Vinegar is one of the oldest fermented liquids known to man.
It has been used for thousands of years to flavour food, as a preservative and a medicine.
Like wine, vinegar varieties range from the ordinary and inexpensive to the exotic and pricey.
Among some of the most interesting are:
I used to make my own by crushing raspberries and steeping them in white vinegar. But no longer, because I've discovered Prenzel's combo, made from cabernet sauvignon vinegar that has barrel fermented for five years and infused with raspberries.
The mellow vinegar is good enough to slurp on its own but is also excellent drizzled over strawberries and ice cream, and in dressings and savoury sauces.
A gift from Modena in Italy and the most expensive vinegar of all.
Deep brown in colour it has a smooth, mellow taste with barely a hint of sharpness.
True balsamic is made from the Trebbiano grape and aged in wooden casks for between five and fifty years.
Drizzle over veges for an easy and low-calorie dressing.
Or make a glaze by combining equal amounts of balsamic vinegar and brown sugar.
Stir and simmer until it thickens. The sweet/sour glaze is great drizzled over crisp salad vegetables or dessert berries.
Okay, so this vinegar brewed from malted barley has been in Kiwi pantries for generations but definitely still has a place in pickles and chutneys as it provides great background flavour.
My grandmother sprinkled it over fish n' chips but I love it in a dip for chips or chicken. Combine a half-cup of mayo, a quarter-cup of each of malt vinegar and sour cream, two teaspoons of Dijon-style mustard and a clove of crushed garlic.
Japanese rice vinegar
Su is produced in a number of strengths but all are still milder than most Western vinegars. Lightness and relative sweetness are characteristics. Su flavours sushi as well as soups, dressings, sweet-and-sour and fish dishes. I love raw oysters dipped in Su.
BALSAMIC ONION MARMALADE
1/4 cup olive oil
3 cups finely sliced onions
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1 cup red wine
5 tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp mustard seeds
1/2 tsp each: salt, white pepper
Heat the oil on low in a heavy saucepan. Add the onions and saute until cooked but not browned.
Add the vinegar, red wine, sugar, mustard seeds, salt and pepper. Simmer for five minutes.
Cook over low heat until it thickens like a marmalade. Be careful the jam does not stick and burn on the base.
Cool then cover and refrigerate. Can be stored for up to one week.
Makes about one cup.
FISH & BACON WRAP WITH RICE VINEGAR DRIZZLE
2 skinned and boned, thick white fish fillets
2-3 rashers streaky bacon
freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup each: rice vinegar, light sour cream
Form the fillets into neat shapes. Starting at one end, wrap each fillet in bacon. Secure with toothpicks and season with oregano and black pepper.
Heat the oil in a non-stick frying pan. Pan-fry the fillets for about 5-8 minutes, depending on the thickness.
Remove to a warm plate, cover and keep warm. Deglaze pan with rice vinegar. Stir in the sour cream, heat and drizzle over fish. Serves 2
CHICKEN WITH RASPBERRY VINEGAR SAUCE
2 large or 4 small skinned and boned chicken breasts
1/4 cup raspberry vinegar
3 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp Dijon-style mustard
1 small spring onion, diced
freshly ground black pepper
1 cup frozen raspberries
Honey or sugar to sweeten, if required
1 tsp cornflour
2 tbsp water
Cut breasts in half lengthwise and put in a plastic bag. Whisk the vinegar, two tablespoons of the olive oil, mustard, spring onion and pepper until well combined. Pour over the chicken. Move it around until well coated. Refrigerate for at least one hour.
Preheat the oven to 180C.
Heat the remaining oil in a small heavy frying pan. Pat the chicken dry. Pan-fry for about two minutes on each side, until lightly coloured. Place in a small oven dish. Cover and place in the oven for five minutes.
Meanwhile, add the marinade to the pan and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat. Add the raspberries and heat through. Sweeten if required.
Thicken, if preferred, with the cornflour mixed to a paste with the water. Heat gently until thick. Slice each chicken breast into four or five pieces. Arrange on serving plates.Top with the raspberry sauce. Serves 4
TAMARILLO, APPLE AND BANANA CHUTNEY
2.5kg red tamarillos, peeled and chopped
500g each: onions, cooking apples
1 cup chopped pitted dates
1 large banana, diced
4 cups brown sugar
3 cups malt vinegar
1 tsp each: mixed spice, curry powder, chilli powder
1/2 tsp salt
Put the tamarillos in a saucepan with the other ingredients. Stir well and bring to the boil. Simmer on very low heat - remembering to stir often - for one to one and a half hours, or until thick. Cool before storing in sterilised jars and sealing. This makes about 8 cups.