A balsamic vinegar reduction is the simple process of boiling down balsamic vinegar, but the result is a complex syrup that can be used in both sweet and savory dishes and makes any home cook look like a pro.
Start by using a good quality balsamic vinegar. Good balsamic doesn't have to be expensive, but it should taste good when you dip a piece of bread in it. Using a small, non-reactive metal saucepan, like stainless steel, pour about double the amount of vinegar that is needed. A balsamic reduction is very concentrated in flavor and not a lot is needed per serving. Place the pan over medium high heat and bring the vinegar to a slow boil until just the edges of the syrup around the perimeter of the pan is boiling. If there are large bubbles all over the surface of the vinegar, reduce the heat until the bubbles are smaller.
Let the vinegar slow boil for about 15 minutes. After about 15 minutes, dip a spoon into the mixture, watching to see how thick the vinegar is on the spoon. It should reach a honey-like consistency. Watch the balsamic reduction carefully. The lower it reduces in the pan, the more likely it is to burn. Also keep in mind that as it cools, it will thicken a bit.
Once the balsamic reduction reaches the consistency of honey, set it aside to cool. Once cool, the balsamic reduction can be used immediately or stored in an airtight container for up to two weeks. If the balsamic vinegar reduction seems too thick, place it in a sauce pan and warm it up a little. It can also be thinned with a little water if needed.
A tasty, dramatic summertime use for balsamic vinegar reduction is to flavor fresh strawberries for strawberry shortcake and also use it on the same plate as a garnish to swirl over the top of the shortcakes themselves. The visual contrast between the light shortcakes and dark balsamic reduction is stunning, especially if it drizzles over a little whipped cream peeking out of the sides of the shortcake. Strawberries and balsamic vinegar have a natural affinity for each other and pairing a balsamic reduction with strawberries only intensifies that affinity.
Summertime tomatoes are a thing of beauty. There is no substitute for a ripe, sun-warmed tomato picked straight from the vine. However, ripe tomatoes drizzled with a balsamic vinegar reduction alternated between thick slices of fresh mozzarella cheese and sprinkled with hand-torn fresh basil elevates the popular Insalata Caprese to professionally prepared status.
The sweet/sharp flavor of the balsamic reduction pairs nicely with a mesclun green salad with goat cheese and toasted pistachios. The tang of the balsamic reduction and the goat cheese mirror each other beautifully. It can be used as a simple salad dressing in combination with good quality olive oil and some salt and freshly ground black pepper. It can be used as a finishing drizzle on grilled steak, salmon or chicken. The versatility of the balsamic reduction is truly magical and takes any dish that uses balsamic vinegar to a more professional level.