Today’s Tasting is more of a technique than a recipe, but reduced balsamic is something that I’m constantly incorporating into my recipes and a lot of you guys have left comments with questions about how to make your own. Reduced balsamic is probably tied with Maldon salt as my favorite way to “finish” a dish, and it’s a total pantry staple at our house. I think I’d always considered a “balsamic reduction” to be one of those fancy restaurant buzzwords, but when I went to culinary bootcamp at the CIA in Napa a few years ago, my chef-instructor showed us how you can easily reduce balsamic vinegar down and store it in the pantry to always have on hand. I keep mine in a squeeze bottle so that I can easily add a pretty flourish to salads or meats right before they go on the table. Keep reading for incredibly the simple technique, as well as a few of my favorite ways to use it.
It all starts with a good-quality balsamic vinegar. It doesn’t need to be the most expensive one at the grocery, but it probably shouldn’t be the cheapest one either, since the flavors in it will end up being highly concentrated. Pour the vinegar into a nonreactive metal pan — you’ll want to pour double the amount that you’d like to have as your final yield (meaning 2 cups of vinegar gets reduced down to about 1 cup.) Place the pan on medium-high heat and let it come to a boil, then reduce heat to low and let simmer for 25 – 30 minutes, until a spoon dipped into the vinegar gets lightly coated with a syrupy consistency. When it’s almost as thick as honey, pull it off the heat — and remember, the reduction will thicken a bit more as it cools.
That’s really it! After the balsamic reduction has completely cooled, I transfer it to a plastic squeeze bottle and keep in my pantry for up to two months. The main problem areas you might encounter when making this are (1) not letting the balsamic get thick enough and (2) overcooking it and letting it thicken too much so that it’s difficult to drizzle. If the balsamic doesn’t thicken enough, simply put the pan back onto the stove and let it simmer down a bit more, watching very closely to make sure it doesn’t burn. If the reduction gets a little too reduced (ie, it drips out of your bottle in little clumps instead of a nice even drizzle), warm the vinegar by placing your squeeze bottle into a glass of hot water for about 10 minutes, letting the consistency of the vinegar get a little more runny. Then add a little hot water, a tiny bit at a time, and shake the bottle as hard as you can to fully combine with the vinegar. It should thin down to the right consistency.
So what did I do with mine on this particular day? I took a bit of an unexpected route by pairing it with a sweet dish, pouring a generous amount over vanilla ice cream and fresh figs. Balsamic has such a complex flavor profile that its sweetness brings out the best in salty dishes as well as perfectly complementing sweeter flavors like fruit. Try it – total flavor adventure in your mouth.
Looking for other great ways to use reduced balsamic? Here are my faves:
The ultimate caprese. Arrange fresh summer tomatoes and thick slices of fresh mozzarella on a plate, drizzle on lots of reduced balsamic and a little olive oil, then sprinkle hand-torn basil leaves and Maldon salt over the top for the ultimate caprese salad.
Finishing drizzle on meats. Its sweetness is soooo good on grilled steak or chicken.
Salad dressing. A salad with delicate greens, like mesclun or arugula, is so delish with just a bit of maldon salt and pepper and a drizzle of reduced balsamic that won’t wilt the greens like a heavier dressing would.
With berries. Strawberries and balsamic vinegar are a natural pairing, and it’s a great little dinner party trick to pull out that will surprise your guests, in a good way.
On a cheese plate. Can’t think of a more perfect combo than a thin slice of baguette topped with a schmear of creamy goat cheese, a sprinkle of walnuts and a drizzle of balsamic.
*photos by Camille