Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

Every Rhode Island home needs to have a box of corn meal in case of Johnny Cake emergencies. If you’ve never had a Johnny Cake before, you’re missing out on a simple, delicious Rhode Island treat. But that’s a topic of another blog. The point is, I always keep a box of white corn meal in my pantry, and I used it to make the coating for my chicken.

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Corn meal is great, because it adds a wonderful crunch while keeping this recipe gluten-free, which may be an important factor for some. But even if you don’t have to be on a GF diet, corn meal adds great flavor.

To keep the batter light, I add flour to the corn meal.

2 cups buttermilk (whole milk is fine, too)
1 tablespoon hot sauce (I use Frank’s Red Hot)
4 lbs. chicken wings
1 cup white corn meal
1 cup flour (or use Cup4Cup, a gluten-free flour, to keep it GF)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/2 teaspoon granulated onion
1/2 teaspoon paprika
oil, lard or a combination of the 2 for frying

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Pour the buttermilk or whole milk into a large Ziploc bag. Add the hot sauce. Drop in the chicken wings, seal the bag,  and let them soak in the mixture in the fridge for at least several hours…overnight is better. Place the bag in a bowl to prevent bag leakage accidents.

In a separate bowl, combine the corn meal, flour, salt, pepper, garlic, onion, and paprika. Mix well.

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.

I like to use a combination of grapeseed oil and pork fat (if I have it) when frying. Heat the oil to about 325 degrees.

Take the wings out of the bag one by one, and drop them in the bowl with the cornmeal mix, coating the chicken well on all sides, then shaking off the excess. Place the chicken wings in the hot oil carefully to avoid splashing hot oil on yourself.

Cook the chicken in the oil on both sides for just a few minutes, until golden. You’re not trying to cook them all the way through.

Place the chicken pieces on a foil-lined baking sheet. when you’ve fried all the chicken, place the baking sheet in the oven and cook until the wings are done, about 25 minutes.

Stuffies, or stuffed clams, are a very personal matter here in Southern New England. There are as many stuffies recipes as there are chowder recipes, and everyone thinks they’ve got the best one. Most stuffies that I’ve had in restaurants, like most meatballs I’ve had, have too much bread and not enough of the good stuff.

I use medium-sized clams for this recipe and not the traditional quahog, a large clam often used in chowders that I find to be too chewy. Dropping the clams in hot water in the beginning helps make opening the clams a lot easier.

Just 30 seconds in boiling water is all it takes.

This recipe requires quite a bit of fresh sage, which can be expensive at the supermarket. So I grow sage in my garden, using throughout the season, then snipping as much as I can at the end of the growing season to store it in freezer bags for winter use. I’ll even measure out 1 1/4 cups of fresh sage leaves (what I need for each batch of stuffies), then place that amount in the freezer bag, so I don’t need to measure later.

Freezing the sage makes it easier to chop finely later on.

I use Portuguese chourico (since I live near Fall River and New Bedford, Massachusetts, the Portuguese capitals of America), and I think their flavor is best.

This recipe makes a lot of stuffies, but they freeze well so you can have them when you want.

This recipe is gluten-free…and you’ll never be able to tell the difference! But if that doesn’t matter to you, use toasted Portuguese bread instead of gluten-free bread.

I don’t like peppers in my stuffies (or my crab cakes), so I leave them out. But if you do, feel free to add them to the recipe.

stuffies

4 dozen medium neck clams
1.5 pounds chopped chourico, skin removed (I use Mello’s from Fall River, Mass.)
3 onions, finely chopped
3 tablespoons garlic, finely chopped
3 cups frozen or fresh corn kernels
3 cups toasted and coarsely ground bread (I use Udi’s Soft & Hearty Whole Grain bread to keep it gluten-free)
3/4 cup chopped fresh oregano (or 1 tablespoon dried)
1 1/4 cups chopped fresh sage (don’t use dried)
Salt and pepper
Butter
Sambal chili paste
Mayonnaise

In a large pot of boiling water, drop the clams in, about a dozen at a time. Remove them after about 30 seconds, before they open. Place them in a bowl to cool. Do this with all the clams.

Open the clams with a clam knife over a bowl with a strainer, making sure you save all the liquid from the clams. Put the clam shells to the side. Throw away any broken shells, and wash the empty shell halves thoroughly, making sure there are no broken pieces.

I use a strainer to keep the sediment away from the clam meats.

Take the clam meat pieces out of the strainer, leaving the clam juice behind in the bowl. Move the clam meat to a cutting board or food processor and chop them to medium-fine. Set them aside.

