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Aged to perfection, and sweet to the taste

Balsamic Vinegar in Barrels

The flavor of Balsamic vinegar is nothing new to most people. We’ve tasted it in one form or another, most likely on our salads. It’s been a mainstay of the culinary arts since the Middle Ages, mentioned in a document dated 1046 AD.

What separates balsamic vinegar from your typical red wine or white vinegar is in the process. Most vinegars are actually wine, only aged and fermented longer. Balsamic vinegar however is made from a reduction of pressed Trebbiano and Lambrusco grapes. So it’s more like freshly-pressed grape juice which is then boiled and reduced into a thick syrup.

The syrup is then aged for at least twelve years in a series of barrels as shown in the image below. The barrels are made of different kinds of wood all designed to infuse their particular flavor into the vinegar.

The multiple barrels used in aging balsamic vinegar

The rationale for the descending sizes is that as the vinegar ages to a certain degree, some of it is transferred to the next barrel in succession. This constant mixing and aging will eventually lead to a rich, deep brown liquid containing elements of the grapes and wood in a natural balance of sweet and sour flavors.

Sounds amazing, doesn’t it? Unfortunately for all of us, I was disappointed to learn the balsamic vinegar we normally buy in stores (Balsamic Vinegar of Modena), is not made in this tradtional manner. If your vinegar is named Balsamic Vinegar of Reggio Emilia, then you have the high-quality stuff.

If it’s Modena, then your vinegar, like mine, is a mixture of red wine vinegar with flavorings and thickeners designed to imitate the high-end stuff. That’s not a bad thing though, especially for the recipe we’re making today.

You should look at balsamic vinegar the way we look at olive oil. Spend the money on that high end Reggio Emilia to put on your table, or perhaps put in your salad vinaigrette or some syrup for gelato (yes they use it on desserts). The Modena is ideal for dishes involving a mixture of ingredients and flavors, such as the marinade for this chicken. Try them either as full pieces baked or broiled for dinner, or make kebobs as I did for a cookout.

Balsamic Chicken

Balsamic Chicken

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup of balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 cup of water
  • 2 tbsp of olive oil
  • 1 tsp of granulated garlic
  • 1 tsp of onion powder
  • 1 tsp of Italian seasoning blend
  • 1/4 tsp of salt
  • 1/4 tsp of pepper
  • 4-6 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves

Instructions

  1. Take a container you can close and seal. If none is available to you, then use a pot with a lid or even a food storage bag you can zip shut.
  2. Add all the ingredients except the chicken to the container. Give it all a stir to mix it all up.
  3. Place the pieces of chicken into the marinade. Make sure the chicken is coated with it all.
  4. Close/seal the container and place in the refrigerator for at least four hours. Overnight is a more preferred time frame.
  5. Cook the chicken as you see fit.

Quick Notes

Suggested means of cooking are broiling and grilling.  Keep the excess marinade aside and brush the chicken with it to baste.  You can bake the chicken as well.  Pour some of the marinade on it before baking to allow it to gelatinize on the chicken.

I suggested chicken breasts, but you can also use this recipe on dark meat. Definitely try making kebobs with it.

Tags: Italian, chicken, balsamic, vinegar

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