Infused vinegars were all the rage at last week's Fancy Food Show in New York City. But why buy chile-infused products, when it's just as easy to make them at home and control how much heat you want from the chiles? Take the smokiness from anchos, the fire of Thai chiles or the sweetness from red bell peppers. Other spices or seasonings can be added as you please, and the overall price will be considerably less.
And why stop with just vinegar? Infuse oil, honey or alcohol too.
Here are the basics for chile infusions.
How to Make Chile-Infused Vinegar
1. Place a variety of halved dried or fresh chiles into a glass jar.
2. Take your pick of vinegars to use: white, rice wine, cider, white wine or red wine. Fill jar with vinegar until chiles are submerged.
3. Seal, and allow the flavors to blend for one week.
Uses: Whisk with oil and use for salad dressings; use chile-infused vinegar in place of regular vinegar for pickling vegetables; or add a splash to pulled pork for a Carolina feel.
How to Make Chile-Infused Honey
1. Place a variety of dried chiles, or one specific types, into a glass jar.
2. Place honey in a saucepan and warm over medium-heat until the honey is liquefied or until candy thermometer reaches 180º F. Keep a careful eye on the honey, so it does not scorch.
3. Pour honey into the jar over the chiles. Cool to room temperature. Keep at room temperature.
Uses: Drizzle the chile-infused honey over yogurt or ice creams; mix with softened butter to spread onto biscuits and rolls; or glaze onto grilled fruits.
How to Make Chile-Infused Oils
1. In a sauté pan, combine a neutral-flavored oil like canola with a handful of chopped dried chiles.
2. Warm over medium-high heat just until the chiles begin to sizzle, about 1 to 2 minutes. (Other seasonings or spices like garlic, ginger or peppercorns can also be added at this stage.)
3. Let the oil cool completely before transferring to glass containers.
4. Allow the chiles and oil to infuse for a few days. If desired, strain oil of the chiles and chile seeds before using.
Uses: Marinate meat or tofu; as a dipping sauce or condiment. Basically, use in most recipes in place of oil where a spicy kick is preferred.
Have you found success with a certain type of chile infusion?
About the author: Andrea Lynn is senior editor for Chile Pepper magazine, where she not only creates a wide range of zesty recipes for readers, but also participates in numerous tastings for hot sauce, salsa, and other spice-laden products (even chocolate!). Her favorite chile? A tie between the mild yet flavorful poblano and the mighty, reliable fire of the serrano.