Pucker up, food lovers: we’re rediscovering our taste for tart. Since fermented foods are now recognised as being not only delicious but also good for the gut, vinegar has enjoyed a resurgence, emerging more flavourful and versatile than ever. Long relegated in Britain to being doused on fish and chips (dear old malt) or splashed in salad dressing (red or white wine, or balsamic), the condiment is now a feature ingredient in its own right. Chefs are making vinegars from scratch, infused with fruit, flowers and herbs, or, more bizarrely, wood ant and burnt toast. And for home cooks, supermarkets and specialist food shops now stock vinegars made from vintage grapes or perfumed with petals, and craft versions matured in oak barrels. Online food retailer Sous Chef reports a 23 per cent increase in sales of speciality vinegars in the past year, with balsamic growing by a whopping 75 per cent. Waitrose stocks 38 different varieties of the sharp stuff. The word “vinegar” comes from the Latin for “sour wine”; Roman legions valued its sharpness as a thirst quencher and drank it with water. Vinegar is sour because it is diluted acetic acid, created by the natural fermentation of wine or other forms of alcohol. This makes it a good preservative; the microorganisms that destroy food cannot survive in such an acidic environment. So, if you embalm ripe fruit, vegetables or herbs in vinegar, you freeze-frame the produce at its peak and imbue the vinegar with its flavour. Pasteurised or distilled vinegar has been heated to kill all the bacteria, but “live” varieties contain “the mother” – the cloud of live organisms that are good for gut health. Jars of different vinegars at Scully restaurant in east London For centuries, British cooks made good use of vinegar (think mushroom ketchup and piccalilli), according to food historian Angela Clutton, author of the forthcoming book The Vinegar Cupboard (Absolute Press, Feb 2019). So why did it fall out of favour? “Because it wasn’t very good,” Clutton admits. “We lost our craftsmen vinegar producers. Machine-made took over for speed and cost, so most of what was available was just not that great.” In the basement kitchen of Scully restaurant in London, chef-proprietor Ramael Scully has buckets of vinegars burbling away. In the restaurant, gleaming jars fill the shelves, made with tayberries, kumquats, blackberry leaves, gooseberries and more. There’s burnt toast vinegar on the go, made from charred sourdough and cider vinegar. What will he use this for? “I’ve no idea! That’s the exciting thing,” he says. But it will eventually add sparkle to one of his dishes. “I believe anything rich needs a bit of acidity,” Scully says. “Vinegar brings balance.” At Carters of Moseley in Birmingham, Brad Carter’s cooking is firmly anchored in British-grown ingredients, so lemons are out and vinegar is vital to brighten and add flavour. He anoints fresh rhubarb with rhubarb vinegar, the sour notes teasing out hidden sweetness, and brushes roasted meat with a vinegar paste to snip through the richness. “Every dish should have an element of acidity – that’s what elevates it,” Carter says. Great vinegars Vinegar features on the best drinks menus, too. Kate Hawkings, author of Aperitif (Quadrille, £16.99), says shrubs are the perfect antidote to sweet cocktails. “The sourness makes them more appetising, more grown up,” she says. Hawkings runs Bellita bar and restaurant in Bristol, where she serves shrubs – strawberry and black pepper, say, or pineapple and kaffir lime leaf – with a splash of soda, or spirits. “They cut the alcohol nicely,” she says. Thom Eagle, head chef and fermenter at The Picklery in east London, thinks the popularity of vinegar is a sign that British palates are finally learning to appreciate a sour element in food. “Mediterranean chefs add a squeeze of fresh lemon, and in far-eastern cooking there’s a tradition of balancing sweet and sour,” he says. “Here, people are only just realising that adding a dash of vinegar at the end of cooking is a way to round out the seasoning.” He suggests adding a splash of good vinegar at the start of cooking and finishing with a dash of a more complex vinegar, such as a sherry or red wine version. “It allows different aspects of the flavour to come through,” Eagle says. So next time your dinner tastes like it’s missing something, reach for the vinegar, not the salt: a dash of sour might be just what it needs. Ramael Scully’s crispy salt and vinegar potatoes with lime and cardamom yogurt SERVES Four INGREDIENTS 500g Maris Pipers, lightly scrubbed with skin left on 100ml white wine vinegar, plus 1 tbsp 200g Greek yogurt 1 tbsp olive oil Zest of 1 lime and juice of ½ 2 tsp ground cardamom 300g masa harina, plus a little extra for dusting 100g cornflour 700-800ml soda water 1 litre vegetable oil, for frying Grated lime zest, to serve METHOD Slice the potatoes into 1cm-thick medallions. Add to a medium-sized saucepan and cover with water. Add 100ml vinegar and a teaspoon of salt. Bring to boil, turn heat down and simmer for 10- 25 minutes, until al dente. Mix together the yogurt, olive oil, lime zest and juice, cardamom and some salt and pepper to create a thick paste. Leave paste in the fridge until needed. To make the batter, mix together the masa harina, cornflour and a teaspoon of salt. Make a well in the middle and add the soda water and tablespoon of vinegar. Mix to a very thick batter. Place in the fridge. Drain the potatoes gently and spread on a baking tray lined with a dry J-cloth. Preheat the vegetable oil to 180C in a large saucepan or frying pan. Cook the potatoes in batches, coating them first in a layer of masa harina, then dip into the batter, then submerge in the oil. Fry to golden brown (any longer and the batter will turn bitter). Remove with a slotted spoon, dry on kitchen paper and serve sprinkled with salt and lime zest, to dip in the yogurt.
Source: Yahoo! News