Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Ten bottles of vinegar, standing on the shelf ...

Whether one is actually a great cook or not, it's probable that one of the key ways of identifying a 'foodie' is what their stock cupboard contains.

It's a long time since I realised that there were certain indispensables that I couldn't be without. So much so that, even when I'm self-catering in France, these are things that are quickly obtained if not inherited from previous residents.

One, of course, is decent olive oil. While I skimp a bit on holiday and rely on just one bottle, it is never a supermarket own brand cheap version. At home, there are currently three varieties in stock: one for cooking, plus two virgin oils. One of those is from Collioure – a superb, green oil that has a pepperiness from the stone that was included in the pressing.

Then there are lemons - preferably organic and unwaxed.

Then red chills - the discovery of how much I need them was a shock at the time, having grown up in a home where heat in food was non-existent.

Good garlic has to be included, of course, but also shallots, which I rather think is one of the marks of a serious cook: you don't just think of them as a small onion, but understand that their milder, sweeter flavour has myriad uses.

There are sugars too, and different flours - and even different salts - but I suspect that one of the big indicators is vinegar.

We Brits have our malt vinegar and we love it. And indeed, there is nothing whatsoever that goes as well with fish and chips. But malt vinegar, while a store cupboard essential, is limited.

The first additions to my cupboard beyond that were red and white wine vinegars, plus a cider vinegar. By the time I left home, even my mother had these in the cupboard.

But the collection has expanded.

There are usually at least two Balsamicos - a heavy one and a thinner one for dipping. But these days I also have two bottles of Balsamico glaze: one au natural and one with forest fruits to flavour. They're very versatile.

And I shouldn't forget that there's obviously a good sherry vinegar on the shelf too.

Then there's the brandy vinegar, bought in the glorious food hall at Bon Marché in Paris, plus two bottles of Banyuls vinegar from Collioure.

And there's usually a bottle of raspberry wine vinegar too. I have, indeed, been carefully eking out my bottle for some time, since no obvious restock has been available. I've had a few over the years, but then discovered a French one - and to be honest, nothing else comes close.

But that carefully nurtured bottle is almost empty. So today, after having my hair done, I heading into the nearby Brunswick Centre to see if Waitrose could be of any help.

Pigeon breast with raspberry vinegar jus.
Not only did they have my particular brand, they also had a cassis - blackcurrant - one too.  Okay, it wasn't cheap, but they last a good while, so it went straight into the basket too.

Not only was it a simple case of restocking my raspberry vinegar, but it had a very specific point.

The evening's fodder was pigeon breast, and raspberry vinegar is perfect to cut through the sweet, dense meat to make a jus.

Just sear the pigeon breasts for a couple of minutes a side, pop them on somewhere warm to rest, and stir in some of the vinegar, deglaze, and thus create your dressing.

It's that easy - and illustrates perfectly the value of having a well-stocked store cupboard.

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