I pour the clam juices carefully from the bowl to tall drinking glasses, being careful not to let the sediment get in. Then, after some time, I pour off the clam juice from the glasses, leaving even more of the sediments behind. I find that the tall glasses make it easier to see the sediments, and maximize the amount of clam juice I get.

I let the clam juices sit in their tall glasses for a while, so that even more sediments get left behind.

In a large frying pan, add the olive oil, onions, and chourico and cook them on medium heat for a few minutes. Add the oregano and sage and cook a few more minutes. Add the corn and cook a few more minutes, a little more if the corn was frozen. Add the chopped clams and stir, cooking for a few more minutes. Add the breadcrumbs a little at a time until you have a nice balance of bread and other ingredients. Add the clam juice a little at a time as well, so that you can add all the breadcrumbs, but the mix isn’t runny. There’s lots of flavor in the clam juice, so use as much as you can! Season it all with salt and pepper.

Remove the pan from the heat and fill the empty clam shells with the stuffing.

At this point, you can freeze the clams. I put them on small sheet pans in the freezer until they harden, then I wrap them 6 at a time, and put them in freezer bags. Keep them frozen!

Ready for the freezer!

To make the aioli, mix the mayonnaise and Sambal in a bowl, to taste. Sambal is hot, so a little goes a long way. Keep it covered and refrigerated.

When you’re ready to bake, remove the clams from the freezer and place them on a sheet pan in a pre-heated 350 degree oven. Top each clam with a small ¼” square piece of butter. Bake them about 15 minutes, until the clams are sizzling and light brown. Top each with a small dab of aioli.

This dish was a huge hit when I brought it to a neighborhood party a while ago. Imagine the best of a deviled egg and a BBQ chicken sandwich, and you’ve got this appetizer that rocks in more ways than one….and you can make it ahead of time.

I boil the eggs and make the cole slaw the day before, then keep them in the fridge. Even the chicken can be cooked the day before and then warmed through before assembling right before your guests arrive. Be sure to make a lot of them…they’ll go faster than the hard-boiled eggs in “Cool Hand Luke!”

This recipe is gluten-free, as long as you use GF soy sauce.

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For the chicken and BBQ sauce:
3 cups ketchup
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon hot sauce (I use Frank’s Red Hot)
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 lb. boneless skinless chicken breasts
For the cole slaw:
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon sugar
2 cups finely shredded cabbage
For the deviled eggs:
6 hard-boiled eggs
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon mustard (I use Gulden’s)

Pre-heat the oven to 250 degrees.

Combine the ketchup, apple cider vinegar, soy sauce, hot sauce, and brown sugar in a oven-proof pot with a lid. Mix well, then add the chicken breasts, making sure they’re immersed in the sauce. Cook low and slow in the oven for about 2 hours.

When the chicken is cooked through, shred the meat with 2 forks. Set it aside, but keep it warm.

Combine all the cole slaw ingredients in a bowl, mixing well, and place them in the fridge.

For perfectly hard-boiled eggs, place the eggs in a pot of cold water, and turn the heat on high. Just before the water starts to boil, put a lid on the pot and turn the heat off. Let the eggs sit in the hot water for 15 minutes. Once cooked, keep the eggs in the fridge.

Slice the eggs in half and place the yolks in a bowl with the mayonnaise and mustard. Mix well and keep in the fridge.

To assemble, take a teaspoon of the mayo/mustard/yolk mixture and place it in the cavity of one of the egg halves. Place another teaspoon of the shredded chicken on top (I like it warm, to counter the cold of the mayo and cole slaw), drizzling a little of the BBQ sauce that you cooked the chicken with on the meat. Then place a teaspoon of the cole slaw on top of the chicken.

Serve immediately!

Chourico is as important to the Portuguese as bacon is to us Lithuanians. Here in Southern New England, they pronounce it “sha-rees,” not “chaw-reezo,” like you hear on the Food Network.

I was joking with a friend the other day that if I won the lottery, I could buy a lifetime supply of chourico at my favorite store: Mello’s, in Fall River, Mass. His response was: “Is there such a thing as a lifetime supply of chourico?!”

Good point!

If you’ve had really great chourico, you’re always looking for new ways to include it in your cooking. Inspired by chef Chuck Hughe’s recipe, this is a great chourico appetizer that’s really easy to make. Whip up the arugula pesto ahead of time and keep it in the fridge. Then when guests come, just slice the chourico, sauté it in a pan until brown, and serve.

