Good cooks understand the importance of acid in cooking, how it adds brightness and balance and can make flavors 'pop.' Sometimes all it takes is a simple squeeze of lemon or a splash of vinegar to move a dish from pretty good to spectacular, so having a few great vinegars on hand is an essential pantry item. This recipe for maple vinegar, made with four simple ingredients, produces a unique, nuanced vinegar that will work drizzled on everything from roasted butternut squash to ice cream. Seriously good stuff.
DIY holiday gift makers take note: you may want to start this one soon!
First, let's just say it: a recipe from Popular Science Magazine? Really? Yes! There's a lot of science in cooking and especially in the fermentation process, so the scientific POV is really appreciated here. The authors of this recipe, Aki Kamozawa and H. Alexander Talbot, are the couple behind Ideas in Food, a wonderful website and cookbook that explores the whys as much as the hows when it comes to cooking. So we're in good hands here.
The recipe consists of just four ingredients: maple syrup, dark rum, 'live' vinegar, and water which you simply mix up, put into a jar, cover with cheese cloth and store in a dark place. This whole process takes about one minute, maybe two. Where you have to be patient is in the next stage, when the bacteria acetobacter aceti converts the alcohol (from the rum and from the maple syrup's sugars) into vinegar. The water is there to keep the alcohol level low enough for this to work.
After about a month in the back of a dark cupboard, it's time to taste the vinegar and see where it's at. There should be no smell or taste of alcohol at this point. (You can also purchase testing kits from a home brew store to determine if you're vinegar is done fermenting.) The vinegar is then strained (to remove the 'mother') and decanted into an airtight container where it enters its final stage: aging. Kamozawa and Talbot recommend six months to deepen and mellow the flavor.
The first time I made this vinegar, I reduced the recipe by 75%, as it calls for some expensive ingredients (about 1-1/2 cups of rum and 4 cups of maple syrup for the full recipe) and I wanted to be sure before I invested. The resulting small batch was so delicious that I made a larger batch over this past weekend. Although it will need further aging, I plan on giving most of it away as holiday gifts.
Maple vinegar is an amazing elixir, characterized by a buttery, caramel flavor, and a nice, tangy finish. It's similar to a good balsamic, in that the sweet and acid notes are robust and well-balanced. Kamozawa and Talbot recommend brushing it on squash roasted with butter and cayenne or spooning it over a runny brie and serving it with crisp apple slices. It's also delicious drizzled on a fig/arugula pizza and over a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
Get the Recipe: Maple Vinegar from Popular Science
Related: Pickles, Preserves & Brews: 9 DIY Fermentation Recipes
(Image: Dana Velden)