Excerpted from Put 'Em Up: A Comprehensive Home Preserving Guide for the Creative Cook, by Sherri Brooks Vinton, with permissission from Storey Publishing (c) 2010. The following excerpt can be found on Pages 68 to 70.
I come from a long line of white lightning makers and speakeasy owners, so my friends were really expecting some nitty-gritty how-to in a section that includes alcohol. Maybe that’s version 2.0. The alcohol and vinegar recipes in this book are infusions. Infusions are a simple way to capture all the great flavors of food before it’s gone and to enjoy it in a different way.
The alcohol-based infusions make terrific tipples either straight or mixed into a cocktail, but don’t stop there. They’re also wonderful for deglazing the skillet after searing a steak or piece of chicken, or you can drizzle them on ice cream for a grown-up dessert.
The vinegars are wonderful in salad dressings. They also add a whole new zing to homemade mayonnaise and bring a boost to long-simmered soups and stews—just stir in a tablespoon or so at the end of the cooking time.
Unlike many of the other preservation methods in this book, you don’t need perfect produce to make infused alcohols and vinegars. You can cut off a bruised section of a cucumber or use a piece of a leftover watermelon and still have safe and delicious results. Berries that are going a little soft will be okay. Of course, any moldy or rotten food needs to head to the compost, but less-than-perfect food is just fine here.
Photo courtesy Storey Publishing (c) 2010.
No specialized equipment is necessary to make alcohol and vinegar infusions. You probably already have what it takes on hand.
• CLEAN GLASS JARS OR CONTAINERS. These don’t have to be anything special; just make sure they’re food grade. Crystal may look gorgeous, but the lead can leach. I use canning jars that are quart-sized or larger, and they work quite well.
• A BLENDER. Some recipes call for puréeing the fruit. You can use an immersion blender, a standard blender or a food processor. Don’t have one of those? A potato masher is a good low-tech stand-in.
The flavor of the produce will dominate, so for these recipes, don’t waste your best bourbon or the vinegar you brought home from that great shop in France. Standard bar booze will do, and distilled white vinegar is a nice blank canvas.
I store alcohol infusions as I would their base liquid: sake and white wine in the fridge, bourbon on the bar, vodka in the freezer. Infused vinegar keeps in a cool, dark place for up to one year. If you like, decant the strained infusions back into the original bottles. You could also put them in something decorative—as long as it’s food grade—if you prefer. Even when strained, the liquids may have some precipitates that settle in the bottles. Carefully decant your infusion into another bottle, leaving the precipitate behind.
Infusing Alcohols and Vinegars Step-By-Step
1. Thoroughly wash the jars or bottles that will hold your infusion and place them, top side up, in a large pot or canner fitted with a rack. Fill the pot with water to cover the vessels by 2 inches. Bring water to a boil and reduce to a simmer for 10 minutes. Using canning tongs, carefully remove jars or bottles, pour out the boiling water, and invert on a clean dish towel.
2. In a nonreactive pot, heat vinegar until it is just about to boil. While the vinegar is heating, wash the produce thoroughly.
3. Combine the produce and alcohol/vinegar according to the recipe.
4. Cover and set aside in a cool, dark place to enable flavors to infuse.
5. Shake every day to encourage infusion.
6. After you’ve reached the level of infusion you seek, strain out the produce, if you prefer. I find that when an infusion is done, the fruits tend to become sad-looking, so I strain them out. It looks nicer and takes up less storage space. The only exception is stone fruits, which hold their shape and make a delicious garnish (or yummy snack) scooped straight out of the jar.