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Balsamic Vinaigrette that doesn't have to be thrown away

We love balsamic vinaigrette when we eat out.
Everytime I make it at home, it does not have the same sweetness and is very overpowering.
I buy medium quality, imported.
We just had the mozzarella and tomato salad at Panera yesterday and the dressing was good.

What is the problem? I am tired of throwing it away.
Anyone have a good recipe; I am hoping to not have to add sugar.
Should I be adding honey for sweetness and viscosity?

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  1. How do you make yours? So far, you've only written that you use medium grade vinegar.

    1 Reply
    1. re: gordeaux

      EVOO, balsamic salt and pepper.
      Have tried adding some sugar - NO, adding mustard (dijon and regular) - NO

      Other dressings I have had at very good restos, don't taste commercial with those dried herbs floating around. I really want to limit the fermented smell and strong, pungent taste.

    2. Use a combination of balsamic and red wine vinegars to cut the overpowering flavor of the balsamic. I think the vinaigrettes one gets in restaurants often have a bit of sugar in them, so you might want to try that, or honey instead.

      I find that EVOO whisked into balsamic vinegar makes a very thick dressing (but the emulsion doesn't last - the oil will eventually separate out so you just need to whisk it again), but if yours isn't viscous enough whisk into the vinegar a teaspoon or so of dijon mustard. And as gordeaux points out, the quality of the balsamic will obviously affect the flavor of your dressing.

      1. When you eat out (especially at a chain like Panera), you're getting Kens or some similar pre-made dressing. Hard to duplicate at home, as I'm sure there's corn syrup and emulsifiers involved. If I was going to add sweetener, I'd probably add agave syrup, but it's not going to taste like a commercial dressing. If you like it that much, try Ken's Balsamic Vinaigrette, it's very popular in the restaurant community. Or look at their list of ingredients for clues.

        1 Reply
        1. re: coll

          Not to mention preservatives. Maybe u just have a preference for the commercial stuff. Not a crime, but know that there is definitely some form of sugar in it in addition to a bunch of other stuff you can't pronounce.

          Try the honey and some dijon mustard though. I add finely diced shallots too. Also, I use a submersible blender. 5 seconds and it's perfectly emulsified. If you don't have one, try your regular blender.

          Oh, and if it's overpowering, back off the vinegar a bit. Try a 1 part vinegar to 4 parts oil ratio.

        2. Ditto to the other replies about quantity and quality of vinegar. You give no ratios which will be the keys to the vinegar smell and taste. Quality varies GREATLY. And the sugar, sorry to say, will mellow out a lower quality balsamic vinegar. Your honey idea might work out fine, but, I think first, it sounds like you'll have to back off the balsamic vingegar amount you are using. I keep three or four grades of balsamic, and the good stuff, I drink straight up, and it's smooth as silk. The cheap stuff will make you make a funny face if you sip it, the good stuff will make you want more.

          Id START a vinaigrette this way:
          1/2 cup of evoo
          two tbs balsamic
          juice of 1/2 of a lemon
          garlic (whatever amt makes sense to you)
          fresh ground pepperv(whatever amt makes sense to you)
          A shallot
          dash of salt
          pinch of sugar - and really, just a pinch, maybe a tsp.
          Little splash of red wine vinegar.
          And THEN, season /re-blend it from there.

          1. To get a sweeter Balsamic, reduce it down to a light syrup. This is like aging it 20 years. There is a fine line between reduced and burned. Watch it like a hawk.

            I cool it and then add herbs and olive oil.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Janet

              Oddly for me, I REALLY like a balsamic reduction drizzled on pizza. I'm not a huge fan of adding sweetness to savory things, but something about this combo knocks my socks off!

            2. Jfood does what Janet suggested. He pours a bottle of balsamic into a pan and brings to a boil to reduce. Then he cools and spoons over the tomato mozzy combos. Evryone loves it. Oh, and place some fresh basil leaves on top.

              BTW - two words of caution. (1) When the balsamic boils the steam coming off it, (if inhaled) will remind you of smelling salts, it will KNOCK your head back; and (2) watch it carefully as it reduces. It goes slowly and then all of a sudden the darn evaporation process kicks into high gear and if you take your eyes away for a few moments you have a real sticky mess on you hands.

              1 Reply
              1. re: jfood

                I haven't tried this for a vinaigrette but did recently see where they did a combo of balsamic vinegar and the balsamic syrup for a dressing.

                I love using the reduction w/ sugar to macerate fresh berries... mmmmm.

              2. Expensive balsamic vinegars have a sweetness that comes from very long aging. In the process it picks up flavors from the wood barrels, and loses a lot of water to evaporation. Less expensive ones add sweetness and body with the addition of concentrated grape must. Balsamic glazes have a greater concentration of must - in effect they are using grape sugar to provide sweetness.

                I suspect the restaurant vinaigrettes use this sweetener - or sugar or some syrup. If you want avoid those, you might try agave syrup.

