Ask Peter: Aged balsamic vinegar
I received a bottle of aged balsamic vinegar for Christmas (I know it was not cheap!) and I am scared to use it as I don’t want to waste it on the wrong thing. I am the same with expensive wine — saving it for the right occasion that never happens. I have resolved to start enjoying these special things as I receive them but would love a few ideas of how best to showcase my balsamic. Gayle
I am totally in agreement with your changing attitude to hoarding precious things that you never get around to opening and enjoying. A few weekends ago I went to get a bottle of wine from the cellar at home and decided that, instead of just opening a good bottle, I would have a fantastic one. I chose a 2007 gewurztraminer from the fabulous Pyramid Valley Vineyards that I’d been saving for a special occasion. I allowed myself to think that simply having a drink with my partner on a wintery London Sunday afternoon was worthy of being special. The wine was spectacular, so I have promised myself to have spontaneous moments of indulgence moving forward. I just hope the cellar keeps up with me.
Like you, I have a bottle of precious balsamic in the pantry, but on the culinary front I am more practical in my use of it than I have been in the past. I moved house five years ago and was horrified at the amount of food I had that had passed the expiry date — truffle paste I’d bought in Florence 10 years earlier, small producer olive oils from Spain and New Zealand, a mouldy chilli rub from Tunisia that I had only opened once and never used.
I became aware I was avoiding using products because I wanted to save them for something special and yet as my pantry grew and grew, I forgot them and pushed them to the back of the cupboard. Expiry dates are not things I always adhere to, as an olive oil will still taste ok well past the date on the bottle, but its uniqueness and floral spicy notes will deteriorate and it’ll become less characteristic.
I’m also pretty certain that if you were to look at the spices in most people’s cupboards they will be well and truly past it. However, this doesn’t mean they’ll poison you, they’ll just be lacking in flavour.
But, let me focus on your balsamic. It’ll be fairly syrupy in consistency, and very dark in colour. The reason it’s so thick is because it has basically evaporated as it has aged in barrels and the flavours have become concentrated, which means you don’t need to use much at all.One thing you wouldn’t do is make a salad dressing from it, whisking it up with olive oil and mustard or whatever, as this will simply drown its character and make its special traits unrecognisable.
Instead it is to be savoured, and here are some suggestions.
- Pan-fry scallops or terakihi fillets in a little butter and light olive oil, or steam a thick chunk of hapuka over lemongrass-infused water. Then dollop six or so drops (an eye dropper is good for making sure you don’t empty all the contents in one go) on to the cooked flesh and drizzle with your best (but not too peppery and green) olive oil. The balsamic flavour will be enlivened with the heat from the cooked flesh and will complement the seafood.
- Mix ¼ teaspoon of your balsamic with two punnets of hulled and halved strawberries and 1 heaped tablespoon of icing sugar and rest in the fridge for a few hours. Toss a few times, then serve at room temperature on top of crushed meringues and drizzled with excessive amounts of runny cream.
- Serve a risotto and finish it in piping hot bowls dredged with grated parmesan (and I mean real parmigiano reggiano, not some dreadful counterfeit) and 4-5 drops ofbalsamic.
- For a canape, lay a drop on top of shards of the same parmesan — the two are a match made in heaven.
- Alternate slices of mozzarella and really ripe tomatoes, drizzle with a fabulous olive oil, salt and pepper and a dozen drops of balsamic.
- Add a few drops to the top of a strawberry or rhubarb daiquiri once in the glass, and try two drops in a gin and tonic.
Tonight I’m out for dinner at a friend’s home and will be taking a bottle of 2002 Providence with me. I’m pretty certain this sophisticated Bordeaux blend from Matakana will knock the socks off the other guests, some of whom no doubt will not be aware of the quality of wine New Zealand produces.
So here’s to more sharing and enjoying of special treats, and less hoarding for a special day, because the one you’re having might already be special!
In our Ask Peter series, executive chef Peter Gordon answers your curly culinary questions. If you're stumped over something food-related, send your question to firstname.lastname@example.org and keep checking in for answers. You can read more on Peter on his website, have a read of his Ask Peter articles or check out his recipes here.