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3 cups fresh baby arugula
1/2 cup walnuts
1/2 cup olive oil
1 clove garlic
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 cup + one tablespoon grated Parmigiano Reggiano or other good quality parmesan cheese
2 lbs. chourico, sliced into 1/2″ pieces

Combine the arugula, walnuts, olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper and the 1/2 cup of cheese in a food processor or blender and blend until smooth. Set the tablespoon of cheese aside for garnishing later.

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Remove the casing from the chourico and slice it into 1/2″ thick pieces. Sauté the chourico slices in a pan until both sides are caramelized and golden.

Place the chourico on a plate, topping with some of the pesto. Sprinkle a touch of the grated cheese to garnish. Serve immediately, while the chourico is still hot!

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This is a really delicious grilled steak full of wonderful Thai flavors. You do need to marinate it overnight, so keep that in mind. The overnight marinating is key to the intense and unbelievable flavor of the beef.

The original recipe called for skirt steak, but I didn’t have any in my freezer. I did have a fat ribeye, though, so once I thawed it, I sliced it lengthwise to get two large, thin steaks which would easily suck up the marinade I was going to make. And the ribeye was nicely marbled, so it stayed juicy and tender. Beef flap is another favorite cut that would work well with this recipe.

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1/4 cup toasted sesame oil
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons grated ginger
2 tablespoons finely chopped garlic
2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro
2 tablespoons chopped dry roasted unsalted peanuts
2 scallions, minced
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
1 tablespoon fresh squeezed lime juice
1 tablespoon chile oil
2 lbs. beef ribeye (or skirt steak or beef flap)
1/4 cup chicken stock (homemade is best)

In a bowl, whisk together the sesame oil, soy sauce, ginger, garlic, cilantro, peanuts, scallions, sugar, lime juice and chile oil. Transfer half of it to a shallow dish.

Add the steak to the dish and turn the meat to coat it well. Cover and refrigerate the beef overnight. Refrigerate the other half of the marinade in a separate container.

The next day, light a grill. While it’s warming up, get out a sauce pan and pour the chicken stock in along with the reserved marinade. Heat it to combine it well, but not letting it reach a boil. Remove it from the heat and let it come to room temperature. This will be the dipping sauce for the beef.

About 30 minutes before cooking, take the marinated steak out of the fridge and let it come to room temperature. Season it with salt and pepper, and grill it over high heat until it’s medium-rare, about 5 minutes.

If it’s too cold to light a grill, or if you just want to use the oven, heat a cast iron pan on the stovetop, add a few drops of avocado oil or pork fat, and sear the beef on both sides before placing it in a pre-heated 375-degree oven to finish cooking.

Devour the beef with the dipping sauce!

When my daughter hangs out with me, I always ask her what she wants me to cook for her, and there are a few “Dad” recipes that are her favorites. This is one of them, especially when fresh asparagus is available. And as any parent will tell you, if your kid is craving a dish that has vegetables in it, count yourself lucky–and make it!!
Prepping asparagus is easy, and you don’t need a knife to cut off the woody bottoms of the stalks. Simply bend the stalks at the bottom and they will naturally snap off at the right point.
4 mild Italian sausages, sliced into pieces 1/2″ thick
1 lb. penne pasta
1/2 onion, finely chopped
1 cup chopped fresh trumpet mushrooms (white button mushrooms work, too)
2 cups fresh asparagus, sliced into 1-inch pieces
1 clove garlic, passed through a garlic press
1 cup homemade chicken broth
6 fresh sage leaves, finely chopped
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
Have the pasta water salted and boiling, and add the pasta, cooking until just a bit more undercooked than al dente.
Heat a large pan, and drizzle in some olive oil. Sauté the sausage pieces until browned and cooked through, but not overcooked. Remove the sausages from the pan and place them in a separate bowl. Remove all but 2 tablespoons of the fat left behind in the pan.
Place the pan back on stove and sauté the onion until translucent. Add the garlic, and sauté for 10 seconds. Add the sage, and saute for 10 seconds, stirring. Add the chopped mushrooms and saute for a few minutes, then add the chicken broth, and simmer until almost all the liquid has evaporated. Pour the contents of the pan into the bowl with the sausages.
Return the pan to the stove, add a little more olive oil, and on medium heat, sauté the asparagus pieces. Cook them until they are al dente, not too soft. Once the asparagus has reached this stage, return all the contents of the sausage/mushroom bowl to the pan to heat through. Drain the pasta, and add it to the pan as well, combining all the ingredients. If it looks too dry, add a little pasta water to the pan. Season with salt and pepper.
Make sure you serve this hot, with grated Parmigiano Reggiano on top, and drizzle lightly over the top with extra virgin olive oil.