                1. Thanks for all of the suggestions. I will buy a more expensive quality. Then, I will do the reduction of my medium grade. Should it be kept refrigerated and for how long will it last after that? Medium/high heat I assume, nonreactive pot/pan?
                  What consistency tells if it is done or should I be tasting?
                  About that knock out power. I experienced that when I put wine in a roast covered and then uncover it to crisp. It is potent.
                  By the way, I do not want additives or preservatives or sugar. That is why I am trying to get a good quality at home. We already make our own homemade red wine vinegar that makes the best for tomato, onion, cuke, pepper salad with salt and EVOO. Great for dipping bread into the bottom of the salad bowl. On our menu for today.

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: itryalot

                    "I will buy a more expensive quality..."

                    -Just a quick note. Maybe do some quick research like find a site that has ratings of brands. Just like everything else in this world, price does not always indicate quality.

                    1. re: gordeaux

                      You're right about price not reflecting quality. I will do some researching on brands.

                    2. re: itryalot

                      Have you tried pomegranate molasses. It has a natural blend of tartness and sweetness, which might be what you are looking for in a vinaigrette.

                      1. re: itryalot

                        I keep my reduced balsamic in a dark cupboard. I've been working off a bottle that is probably 9 months old with no problems. You'll go through it quicker than the original bottle because of the reduced volume. I use it just like regular balsamic a lot of the time; it is a lot more like the "real" thing. And I think you're a lot less likely to want to sweeten the reduction.

                        I do mine in a stainless pan over medium high heat. It stinks up the house but it's worth it.

                      2. One more suggestion, if you're not totally averse to sweetening your vinaigrette. I've made a fabulous balsamic dressing with a bit of maple syrup in it. Decent olive oil, some salt and pepper and it's perfect. I also agree on cutting back drastically on the amount of balsamic if you're finding it too too.

                        1. Look at the percentage of acidity that is listed on the bottle of balsamic. Many of them are 6%. That is a little too acidic for me as a balsamic.

                          There is one brand that has an acidity level of 2%. This is from aging in oak barrels. I don't know their process or ingredients, but I would guess it is the same principle as a reduction. The older it gets, the more it reduces.

                          You can find this 2% acidity aged balsamic online or at some farmer's markets or at a select few retail places or from a vendor at an event boutique. The brand name is Bistro Blends, but the maker is Spenger. See, http://www.spenger.com/

                          18-YEAR HEIRLOOM BALSAMIC VINEGAR is the one I get. There are blends (with oils) and fig balsamics, berry balsamics, etc., but I have settled on the regular balsamic. It is super sweet and thick, so I end up using less, even mixing it with other salad vinegars or other liquids. The flavor is worth the price. I have not found another balsamic with the 2% acidity, but can imagine it would be as good.

                          The balsamics I find at Trader Joe's all seem to be 6% acidity. It seems low, but it was just not worth it. 6% was too acidic. I like a lower acidic level (2%) and have only found this one brand. Maybe there are more out there that are 2% acidity? But that's thekey for me. 2% acidity.

                          John Spenger's of Napa Valley balsamic is excellent and a lower price than many other high quality aged balsamics. http://www.spenger.com/

                          But, if you can't find affordable aged balsamic yuo might try this recipe.

                          Faux Aged Balsamic Vinegar
                          Aged balsamic vinegar accumulates its flavor in a variety of wooden casks for as long as one hundred years. The result is a very concentrated dark brown, thick sweet vinegar, and it is a great luxury. If you don't have it in your pantry - chefs have learned to do as the Italians do - reduce your balsamic vinegar with a little brown sugar. It's a good second.

                          1/2 cup Balsamic Vinegar, commercial grade
                          2 tablespoons light brown sugar

                          In a small saucepan over medium to medium-high heat (depending on your stove), let mixture simmer and reduce the vinegar for approximately 4 minutes until thickened and reduced by 1/2. Add the brown sugar and simmer an additional 2 minutes longer.

                          Makes 1/4 cup

                          1. While all the suggestions regarding the vinegar you're using and ways to mellow or temper it are good, it's also important to keep in mind that the oil has a big impact on the flavor as well. Olive oil is hardly a neutral flavor, and there is a great deal of variance in flavor from one olive oil to the next. Some will pair better with certain vinegars, and this is not necessarily a function strictly of quality.
                            You mention a preference for the balsamic vinaigrettes you've encountered while eating out, so it's also important to note that most commercially made and many restaurant made balsamic vinaigrettes do not use olive oil. Extra virgin olive oil is acidic and bitter, and will accentuate these qualities in your balsamic. Canola oil is pretty common for vinaigrettes, and other salad dressings, because of its more neutral character. Other vegetable oils can also be used, but canola oil is the healthiest (healthier than olive oil by some measures, but each has its benefits), and lower in acid than most. Better quality olive oils also typically have lower acidity, but hardly display the mellower, sweeter flavor you seem to be looking for.