We've discussed how your can use your leftover bottles of red and white wine to make delicious homemade wine vinegars. If you've already tried this, you know that homemade vinegars are infinitely better than anything you can buy at the store. They make better vinaigrettes and sauces, and are just plain tastier. Homemade vinegar is easy to make and very economical. But if you're ambitious, you don't have to stop there! Try using your homemade wine vinegar to make flavored vinegars that are out-of-this-world delicious.
Flavored vinegars have really become popular in the last few years. They are simply bottled vinegars that fresh herbs and spices have been allowed to steep in. The vinegar, given time, really draws out the taste of the flavorings, and takes on a whole new level of flavor and complexity. Flavored vinegars can be used in place of regular vinegar to any recipe, adding a special zip of flavor. For example, instead of a plain vinaigrette on your salad, why not try something like an orange-basil white wine vinaigrette or a red wine raspberry vinaigrette? Flavored vinegars are good, but flavored vinegars made using homemade wine vinegars are incredibly delicious.
The process is a little time consuming, but simple. Think of making flavored vinegars as similar to canning. The more important (and boring) step is ensuring that the containers you're using are totally free of bacteria before you close them up. Even the tiniest bit will ruin the batch, so you have to be very careful. You'll want to disinfect your containers right before you bottle your vinegars, to minimize the chance they'll be exposed to something nasty. First, wash all the containers you're going to use, along with their lids (good options are canning jars, screw-capped bottles, and corked bottles with brand-new corks). Next, immerse them in boiling water for at least 10 minutes. While this is happening, bring your vinegar to a boil in a separate pot.
At this point, you should have already laid out the herbs and spices you want to use. You can use basically any kind of herb or spice in vinegar, so get creative! Herbs can be used whole, which makes for a pretty presentation. Garlic makes a great addition to almost any vinegar--just peel the cloves and drop them in whole. To get you started, here are some herbs and spices that make great vinegars:
lemon or orange zest (cut into long strips for the best presentation)
You can make a vinegar with just one addition, such as spicy chili vinegar, or a combination, such as rosemary garlic vinegar. If you've made both red and white wine vinegars, you have a choice on which to use. Use white wine vinegar for subtler flavors like citrus and the delicate herbs like basil, and red wine vinegar for the heartier flavors like peppercorns and rosemary. Play to your tastes and get creative! Add the herbs and spices you want to use to the bottle first, then, using a funnel, carefully pour in the hot vinegar. Seal the container (for an extra fancy touch, pour melted wax over the top), and let the vinegars steep in a cool dark place for at least three weeks to let the vinegar really take on the flavors of the herbs.
These vinegars are so fun and personal (and tasty) that they make incredible gifts. Store-bought gourmet flavored vinegars be very costly. But they are simple to make at home, and very inexpensive. If you're giving vinegars as presents, leave herbs whole for the best effect, and put a pretty tag on the bottle with the name of the vinegar. One bottle of your homemade flavored vinegar makes a great gift for a dinner party host. A small basket of a few choice vinegars makes an incredible Christmas gift. But consider yourself warned--homemade flavored wine vinegars are so delicious that you might not want to give them away!