I rarely order beef at a restaurant, because I can usually make a better steak at home. For one thing, I use humanely raised grass-fed beef, something few restaurants offer. And I can cook it for less than a third of the price of a steakhouse. Granted, most steakhouses dry-age their beef, a time-consuming process of taking slabs of beef and keeping them in a fridge for weeks until a certain amount of moisture is sucked out of the meat, intensifying the flavor. I can do that at home in my fridge, but it takes a lot of time and effort.

There is one steak that I couldn’t match for the longest time, and that was the Capital Grille’s bone-in Kona crusted dry-aged NY strip. I would have dreams about that steak! It was time to find a way to make something that would satisfy my craving for that amazing steak at home.

Looking at a variety of coffee rub recipes on-line, I started the slow and steady process of combining ingredients in just the right proportions, tasting as I went. What I came up with really accentuated the flavor of the beef I was cooking, better than I had imagined!

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3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon Kosher salt
1 tablespoon ground coffee (use your favorite)
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
1 teaspoon granulated onion
1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder

Combine the ingredients, mixing well, and keep them in a tightly sealed container at room temperature.

The secret ingredients are the brown sugar and the cocoa. The brown sugar gives the steak a caramelized crust when cooking, and the cocoa rounds out the flavors and gives the beef an extra “umph!”

When using, sprinkle the seasoning liberally on both sides of the steak before cooking. I like to add bacon fat to a cast iron skillet, searing the steak on all sides and then finishing it in the oven. But let’s face it: nothing beats the grill!

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There’s no problem with your bird, she said to me
Just go low and slow to cook it perfectly
A few choice seasonings end up deliciously
There must be 50 ways to roast your chicken…
There’s nothing better than a whole roasted chicken. Simply season it, pop it in the oven and go low and slow. No maintenance, and you’ve got a great bird in a couple of hours. 
Once you go with humanely raised pastured chicken, you’ll never go back to supermarket chicken again. The flavor is fantastic, and you’ll devour it right down to the bones, which you can use to make the best home-made chicken stock or soup you’ve ever had. Nothing goes to waste.
I roast at least one chicken every week, so to change it up, I’ve come up with many different rubs and sauces over the years. All of the rubs are sugar and gluten-free preparations. 
Chicken with Rosemary and Lemon
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The lemon serves double-duty in this dish. You use the zest to season the outside skin, then you place the remaining cut up pieces inside the carcass to flavor from the inside out.
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
2 teaspoons salt
zest from 2 lemons, using a micro plane zester, the leftover lemons quartered
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
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In a bowl, combine the rosemary, garlic, salt, lemon zest, and pepper. 
Thaw a bird, remove the giblets, and rub it all over with olive oil. Shove the quartered lemon pieces into the carcass of the bird. Season the bird inside and out with the rosemary seasoning mix.
Place the bird on a pan lined with non-stick aluminum foil in a pre-heated 450-degree oven. Cook for 10 minutes at this temperature, then reduce to 275 degrees and cook low and slow until done.
Tarragon Chicken
I love the taste of chicken seasoned with tarragon. Careful with this, or you will accidentally devour your fingers!
1 tablespoon dried tarragon, crumbled into a powder
1 teaspoon garlic salt
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
olive oil
In a bowl, combine the tarragon, garlic salt, salt and pepper.
Thaw a bird, remove the giblets, and rub it all over with olive oil. Season the bird inside and out with the seasoning mix.
Place the bird on a pan lined with non-stick aluminum foil in a pre-heated 450-degree oven. Cook for 10 minutes at this temperature, then reduce to 275 degrees and cook low and slow until done.
Italian Chicken
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The darker color of the bird comes from rubbing it first with balsamic vinegar, then olive oil, before coating it with Italian seasonings. Don’t use the fancy, expensive balsamic. The bottles that go for about 9 bucks in the supermarket work well for this recipe.
Balsamic vinegar
Olive oil
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon parsley
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon granulated onion
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
Thaw a bird, remove the giblets, and rub it all over with the balsamic vinegar. Then rub it all over with the olive oil. Season the bird inside and out with the seasoning mix.
Place the bird on a pan lined with non-stick aluminum foil in a pre-heated 450-degree oven. Cook for 10 minutes at this temperature, then reduce to 275 degrees and cook low and slow until done.
My Grandma’s Chicken
My grandmother would cook chicken thighs low and slow all Saturday morning, knowing that I was coming over for lunch after Lithuanian school. The meat just fell off the bone, and I couldn’t stop eating it. This recipe is so simple and works just as well for a whole bird. Every time I make this, I think about those days at my grandmother’s house.
Lawry’s Seasoned salt
Olive oil
Thaw a bird, remove the giblets, and rub it all over with olive oil. Season the bird inside and out with the Lawry’s Seasoned salt.
Place the bird on a pan lined with non-stick aluminum foil in a pre-heated 450-degree oven. Cook for 10 minutes at this temperature, then reduce to 275 degrees and cook until done.
If you’re using chicken thighs, like my grandmother did, make sure they have the skin on and the bone in.

