“People drink vinegar in shot glasses to toast to their health,” my Italian Signora said to me. I couldn’t believe it and it turned my stomach a little. I grew up in a home where “Oil and Vinegar” were relegated to frying and cleaning respectively. The pair sat in a square cruet on the tables at pizza joints, reserved for those illusive few who sprinkled it as dressing on their iceberg lettuce salads.
I winced as I lifted the small glass of rich, red liquid to my lips.
“This is aged Balsamic vinegar,” she said and smiled, knowingly.
I was immediately surprised by the flavor: deep, meaty and tangy. It was a food revelation. My Signora seemed to know I needed to change my opinion of this overlooked condiment, even before I did.
I shared this story at the TABLE Class: “Behind the Kitchen Door: Oil & Vinegar 101” with Chef Pierre Gignac. Most of our guests were in agreement with my account, finding that they, too had grown up with the lack of awareness about this ubiquitous food pairing.
We agreed that times and opinions have changed for the better.
Quality oil and vinegar has the potential to elevate even the simplest dish. Both are readily available at grocery stores and specialty shops – Don’t pass them by because the look strange or have labels that look too fancy. Scoop them up and start experimenting with their flavors.
In the O&V 101 class, Chef Pierre Gignac walked guests through a tasting of oils like walnut, pistachio, pumpkin seed and authentic extra virgin olive oil. He added on aged balsamic, champagne and sherry vinegars and crafted three salads with different vinaigrettes that showcased the flavors of each combination.
One of our guests Donna Buttarazzi remarked, “As students in the Table culinary class milled around sipping a complimentary glass of champagne last Saturday, the panoramic views of the ocean from the dining room at Cape Arundel Inn went all but unnoticed. All eyes were on Chef Pierre Gignac, head chef of Ocean at The Cape Arundel Inn, as he filled a worktable with a culinary explosion for the senses; beautiful bright salad greens and fresh spring vegetables, bottles of fragrant vinegars and a variety of flavorful oils and herbs.”
It was a perfect revelation and reawakening.
Oil & Vinegar 101 will be offered seasonally as part of the TABLE: Behind the Kitchen Door series.
Frisee salad with bacon, poached egg and grain mustard vinaigrette
- 1tbs white wine vinegar
- 4 large eggs
- 8oz slab bacon cut into lardons, about 3/8 thick by 1 ½ long
- 2tbs sherry wine vinegar
- 1tbs grain mustard
- 5tbs rendered bacon fat or canola oil as needed
- 4heads frisee lettuce
- 2tbs finely chopped shallots
- 1/3cup fine herb leaves (chives, parsley, tarragon, chervil)
- Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper