Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Infused Vinegars

Infused vinegars form part of my pantry every year.  They add flavour to my salad dressings and marinades year ‘round, and they’re easy and affordable to make.  

I infuse my vinegars with fruits, herbs, garlic, onion, roasted red peppers, tomatoes, edible flowers; whatever suits my fancy and seems likely to work well with my recipes.  I try to keep it simple; one, two, or at most three flavours in a single blend. 

I use whatever vinegar I think will work best with the flavours I’m infusing.  I like red wine vinegar with cherries, and red or white wine vinegar with herbs.  I sometimes use rice vinegar or cider vinegar in my infusions, or even the plain white vinegar you buy in big jugs for pickling.  I rarely use malt vinegar.  

I work in small quantities because I prefer to have a selection of flavours on hand rather than a large batch of one single flavour.

As with any form of preserving, there are a few basic food safety rules to follow when making infused vinegars.  If you choose to make your own vinegars please follow the instructions carefully, without taking shortcuts.  It’s always better to be safe than sorry.

Use glass containers for your infused vinegars.  I prefer to use canning jars with two part lid and ring seals.  You can re-use jars or bottles that have held other foods from the grocery store but, if you do, you won’t be able to process them in your canner or store them in your pantry.  They’ll have to be stored in your fridge as soon as they cool to room temperature. 

Always check your containers for chips and cracks that could cause breakage when you add hot liquid to the jars. 

Whatever jars you’re using, you’ll need to start by sterilizing them.  Wash your jars and lids in warm, soapy water and rinse them well.  Place the jars in a large kettle and cover them with cold water.  The water needs to cover the containers completely, with at least 2 inches of water above the containers’ highest point.  Bring the water to a boil and boil the jars for 15 minutes.  Keep them in the hot water, held at a simmer, until you are ready to fill them.

If you are using proper canning lids and intend to process your vinegar for storage in your pantry, prepare the lids according to the manufacturer’s directions, as provided on the package.  If you’re re-using containers and will be keeping your vinegar in the fridge, sterilize the lids in boiling water, right along with the jars.

While the jars are being sterilized, measure out enough vinegar to fill your containers and bring it to a boil.  Whatever you plan to put in the vinegar must be washed.  Large fruits or vegetables should be coarsely chopped or sliced so that they more easily release their flavours. 

There’s no hard and fast rule about proportion when making infused vinegars.  If you’re using herbs, garlic, or onions, their strong flavours require that only a small amount be placed in each jar.  A single clove of garlic will flavour a pint of vinegar.  Likewise a couple of tablespoons of fresh herbs will do the job.  Fruits and things like roasted peppers or tomatoes are more mild in flavour and will require more volume in proportion to the vinegar.  I like to fill the jar about a third full with these ingredients, maybe even more. 

When the jars are sterilized and the vinegar has come to a boil, work quickly.  Place your prepared infusing ingredients in the jars and pour the hot vinegar over them.  Wipe the rims of the jars clean with a damp paper towel and then put the lids in place. 

If you are re-using containers from the grocery store, allow the jars to cool, transferring them to the fridge as soon as they've reached room temperature.

If you’re processing the jars in your canner, screw the lids on finger tight.  Don’t over tighten them.  There needs to be room for air to escape during the canning process in order for a seal to form as the jars cool. 

Your jars should not rest right on the bottom of the canning kettle.  The water needs to circulate around them.  Put a rack in the bottom of the pot and sit the jars in or on the rack. 

Ensure that the tops of the jars are covered with at least 2 inches of water.  If they’re not, top the pot up with boiling water.  Boil the jars for 10 minutes, remove them from the kettle and allow them to cool to room temperature. 

Before storing your processed jars away in the pantry, check the seals.  The lids should be slightly concave and should make a clear, ringing sound when tapped with a spoon.  Lids that are not properly sealed will make a dull thud when tapped.  You’ll know the difference when you hear it.

All food put by in jars benefits from being stored in a cool, dark place.  Infused vinegars need to rest at least a couple of weeks in order to develop their flavours.  The longer they rest, the better their flavours will be.  Once you’ve broken the seals on your jars, infused vinegars should be stored in the fridge, just as you would store pickles.

All of this sounds like more work than it actually is.  The process goes quickly and the reward is definitely worth the effort.  Have some fun experimenting with your own flavours.  Enjoy the results.

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