The word "vinegar" encompasses so many varieties, flavors, and uses, with so many cuisines under its belt, that you don't have to look far for ideas on how to use it. We have plenty of basic vinegar techniques for you, but today I'm talking to pro chefs on their abundant and sometimes far-out adoration for the sour stuff.
Most of the chefs below say they keep an arsenal of vinegars on hand for different uses—distilled white, red wine, white wine, balsamic, apple cider, and sherry, for starters—but many of them can be used interchangeably depending on the sauce, stew, soup, or salad in question. Read on below for black vinegar soup and sour jam cookie sandwiches.
Spanish Hot Sauce
Marcie Turney is one of Philadelphia's most prominent chefs, whose restaurants include Lolita, Barbuzzo, Jamonera, and Little Nona's. She also has a signature line of chocolates, Marcie Blaine Artisinal Chocolates, and was a 2014 James Beard "Outstanding Restaurateur" nominee.
When I was in in Andalucía, Spain, many bars would have a little bottle of this really full-of-vinegar-flavor hot sauce, so when I came back I decided to make a hot sauce to serve with our patatas bravas at Jamonera.
First we sauté onions and garlic with Spanish olive oil, and then deglaze with oloroso sherry. Then we add a bunch of chilies (stemmed and deseeded) and sherry vinegar, smoked pimentòn and herbs tied in bundles (so we can take them back out). At the end we strain everything, blend the chilies in a Vitamix until they're super smooth, strain out the skins, and then add that back into the sherry liquid, adjusting the salt to taste. Sherry vinegar already has a nutty sweetness with a more rounded sense on the palate, and it isn't as harsh as distilled or red wine vinegar. It's not super cheap to use it this way, but the sauce is really good.
Vinegar Jam Cookie Sandwich
Alex Guarnaschelli graduated from Barnard College before working with esteemed chefs Larry Forgione, Guy Savoy, and Daniel Boulud, amongst others. Since 2003 she's been the executive chef of Butter in New York, is a regular judge on Chopped, a hardcore Iron Chef, and a member of Les Dames D'Escoffier.
I like to put vinegar in jam and cocktails a lot. I often find when that I make a fruit crumble or cookie sandwich that has jam in it, I'll put a splash of vinegar and a pinch of salt in there, too. I don't love too much savory in desserts—it's just not my taste—so I think of vinegar as a way to amplify and brighten something sweet. I just want to turn the volume up from seven to 11, Spinal Tap style.
Chef Richard Capizzi comes from a traditional Italian family, and as pastry chef of New York's Lincoln Ristorante, his heritage serves him well. There he combines his family's knowledge of Italian sweets with classic pastry technique.
We use 24-year aged balsamic in my department—nothing but the best for pastry, though [chef] Jonathan [Benno] gets so upset when we take it! Balsamic vinegar aged for that long is just that good!
We came up with a strawberry balsamic caramel when we realized how many fruit trimmings we'd have in the summer after making sorbet or gelato. Take the trimmings and cook them down with the seeds, strain it, and then fold that and aged balsamic vinegar into a caramel. Or for one of Jonathan's favorite things (I have to give him credit for this), reduce down 24-year balsamic and fold it into gelato for gelato variegate. We served ours with a super-dense, rich chocolate cake.
Julian Medina is renowned in New York for the ways he teases Mexican and Latin flavors at his Toloache restaurants. Richard Sandoval met a young Medina in Mexico City years ago and, impressed with his energy and vision, invited him to relocate to New York to work in one of his restaurants. Medina quickly became his protégé, and it wasn't long before Medina started building an empire of his own. His latest opening is Tacuba in Astoria, Queens.
I have at least five kinds of vinegar always in use at home, and one of my favorites is sherry, which is floral, not as acidic, and a bit subtler overall than other vinegars. Add a touch to rich sauces or, especially, to salsas and pico de gallo. Take any fruit like mango or pineapple, and toss it in a hot pan with onions and cilantro. Then drizzle it with olive oil and sherry vinegar and you have a perfect salsa. People underestimate sherry vinegar— it's not used nearly enough.
Carla Pallotta is the chef and co-owner of Nebo Cucina & Enoteca in Boston's North End with her sister, Christine. Together, they focus on classic Italian recipes inspired by their mother, grandmother, and their travels home.
My father had a basement where everything was hung up to dry, and he jarred up a lot of food. We always had vinegar peppers in our basement in these big gallon jars. I love them, and they're so easy to make.
Wash fresh red peppers (hot or sweet) from the garden, wipe them down to make sure they're clean, clip the stems off, and then put them in a big jar, stuffing them down as tightly as you can—they're going to soften, so you get more in the jar than you expect. Add two tablespoons of salt and then cloves of garlic, sprigs of oregano, or whatever other herbs you like. Then fill the jar, half with water and half with white wine vinegar.
Make sure you've boiled the jars beforehand to sanitize them, and seal them tight, then store them in a cool, dark place and wait six weeks until the peppers have softened.
Hot and Sour Soup
Amanda Cohen has received numerous accolades for her vegetarian cooking at New York's Dirt Candy, including a glowing two-star review in the New York Times, a Michelin Bib Gourmand nod, and a Top 10 best vegetarian restaurant in America award from Food & Wine. Cohen is also author of the award-winning Dirt Candy: A Cookbook.
We make a hot and sour soup, and one of the main ingredient is black Chinese vinegar. It's DELICIOUS, and my favorite vinegar right now. It's salty on its own, with this deep, dark, mysterious caramel flavor, one of the funkiest vinegars I've ever had. We use the black vinegar when we start cooking the soup, and then finish it when we go to serve.
We're often taught to use vinegar at the end of a dish because you can lose the flavor completely if you add it at the beginning. But cooking the vinegar retains its sour flavor while losing the mouth-puckering feeling, and then you can add a splash at the end for good measure. We do the same with lemon and garlic, adding them both at the beginning and again at the end, so you get a whole range of garlic or acid flavor and then a little punch at the finish. It's about balance.
Mehdi Brunet-Benkritly grew up in French-speaking Quebec, where he would later work at renowned Montreal restaurants including Toqué and Au Pied de Cochon. Brunet-Benkritly now serves as the executive chef/partner at Fedora and the recently opened Bar Sardine in New York City.
The flavor of salad dressings can be kind of loose, so concentrate your vinegar first and then make your vinaigrette. Simmer down two cups of vinegar (I love sherry) with a tablespoon of honey until it's reduced by half.
Or reduce maple syrup with rice vinegar to glaze salmon, pork chops, or a roast. Since maple syrup alone is very sweet, cut it with vinegar and add some coriander seeds and thyme, and then reduce it to concentrate the flavors. You get the caramelized flavor on your protein without overcooking the meat.
James "Mac" Moran is the executive chef and partner of the Rusty Mackerel in New York's Washington Heights, where he's turning out bright, seasonal food and working on fostering community and food sustainability in his urban neighborhood.
I love vinegar cocktails, a.k.a shrubs. Make a fruit-infused vinegar by mashing fruit (kumquats are awesome for this) in the bottom of a container, and then cover them with white vinegar and seal them tight. A week later, strain off the fruit and you'll have a really pungent, astringent vinegar.
Then make a simple syrup with equal parts of that fruit-vinegar and sugar and toss it with gin for your shrub. Try peaches and cherries, too. If you make a fruit mash or purée for sangria, save the rest and pour vinegar over them, and they'll preserve perfectly, leaving you with a second awesome cocktail base.
This post may contain links to Amazon or other partners; your purchases via these links can benefit Serious Eats. Read more about our affiliate linking policy.