Ask Peter: Vinegar
Yesterday I was making my mother’s “world famous” pavlova with Timmy (my mum) in The Sugar Club’s pastry kitchen. We were making and photographing it for a charity cookbook I Love Mum.
In her recipe she specifies malt vinegar but as I didn’t have any to hand she let me use a delicious apple cider vinegar and the pav turned out pretty good. The recipe now says that any vinegar will do — although a brown or red vinegar will give a pretty tinge.
In the kitchen here on level 53 of the Sky Tower we have many vinegars, but for some reason malt isn’t among them. I’m sure there are thousands of people like you (and me to be honest) who have a huge selection of vinegars in their pantry and so it’s good to address your query. To be honest I have never found a vinegar to go off.
Because of their acidity, vinegars won’t go sour (they already are — unlike that bottle of pinot noir you have sitting out on the kitchen bench). It is unlikely to oxidise (sherry vinegar already has to some degree) and flavour-spoiling bacteria won’t cause it to go off as the pH level is already too high.
So, all the things you worry about with most other ingredients don’t really apply to vinegar. Over the years I have collected vinegars from numerous countries around the world. At home I have more than six types of balsamico ranging from a very basic and affordable one through to a gorgeously syrupy one that cost more than $120, for less than half a cup.
From Greece I have a really inexpensive and delicious red wine one that would give a good balsamico a run for its money — it’s sharp, rich, slightly sweet and totally delicious. I have coconut vinegar that a friend brought me from Thailand, a fabulous black vinegar that Sichuan expert food writer Fuchsia Dunlop gave me from China, and several bottles of sherry vinegar from my foodie travelling friends.
Many years ago I bought an incredible organic apple vinegar at Dean & De Luca in New York and it’s waiting to be drained — I just can’t seem to part with the last few drops. Interestingly, when you digest raw cider vinegar it becomes alkaline in the body, which is supposedly a good thing and explains why my gran would always start or end the day with a teaspoon of manuka honey and two of cider vinegar stirred into a cup of hot water — she said it kept her belly in good health.
All other vinegars are acid forming. Verjus or verjuice is another sour liquid similar to vinegar but also quite different. For a start you need to refrigerate it once open or else it will become more sour and it can begin to ferment a little — which would then turn it into a type of vinegar.
Verjus is generally made from the juice of unripe, and unsweet, green grapes, although it can also be made from other sour fruit such as crab apples. Verjus is terrific in salad dressings and to deglaze a pan when you’ve fried fish fillets in butter – it makes a delicious tangy glaze.
I also add it to roast chickens towards the last third of their cooking — just drizzle some over the birds in the oven. The sourness also provides some lovely pan juices. And now that I’m writing this, I realise I need to have a tidy up in my pantry — so I’m planning to mix all the bottles of less that 50ml together — all apart from the expensive balsamico.
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 on our site.