Recipes and Me

Monday, April 16, 2012

Balsamic Glaze – The Champion of Versatile Sauces


Balsamic glaze is hands down my pick for most versatile sauce.  Oh there’s a list, don’t worry, but right now, for me, a balsamic glaze (aka reduction) is really up there.  I was first exposed to balsamic glaze at a farmer’s market in California.  The market was enormous and had something for everyone, which translated to me wandering the market for hours, exploring every unique station.  There were fine baked breads and pastries, more charcuterie than one would know how to choose from, interesting cheeses, wine, and more.  There was one Italian vendor there selling fresh pastas, mozzarella, and a number of other Italian specialties.  One I noticed was balsamic glaze.  As the vendor explained to me the wonder of balsamic glaze and its simple creation, I was easily sold, shamefully so.  It’s surprising I didn't ask to purchase a case right then and there.  No, since I was traveling I just bought one bottle. But when I arrived back home and started using the glaze in the kitchen, I found nearly infinite uses for it.  And to this day I often find new dishes that are enhanced by the flavor of balsamic glaze.  Its thick syrupy consistency and concentrated, yet sweet, balsamic flavor goes well on everything from grilled meats, prosciutto, sharp tangy cheeses, ripe grilled peaches, and caprese salads with ripe garden tomatoes and bright green basil, to vanilla ice cream and sweet strawberries.  It’s a wonderful thing, made more wonderful by the fact that it only involves two ingredients, balsamic vinegar and a bit of sugar. 

Balsamic Glaze

2 cups balsamic vinegar (does not have to be expensive, just use one you really like)
2 tablespoons brown or granulated sugar

Pour vinegar and sugar in a small saucepan and bring it to a boil. Reduce to low heat and simmer the mixture 20-25 minutes until it has the consistency of syrup.  Do not try to speed things along by increasing the heat.  It seems to make the acids in the vinegar more potent and will give the syrup a somewhat bitter taste.  Just simmer it low and slow and keep an eye on it towards the end so you don’t risk burning it.  As it reduces significantly you may need to turn the heat even lower to make sure the vinegar doesn’t start boiling.  You should be able to coat the back of a spoon with the mixture.

Remove the saucepan from the heat and let the mixture cool for 5 minutes or so.  It will thicken as it cools.  Pour the mixture into a squeeze bottle and let it cool completely.  I find my balsamic glaze keeps in the fridge for a few months.  It probably can last longer but I’ve usually used it all up by then! When ready to use, just reheat it in a small saucepan of warm water.  It can also last on the shelf if you prefer, with a slightly shorter shelf life. 

*Believe it or not, this recipe can be made even simpler with the subtraction of the sugar.  Many traditional glazes are made without sugar as there is already a suitable content in the vinegar.  The addition of sugar, I find, helps the sauce to thicken to a nice consistency and balances the bite of the vinegar.  But if you want to be super traditional and want a bit more tang to your glaze, forget the added sugar and just reduce the vinegar on very low heat and for a longer period of time to concentrate the sugars already in the vinegar.  Be sure to watch it towards the end so it does not burn, not pretty.

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