Q: How do you make herbal vinegars? Which vinegars and herbs work best?
A: Start with a good-quality vinegar — white, red, or rice wine vinegar; champagne vinegar; or apple cider vinegar — and a clean, dry jar. The National Center for Home Food Preservation (NCHFP) recommends placing jars in a boiling water canner for 10 minutes, or using the sterilizing cycle on your dishwasher.
Pick herbs in the morning and before the herb has flowered for the greatest amount of volatile oils. Gently wash and pat them dry. The NCHFP also recommends sanitizing herbs with a dip in a dilute bleach solution (6 cups water to 1 teaspoon bleach) before rinsing and patting them dry once more. Strip leaves off the stems, or cut small sprigs, and bruise them gently before placing in the jar. Really fill the jar with herbs. Use at least 1 cup of leaves for every 2 cups of vinegar.
Completely submerge the herbs. Tamp them down to release any air bubbles, and then add more vinegar, to within 1/2 inch of the lip. If your jar has a metal lid (as with a canning jar), place a piece of plastic wrap over the mouth of the jar before securing the lid.
Steep the herbs in a dark, warm place for at least three weeks, or longer for more flavor. When you’re satisfied with the flavor, strain the vinegar into a sterilized glass jar for storage. Label your vinegar, or add a fresh sprig of the flavoring herb to identify it.
For flavors, your palate and your garden are really the limit! Rosemary and garlic go with everything. Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme are a delicious combination. Tarragon is a classic. Dill is buttery; each basil adds a distinct flavor. Lemon thyme and pineapple sage are both good choices. Don’t forget bay, borage, burnet, chervil, chives, fennel, lavender, lemon balm, lemongrass, lemon verbena, lovage, marjoram, oregano, rose geranium, savory, shallots, and spearmint.
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