Our annual BOYZ weekend at my house is over, and it was a huge success. No small factor in that success was the food we all brought to the table. I made my lobster rolls, and got thumbs-up from all who tried them.

Last year, I was having dinner at The Boat House restaurant in Tiverton, RI, with my buddy, Lee, who lives in Maine half the year, and we started talking about what makes the perfect lobster roll.

Often, when you go to a restaurant and order one, they’ll first ask if you want it cold with mayonnaise or warm with butter. (A warm lobster roll with melted butter, we were told by our bartender, Cayce, is called “Connecticut style.”) The three of us discussed the mayonnaise-to-lobster ratio, and other significant factors. The final conclusion was that everyone likes their lobster roll a little differently.

It’s certainly easy to go to a clam shack or seafood restaurant to get one, but nothing beats making one yourself.

The lobster roll at The Back Eddy in Westport, Massachusetts. Delicious and fresh. But it breaks one of my cardinal rules about lobster rolls. (Go to the bottom of the page.)

When I make my own lobster rolls, freshness is key. I always start with live lobsters. I get them from my lobster man buddy, Gary, just down the street at his dock in Tiverton, RI. Gary’s brother runs the Sakonnet Lobster Company on Sakonnet Point in Little Compton, RI.

A view of the Sakonnet River from the back of Gary's lobster boat, the Edna Mae

A view of the Sakonnet River from the back of Gary’s lobster boat, the Edna Mae

Once you’ve bought your live lobster, the next step is to cook it right. Some people steam and some people boil. I’ve always been a boiler myself. I fill a large pot half-way with water and add sea salt. I bring it to a rolling boil before the lobsters go in. And then I do the math…

I boil my lobsters for 10 minutes for the first pound. I add 3 minutes per pound for each additional pound thereafter. For example, a 2-pound lobster should boil for 13 minutes and a 1 1/2-pound lobster should boil for 11 1/2 minutes. And if I’m boiling more than one lobster, the same rule applies: 3 2-lb. lobsters = 6 pounds. So 10 minutes for the first pound, plus 3 minutes x 5 for each extra pound (that’s 15) for a total of 25 minutes. (These times are for hard shell lobsters. I reduce the boiling time by 3 minutes if I’m cooking soft-shell lobsters.)

Remember, you’re going by total weight of all the lobsters, because the more you have, the longer it takes the water to return to the boil once you put them in.

Lobster catch LTL

A larger lobster is not always better. My uncle used to buy the largest lobster he could find, and it was impressive when he placed at the center of the dinner table. But the meat was like rubber. And personally, I felt bad for the old lobster that made it that far in life. His last days should’ve been in the ocean, not on a plate.

My maximum lobster size is 2 lbs. But at 1 1/2 pounds, you have the perfect ratio of meat-to-shell…with lots of delicious meat that is still sweet and tender. It’s perfect.

After the lobsters have been removed from the pot and have cooled for a few minutes, I get to work: cracking the claws and tail and removing every bit of beautiful meat I can find. Lobster lovers will tell you that the legs have some meat in them and that the tomalley (the green liver and pancreas) and roe (eggs) are delicacies not to be missed. For the purpose of making lobster salad, I don’t use these parts. But I do save the tomalley and roe for a separate treat…and I save all the legs and cleaned empty shells for lobster stock.

Cleaning lobster legs is easy: simply remove all the legs from the body and place them flat on a cutting board. Grab a rolling pin, and one at a time, roll the pin over the lobster legs, starting at the claw end and working your way up. Like a tube of toothpaste, the meat will squeeze right out of the leg!

Lobster roll LTL

Now for the important stuff. What goes in a lobster roll, and more importantly, what doesn’t… I have very strong opinions in this matter.

