Homemade vinegar

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Vinegar is one of the most important and underrated store-cupboard ingredients. It has the ability to totally transform your cooking, so use it with confidence and authority. That contrast of rich and fatty flavours with vinegar and pickles is amazing. That’s why having pickles in a kebab, and vinegary mint sauce with lamb, is so good. Vinegar is also a wonderful stomach settler, and helps you digest rich foods. Give it a go. Make your own vinegar. There are two main, easy ways you can have a go at making your own vinegar. To start off with, you need a bacteria called a vinegar ‘mother’ to essentially spoil wine and turn it into acidic vinegar. These spores are floating around in the atmosphere invisibly all the time.

So, to start off your vinegar-making, leave a couple of half-empty bottles of any vinegar with the lids off in a dark cupboard at 60 to 80°F. After a couple of weeks the vinegar will go a bit cloudy, there’ll be some sediment at the bottom and there’ll be a kinda skin floating around. It sounds gross, but this is good news — it’s the ‘mother’. One important thing to remember is that you must never touch the ‘mother’ with metal, as the resulting chemical reaction will kill the culture, so be careful!

Homemade vinegar

Now you’ve got two choices — you can either start adding your wine dregs to these vinegar bottles, or you can decant them into a large earthenware jar with a plate as a lid, or a vinegar crock with a cork and a tap (buy online or from junk shops). Simply add the vinegar ‘mother’ and the dregs of your wine, and to be honest, after a couple of weeks, I use the vinegar whenever I want, topping it up whenever I’ve got any wine dregs. Every time you’re cooking, give it a shake to put oxygen through the vinegar. If you want to keep it to just white or red wine vinegar, keep them separate in that way, but personally I just have one house vinegar, which works a treat.

The second way to make the wine ‘mother’, which is simple and fun, is to mix your wine dregs together until you’ve just over half-filled a wine bottle, pop the cork in, and wrap it in cling film and a tea towel. Keep it in the boot of your car and let it roll around for a month of regular driving — this seems to agitate it well, and encourages it to form its own ‘mother’.

homemade vinegar 1

Making flavoured vinegars to use in cooking is also a great thing to do. They’re dead easy, will add incredible flavour to dressings, are brilliant drizzled over meats or added to stews or chillies, and of course vinegars work really well for preserving, pickling and chutneys. Simply decant your vinegar into a nice bottle, add your chosen flavourings, then seal, label and pop on the shelf. Mixed fresh herbs, berries, chillies, toasted spices like cinnamon, allspice and mustard seeds with peppercorns and strips of citrus zest all work a treat.

from ‘Save with Jamie’ by Jamie Oliver