Instructables

Reduced balsamic vinegar

Reduction changes cheap balsamic vinegar into a richly-flavored syrup.
 
 
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Step 1: Acquire ingredients

After tasting a friend's heirloom-quality balsamic vinegar our regular balsamic made us sad, though not sad enough to justify a $100 tiny bottle of vinegar. Reduction is a much cheaper route to a flavor that's at least reminiscent of the good stuff.

True balsamic vinegar tradizionale is made from cooked grape juice slowly aged in a variety of wooden casks for a minimum of 12 years, developing an intense and complex set of flavors and slowly evaporating excess water. The longer the aging the better the resulting vinegar.

The balsamic you and I can afford is actually sweetened wine vinegar combined with caramel color. A good version of the inexpensive stuff is sweetened with reduced grape must (whole juice), and will have 3 ingredients on the label. A bad version will have a longer label list, probably including nasties like high fructose corn syrup. Read the label carefully. We used Trader Joe's balsamic, which is a reasonable balsamic of the three-ingredient variety.

So, you will need:
1 bottle balsamic vinegar
1 heavy-bottomed pot
1 stirring implement
some free time

Step 2: Cook over low heat

Dump the entire bottle of balsamic into the pot, and turn the stove on low.

You don't want to simmer the vinegar, so if you see bubbles turn it down. What you really want to do is VERY SLOWLY evaporate excess water to concentrate the flavors, so expect that this will go on for an hour or two depending on your volume.

Check and stir periodically. Keep an eye on the level in the pot for an idea of how far your liquid has reduced. As the thermal mass decreases with volume, you'll likely need to lower the heat even further as the vinegar reduces.

Vent your kitchen to avoid filling it with lingering vinegar fumes.

Step 3: Decant, save, and use

When you're satisfied with the level of reduction you've inflicted on the vinegar, take it off the heat to cool. Measure your final volume to verify your concentration factor, then pour it into a glass jar. Usually the one you got it from is fine; this works especially well if you're reducing multiple bottles at once.

We started with 1L of vinegar and ended up with 250mL for a 4x concentration. This turns out to be a pretty good concentration for drizzling over food, but is too syrupy to be mistaken for straight vinegar. A 2x concentration would probably work better if you prefer to maintain a less syrupy texture.

Immediately after cooking there we found a slight bitterness to the vinegar reduction, but this disappeared after a couple of days storage. I'd recommend letting the flavors mingle for a week before using your reduction.

Uses:
So far we've drizzled the 4x reduction over apples, omelettes, salads, tomatoes, roasted vegetables, and meats; it's multi-purpose. Try it on virtually anything.
lslone6 months ago

I did this almost exactly as directed but I did add a little sugar for a little extra sweetness. Thanks!

tskinner3 years ago
ok I'm going to give it a try, hope it works for me.
prozach3 years ago
I noticed in the pictures that it looks like you are using an aluminum pan.
(maybe, its an allclad which are mostly stainless, but its hard to tell and its not mentioned in the article)

One tip on this particular type of reduction is to use a "non-reactive" pan such as Stainless Steel, Enameled cast iron(assuming no chips as iron would be reactive), or glass.

Since vinegar is an acid, it can dissolve some of the metal in aluminum and copper pans which would result in a metallic taste as well as being a potential health issue as ingesting copper and aluminum aren't great for a body.

Thanks for an otherwise Awesome instructable.
Subvert6 years ago
The balsamic vinegar that you and I can buy will NOT have caramel color in it (and especially no high fructose corn syrup), but also won't be the excessively expensive stuff. I usually buy the least expensive stuff that doesn't have any of the nasties, and it works great. Any of the warehouse vinegars (like costco, etc) will probably be just fine.

There are a ton of different variants on a balsamic reduction. You can melt one pat of butter at a time after reduction (maybe three pats or so) to give it a smoother texture. Also most of the reductions I've seen use some kind of sweetener to mellow out the vinegar-iness, but this is really a balancing act because you can make it too sweet. So brown sugar or sugar, or molasses. Maybe honey or agave? there are plenty of fruit/vinegar reductions too, but if you used actual fruit, you'd need to strain out the solids.

Some reductions even use a chopped onion that is squished after reduction for all the vinegary-oniony goodness (again, strain out the solids).

Another variant includes beef and/or chicken stock with the vinegar to reduce, although I only just read about that one. It seems reasonably common and sound interesting.

You can do a red wine vinegar reduction, and I'll be trying that one soon.

Lastly, if you're familiar with using the fond to make a sauce from whatever you're cooking on the stove for your meal, you can use a reduction to deglaze the pan and make a great pan sauce for the main dish. I'm thinking you could prep a partially reduced reduction, and just do the last bit of reduction with the fond to make it all one mass of goodness.

I just wish there was a unique way to do the reduction process to more easily contain or vent the fumes. I'm pretty tolerant of them, but one time I made one at a friend's house and made the whole house smell like vinegar. It was great. lol.
becktaro6 years ago
the syrup that this makes is so delicious. My mom and I poured some over fillets with baked goat cheese (for our little x-mas dinner). HOWEVER make sure you do this in a well ventilated area. We almost died. (not literally of course...) The fumes that come from this are brutal, and opening a window on christmas in chicago was not something we wanted to do, but it became necessary.
westfw7 years ago
Does it really matter if you actually boil it? I mean, it's vinegar, not something complex and heat-sensitive like, say, cream or milk...
Phoghat westfw6 years ago
There are natural sugars present, even in the better cheap balsamics. You don't want them too carmelize or worse, burn.
I thought acetic-acid boiled at a lower temp than water...
Hmm. An MSDS says 118C, which is pretty close. I guess if you boil it, some portion of the acetic acid will be lost, as well as the water (but also for non-boiling reduction.) I wonder if this is a bug or a feature; presumably the flavor improvement comes from concentrating the bits OTHER than just the acid.
rickharris7 years ago
Add a table spoon of sugar to give it that "WOW You must have paid $100 for this" taste.
Interesting idea, I think I'll have to give this a try. As persistant low heat is required perhaps a slow cooker or rice cooker could be utilised to save you having to keep an eye on it for ages. How long did it take you to reduce 1 litre to 250mm?
radiorental7 years ago
excellent tip. I fry onions and bell peppers first in oil to heat them and then basmatic vinegar to quickly break the cell structure down without drying out the vegitable. Gives soft juicy veggies with a little underlying punch to the flavour. Stinks up the kitchen a treat tho
ninjapants7 years ago
I'm going to try this for sure! One tip might be to put a wooden spoon or dowel in the pot clipped to the side and put a rubber band around it at the original liquid level - it'll be easier to eyeball the reduction this way. Of course, anyone who watches Good Eats would know that anyway... that's where I got the tip.