Saturday, September 11, 2010

My Culinary Secret Weapon

And now for something completely different.  I like to cook almost as much as I like to eat.  However, I am not much for following cook books.  I prefer to raid the pantry, make a mess, and give it a go sans recipe.  More often than not, it works.  My wife and I are usually pleasantly surprised, but also disappointed, because I usually cannot reproduce my accidental success.

One of the things I have learned from my chaotic culinary creations is the ability to mix and match flavors.  I have a better understanding of what goes well together as well as a gift to know what flavor is missing from a dish after a taste.  More often than not, proper seasoning is enough to bring out the best in the most bland of bites .  However, for the especially flat flavors (I promise, I will not try to cram any more alliteration into this post), I have a secret weapon.  Vinegar.  It comes in many colors, flavors and sizes, but generally speaking, the acidic punch of vinegar will brighten the flavor and bring the dish to a  whole new level.

No, I am not saying it goes with everything.  However, having a well stocked pantry with a variety of vinegars (no alliteration intended, it just sounds better this way) will help you prepare for any situation.  My personal favorite is rice wine vinegar, due to its sweet flavor and milder punch.  Rice wine vinegar blends well with other flavors and enhances not only the brightness but also the sweetness of a sauce or dish.   However, I always keep some balsamic, red wine, infused and salad vinegars on hand as they each have their own unique properties. They can vary greatly in acidity, so know your vinegar before you go adding it to any dish.  My personal favorite uses include:

  • A dash of red wine vinegar to frozen green beans for a no hassle side
  • A drizzle of balsamic in some dipping oil and Parmesan cheese to go with some bread
  • Infused balsamic with a complimentary infused oil for an easy whole made salad dressing
  • Your choice of vinegar with a variety of spices for an easy marinade
  • White vinegar with jalapeños and onions for a nice taco topper
  • Rice wine vinegar and soy sauce for the perfect Asian dipping sauce
Obviously my list is not all inclusive, but I hope it is at least enough to convince you that vinegar deserves a place in your kitchen. The next time your cooking tastes a bit dull, try it and you will not be sorry.  As with many flavor enhancers, the goal is not to taste the vinegar in a dish, but to use it to taste other ingredients better.  A little can go a long way.  Happy cooking my friends.


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