their chips. Best go and hide until the controversy dies down!

Vaclav April 9, 2013 at 12:52 am

Thanks for the inpiration. Have You tried Umeboshi vinegar?

molly April 9, 2013 at 1:29 am

just found my way over, thanks to tara at tea and cookies. hoot! so happy to have tripped over your lovely space, and am very much looking forward to poking through the archives.

cheers,
molly

ps: and congratulations :)

Robin April 9, 2013 at 1:35 am

Rice vinegar has been a longtime favorite of mine. I tried Sherry vinegar for the first time for your breakfast lentils recipe and it was an eye-opener. Right now Sherry and Rice are the only vinegars in my pantry.

I’ve tried Andrew’s trick of reducing inexpensive balsamic and I would add a proviso — really cheap balsamic is going to taste like sweet paint thinner no matter what. I bought a HUGE bottle of balsamic vinegar at a big-box store (I know, I know) and just sniffing it made my nose and eyes run so I tried the boiling down method. It was better but still horrible.

addie | culicurious April 9, 2013 at 2:01 am

I’ve tried white balsamic vinegar recently and it’s pretty good. But I do agree with you on sherry vinegar. It’s simply the best tasting one out there. :)

Jos April 9, 2013 at 7:25 am

I am a huge fan of sherry vinegar – it’s so delish. My new fav though – coconut balsamic vinegar! OMG – sublime. If you can’t get hold of one Jules – e me and I’ll send you one – you will LOVE it!

stephanie April 9, 2013 at 8:14 am

Hi Jules

Enjoy checking out all your fabulous recipes and all so easy to prepare thank you – my thing is I use my work computer to keep up with all your blogs – don’t have a computer of my own plus I’m a bit of a technophobe when it comes to all this technology – don’t quite understand the virtual cooking classes??? bit worried I’m going to miss out on something….congratulations on your baby news

Stephanie X

Roberta April 10, 2013 at 12:30 pm

Hi
I also like using verjuice, but my favourite so far [and I've yet to try sherry vinegar] is balsamic. I like the white one because it leaves a clearer colour for salad dressings. If I’m making preserves I use whatever the recipe asks for, or as close as I can get:-)
My dad used to make red wine vinegar from his home made wine but it was soooo strong I couldn’t use it without diluting it!

Ashley Bee (Quarter Life Crisis Cuisine) April 11, 2013 at 2:14 am

Sherry vinegar is my favorite too! Love it. I add it to marinara sauce for an awesome extra kick :)

Sarah April 11, 2013 at 2:42 pm

Thanks for the handy vinegar tips. I have to say I don’t branch out from the red/white/balsamic much.

These lentils look AMAZING though. I have to eat them ASAP!

nessy April 11, 2013 at 6:17 pm

Wooohooo Jules! Just bought your 5I/10 mins book at Big W Chadstone!!!! Congrats and virtual high fives to your success. I am so excited for you & wrapped your recipes are finally out there :)

Krista April 12, 2013 at 12:50 am

Trader Joe’s orange muscat champagne vinegar is a GREAT price and is SO GOOD! I’ve made various salad dressings with it, but usually I just drizzle it on greens all on its own. A little more specific and not as versatile as some others, but definitely worth a try :)

Calgary Catering April 12, 2013 at 9:45 am

This is a great looking dish! The meat substitutes all look solid, how about a vegetarian substitute? Do you think falafel would work? I love mixing lentils with falafel, but falafel can be finicky.

Anne April 15, 2013 at 8:40 am

I made this with spinach instead of fresh parsley and black beans instead of lentils (whatever’s in the cupboard!) and it was delicious. Thanks once again…

Kate April 19, 2013 at 9:46 am

Balsamic vinegar is by far my favorite. I think it’s the sweetness. I recently decided to branch out and try sherry vinegar and I do like it, but still prefer my balsamic….I do admit not knowing much about how to use vinegar besides salad dressing of course…

Sara Bradford April 29, 2013 at 8:55 pm

I love your suggestions. I especially love sherry vinegar. However, the immense health benefits to consuming Raw Cider Vinegar has turned me into a LOVER. I’m certain it has pushed me to love it’s mild and unassuming flavour MORE than I would have otherwise. I just love it’s ability to eat sugar, and help increase me stomach acid levels for digesting animal protein (something not easy for me normally).
Thanks for your post.

Fish May 12, 2013 at 12:10 am

I’m just curious as to whether this dish could be cooked in a larger quantity & then frozen?

Kate June 1, 2013 at 2:29 am

We’ve been eating this weekly for the past few months, with a few changes. I add chopped asparagus to the dish and use mustard and garlic for the seasoning. It’s delicious – thanks!

jules June 7, 2013 at 7:52 pm

Great idea Kate!
Thanks for sharing
J

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