First, there should NEVER be anything green in a lobster roll! No celery, no pickle, and it certainly shouldn’t be sitting on a bed of lettuce! Nothing should be crunchy in a lobster roll! The magic is in the texture of the perfectly cooked lobster meat. Don’t mess with it!

NO paprika or Old Bay seasoning!

A pinch of celery salt? Yes!

Mayonnaise? Only Hellman’s!

White pepper, not black, and just a touch.

Salt? A pinch of Fleur de Sel or other fine finishing salt.

And the secret weapon to bring out all the flavors: the tiniest squeeze of fresh lemon juice…not enough to give it lemon flavor…just to brighten the taste.

As for the roll, you can’t go wrong with Martin’s potato long rolls: soft and squishy straight out of the bag, or to take a page from the Connecticut-style lobster roll lovers: lightly grill the rolls and brush them with a little melted butter!

Despite what many of the labels on the bottles say, there are really only two kinds of balsamic vinegar: the highly prized, DOP-regulated, aceto balsamico tradizionale (or traditional balsamic vinegar)—and everything else.

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Much like the olive oil market, the world of balsamic vinegar has been so messed up and confused that what most of us consider to be balsamic vinegar really has nothing to do with the genuine article.

Aceto balsamico tradizionale is the pinnacle of all vinegars: produced by hand in small quantities using methods that are hundreds of years old, it has the consistency of maple syrup, and costs anywhere from $150 to $400 for a 3.4 ounce bottle.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t any good (even excellent) less expensive balsamic vinegars out there. It just means you have to do a lot of label reading to make sure you’re getting a good thing.

DOP stands for Denominazione de Origine Protetta, meaning food products whose origins are identifiable in the taste, texture or “perfume” of the product and produced in a specific region with all the ingredients coming from that region. This is all carefully overseen by the Italian government and it is a big deal when it comes to quality.

In order to bear the name aceto balsamico tradizionale, every aspect of its creation, from grape to bottle, is carefully regulated by DOP standards. The vinegar undergoes a lengthy transformation that takes a minimum of 12 years. To keep competition fair, each producer is allotted a specific number of bottles he can sell, which is indicated by a numbered tag on the bottle’s neck. Bottles from Modena are usually bulb-shaped, while bottles from Reggio nell’Emilia are bell-shaped. A red cap means the vinegar is at least 12 years old, while a vinegar that is 25 years of age or more has a gold cap.

Back in the 1980’s, when the balsamic vinegar craze hit the United States, many chefs looking for exotic ingredients in their dishes started using balsamic vinegar. It became an overnight sensation, and the demand was too great for these small handmade batch producers to handle. And so the market for inexpensive balsamic vinegars was born: vinegars that bear little resemblance to the real thing, using ingredients like cider or red wine vinegar, sugar and artificial coloring.

So can you buy a good vinegar if you don’t have wads of money to spend?

Well, the next step down from the top-shelf stuff is called aceto balsamico condimento—what we see in the stores as Balsamic Vinegar of Modena (although some are produced outside of Modena) and they average in price from $20 to $60 a bottle. They’re kept in less expensive wood barrels, and are aged less than 12 years.

And then there’s the stuff you commonly find on supermarket shelves.

Some simple tips on what to look for on the ingredients label: Since the really good stuff is very expensive and should never be cooked or reduced, look for high quality non-DOP balsamic vinegars. Look for those from Modena and Reggio nell’Emilia with Consorzio di Balsamico Condimento on the label to guarantee the age. Even if this stuff is too expensive for you, at the very least, make sure that “grape must” is the first ingredient on the label and that its acidity is not above 7 percent.

I recently found a bottle of balsamic vinegar under the brand name Modenaceti. A 16.9 oz. bottle goes for about 15 bucks on Amazon. Is it the good stuff? No, but  it’s great in a salad dressing or a marinade. The only ingredient listed is balsamic vinegar of Modena, and its acidity is 6%.

Here’s a really good and simple recipe you can make with this inexpensive vinegar. Of course, finding a good port is similar to finding good balsamic. Find something in a lower price range that you be willing to drink, and use that in cooking as well.

PORT WINE/BALSAMIC VINEGAR STEAK SAUCE

½ cup port wine
½ cup balsamic vinegar
¼ cup red grapes, sliced lengthwise (optional)

Place the ingredients in a small sauce pan over medium-high heat and reduce by half. Use this sauce on steaks, burgers, even ribs.