Which are the best vinegars to improve my cooking?

Anna Berrill

I have several varieties of vinegar in my cupboard, but apart from salad dressings and fish and chips, they remain virtually untouched. What other dishes can I enhance with it?
Jill, Church Stretton, Shropshire

To find the right vinegar for the job – and I’m assuming we’re talking wine, malt, cider, balsamic, perhaps sherry here – let’s consult an authority. “I use vinegar in almost everything,” says Angela Clutton, author of The Vinegar Cupboard. A good place to start is roast veg (beetroot, carrots, courgettes, tomatoes), because they’re a friend to so many. “Adding a little sherry, cider, wine or malt vinegar at the start or end [of roasting] makes those vegetables taste the best possible version of themselves,” she says, because vinegar “enhances the flavours and unites them”.

Vinegar is equally at home with roast fruits. “This is the place for wine and cider vinegar, maybe sherry, but go light,” says Clutton. “The sweetness of the pears, peaches or whatever you’re using is going to enjoy that hit of acidity.” If you have a bottle of fruit vinegar (raspberry, blackcurrant) handy, Andy Harris of online vinegar emporium Vinegar Shed recommends drizzling it over fruit salads, compotes and ice-cream. But don’t let it get old, he warns: “Fruit vinegar shouldn’t be kept in the cupboard half-used, because it will lose its potency and flavour.”

When it comes to sherry vinegar, Harris says, it’s a “necessity in gazpachos, with grilled meats and bean dishes, as well as in all kinds of dressings”. He reserves good-quality red-wine vinegar for adding depth to stews, ragus and roast meats – “I always splash a bit over a roast chicken in the oven” – and white-wine vinegar for seafood salad dressings or deglazing the pan when cooking fish. Alternatively, use in butter-based sauces, chutneys or for pickling veg.

You could also get in a quick pickle (sliced cucumber, radish, courgettes) with cider vinegar. “It’s light-ish in terms of acidity and it’s not over-weighty in flavour,” explains Clutton, who also uses it in marinades for fish fillets or pork chops. “Add garlic that has been pestled down, grated fresh ginger, maybe some spicing, and let your chop or piece of fish sit in that and the flavours develop.”

While malt vinegar is, of course, a very good thing for fish and chips, it also cheers up ragus and casseroles. Cook your onions and, once soft, add a good slug of the stuff: “It will be absorbed by the onions as they cook down and will imbue everything else with that depth of flavour.” It wouldn’t go amiss in a shepherd’s pie filling, either: Clutton adds a splash while her mince is browning. “That’s going to make the base heaven.”

Finally, balsamic vinegar, where a little goes a long way. Be like Harris, who drizzles it over pears, hard cheese and charcuterie, or use it as a finishing touch to watercress, celery or pumpkin soup. “It’s nice in a potentially retro way, but it gets your palate ready for the soup,” Clutton says. Then there’s roast sausages. “You’ve already got your oil on there, so add a little balsamic and you’ll end up with this wonderfully flavoured dressing to serve alongside.” A true, ahem, banger.

Courtesy: theguardian