Q: While down Tauranga way some years ago, I purchased a few bottles of orange vinegar made with locally grown oranges. Strawberries have never tasted the same without first marinating them in this delicious liquid. The sweet/sour taste is amazing and I would love to be able to make my own. It is also a great pick-me-up on its own, a few sips is enough. I'm sure there are many uses for orange vinegar such as marinating fish. Can you help please? - Many thanks, Carrie
A: The thing with oranges, in fact all citrus fruit, is that the pith, the white fleshy bit between the segments and the rind/skin, is always bitter. Which is why most recipes tell you to finely grate or peel the skin, remove the white pith, and then slice the segments. However, sometimes having a little bitterness can also be quite tasty, and of course if the pith didn't exist, marmalade would have no body. So bearing that in mind, and knowing different orange varieties have differing degrees of bitterness, here are several ways to make the vinegar.
In the first, half-fill a sterilised 1 litre jar with orange peels and a heaped teaspoon of flaky salt. Make sure you've wiped the oranges well with a warm damp cloth before peeling them to ensure no unnecessary microbes get in. The half-filled jar should be well compacted - if you don't have enough orange in there you'll get less flavour. Pour on enough white vinegar - cider or white wine, and tightly seal the jar. If the lid is old and metal place a layer or two of plastic foodwrap on first as the vinegar can cause older metal to rust. Store the jar in a cool dark place and every few days shake it gently and take the lid off briefly to let out any gas, which should be either minimal or none at all. After two weeks the vinegar will have absorbed most of the flavour so then you need to strain it. Line a sieve with a damp double layer of muslin cloth (or Chux cloths) suspended over a deep pot or bowl. Pour the mixture into the sieve, but don't be tempted to squeeze or push the peels as that will make the vinegar cloudy. Pour into sterilised bottles and you're ready. If you don't have a lot of oranges to make this, then simply save the peels as you eat them and freeze them until you have enough.
Another version is more like a sweet and sour vinegar cordial. Peel two oranges, making sure not to include any pith, and reserve the peel. Then cut the skins and pith off these and another three, so five in total. You want no pith at all. Cut all the oranges thickly; place in two batches in a food processor with the reserved peels and blitz coarsely.
Tip into a non-reactive bowl and pour on 300ml white vinegar, as above. Mix well, cover tightly and leave in a cool place overnight. Pour the mixture into a sieve as described above - this could take up to two hours to completely drain through - you'll need to be patient. You'll have around 600ml liquid.
Place in a saucepan with 80g caster sugar per 300ml liquid. Slowly bring to a boil, then cook over a gentle boil to reduce the liquid to 500ml - it'll take about 12 minutes. Pour into sterilised bottles or jars and leave to cool for five minutes before sealing. Once cooled it's ready to use. You can also add a star anise, half a vanilla bean, some crushed allspice or peeled ginger when you cook it for another layer of flavour.