Friday, February 24, 2012

The Easiest Balsamic Glaze


Many years ago, I discovered a magical product.  Trader Joe’s sold a small plastic (squeezable) bottle of something they called “balsamic glaze,” a thick and gooey and luscious nectarous substance that resembled chocolate syrup.  Once I got the hang of its various uses, I drizzled it over appetizers, salads, meats, and even desserts. 

Then the product disappeared.  (As a sidenote, I have to say I hate it when a store like Trader Joe’s, Cost Plus World Market, or Costco offers up some tantalizing new goodie only to snatch it away once you get addicted.)  I even asked Trader Joe’s employees about it.  Gone.  I was briefly devastated—and I do tend to get that way about food disappointments—but I decided that I could bounce back.  After all, my pantry always has a large bottle of a good balsamic vinegar.  Why not make my own?

These days, I see recipes for balsamic glaze everywhere.  But, honestly, it’s like being offered a recipe on how to boil water.  The process is so simple, and the end product so extraordinary, that I wondered why I ever bothered actually purchasing balsamic glaze (which probably included some not-so-great-for-you ingredients like corn syrup) rather than making my own.


Ingredient List:

Balsamic Vinegar.

Note: I would suggest a high quality vinegar which you can buy in a fairly large quantity, and that’s where places like Costco come in handy.  Their Kirkland label of balsamic vinegar is rich without being expensive, and the liter bottle makes you feel like you are not squandering too much if you have to sacrifice a 2/3 cup to make the glaze.  I would not recommend a really expensive aged balsamic vinegar.  For instance, Olivier’s 25-year Barrel-Aged Balsamic Vinegar, sold through Williams-Sonoma or directly from Olivier of Napa, is probably one of the most heavenly balsamic vinegars I have tasted.  You shouldn’t cook this down—and most people cannot afford to.

Anyway, see how streamlined that ingredient list is?  To make it a bit more challenging, I’ll suggest that it might be useful to have a non-reactive pan (to cook down the vinegar) and a small squeeze bottle (to pour the product into once it cools).  A spoon would help too.  But really, nothing else is needed.

Steps:


1.  Pour about 2/3 cup of the balsamic vinegar into the saucepan and turn the heat somewhere between medium and medium high to let the liquid come to a fairly rapid simmer.  Then step back from the vinegar fumes which will waft up to meet your nose.  If it is boiling too vigorously, reduce the heat. 

2.  Stir with a spoon occasionally to check the thickness of the cooking vinegar.  When you get to a point where the spoon (or sides of the pan) can get a thin caramel colored coating, you are almost done.  Your pan should look something like the picture below.


The whole process should take about 8 minutes once it comes to the rapid simmer.  The vinegar should look a little thinner than you think a glaze (think chocolate sauce) should look, but you don’t want to overcook it.

The vinegar will thicken (and harden!) as it cools.  If you wait until it looks like actual glaze or chocolate syrup, I guarantee you that it will become like hard candy once it cools.  Here is the same glaze after it has cooled down. 


3.  Carefully pour the cooled glaze into a squeeze bottle (using a funnel helps) where it will keep (unrefrigerated) for quite some time.  That’s it.

Possible Uses for Balsamic Glaze:

  • In the picture at the top of this post, I’ve drizzled the glaze over tomatoes, along with crumbled goat cheese (feta works as well) and basil.  You can also substitute it for regular balsamic vinegar over a Caprese salad of tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and basil. 
  • Take wedges of radicchio or halved Belgian endive, wrap prosciutto around them, and then coat lightly with olive oil.  Grill for a few minutes on all sides to wilt the radicchio and cook the prosciutto.  Squeeze on some balsamic glaze, sprinkle chiffonaded basil, and crumble some mild goat cheese.
  • Assemble a cheese platter and include some dried figs and/or dates.  Pools of balsamic glaze over and around the dried fruits make the cheese platter more special—and the acidity nicely cuts the creaminess of cheeses.  You can also dip strawberries or other fruits in the glaze.
  • Smear glaze over smoked pork chops and grill until the (pre-cooked) chops are warmed through and the glaze is nicely charred in some parts. 
  • Some restaurants also serve the glaze with garlicky crostini and sardines, making a special snack out of old-fashioned sardines. 


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